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Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004

Koizumi tells ministries to swap top bureaucrats


Staff writer

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered all ministries Friday to hire more bureaucrats from other sectors of the government so that they will account for 10 percent of all of its high-ranking staff within three years.

The move is intended to tear down the red-tape barriers between government ministries and agencies that are often blamed for bureaucratic rigidity and a lack of coordination within the government.

Officials of government ministries and agencies have been criticized for prioritizing the interests of their ministries ahead of the broader interests of the government or nation.

After a regular Cabinet meeting Friday, Koizumi ordered the Cabinet members to promote the exchange of senior-level officials between ministries and agencies. Subject to the order are officials ranked section chief or higher, including bureau chiefs and deputy vice ministers who deal with key issues that affect several government bodies.

Koizumi called for an increase in personnel exchanges between the government and private sectors, although he did not cite any specific target, government officials said.

The order "is designed to do away with sectionalism among vertically divided ministries," Koizumi told reporters.

At a regular news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda acknowledged that bureaucrats often fail to follow decisions made by Cabinet ministers -- their politically appointed bosses -- instead placing more importance on their narrow sectional interests.

"We can't properly implement policies if decisions made by a Cabinet minister repeatedly meet (barriers of) the vertically divided bureaucracy," Fukuda said.

A long-held myth concerning the competency of bureaucrats has faded over the past decade amid a series of scandals and policy errors. Politicians have tried to reduce the bureaucrats' power and strengthen the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat, which is directly under the prime minister's control, in policymaking decisions.

A large-scale reorganization of ministries and agencies in January 2001 was part of such efforts, and Friday's order by Koizumi was another, Fukuda told the news conference.

But bureaucrats themselves might not be ready for Koizumi's order.

An official of the Cabinet Office said Koizumi's order was based on "a top-down decision," and the government has yet to spell out details of the personnel exchange program.

According to a rough estimate by the Cabinet Office, 3 percent of around 1,500 of officials holding positions of section chief or higher at major ministries come from other ministries, the official said.



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