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Thursday, May 19, 2011
Devolution moves forward
The Upper House on April 28 enacted three bills aimed at giving more power to local governments — more than a year after the devolution-related bills were submitted to the Diet. Although the administration of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was eager to have these bills enacted, the Kan administration lowered their priority.
The important thing is to give more administrative power and funds to local governments to help create a system in which local governments can make more decisions on matters closely related to local residents and carry them out.
It is hoped that reform in this direction will make progress. But at the same time, care must be taken to ensure that the central government can properly and efficiently function during an emergency situation like the current one following the March 11 massive earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
One of the bills establishes an official forum with legal backing in which the central and local governments consult on an equal footing so that the central government will not impose policy measures that directly affect local government administration.
A second bill revises 160 laws so that local governments can decide on standards for various local social services, such as the minimum floor space for a nursery school and a person's eligibility for admission into public housing. A third bill scraps ceilings on the number of local assembly members.
Local governments will have more flexibility in providing and managing social services. But local assembly members must realize that they will bear heavier responsibilities for working out the most appropriate policy measures.
Apart from efforts to push general devolution, the central government and lawmakers should consider a special measure to let local governments in areas devastated by the March 11 disasters take over relevant power from the central government so that they can exercise initiatives in reconstructing their areas.