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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005
PAY, PROJECTS ON THE LINE
Osaka mayor's reforms may spark new battles
OSAKA -- Osaka Mayor Junichi Seki has unveiled his detailed proposal for reforming the city government.
Now he has to face down bureaucrats who fear changes in their salary structure and politicians out to protect their pet projects.
The formal proposal comes barely two weeks after Seki was returned to office in a snap election made necessary when he stepped down in October. He resigned in a bid to seek a public mandate after a year of battling the bureaucracy over a broad range of reforms for the financially troubled city.
Seki won easily, but only 40 percent of eligible voters turned out, leaving serious doubts about whether he really won a mandate. He told voters that Osaka's financial debts of 5.5 trillion yen require drastic change, and promised to present an easy-to-understand detailed proposal shortly after the election.
His formal 214-page proposal released Tuesday contains nearly 100 reforms. First on the list is a 20 percent reduction in operating expenses over the next five years, which the mayor says will result in 90 billion yen in savings.
Failing public works projects would be set up under new management or sold to private firms, reducing city expenditures by 110 billion yen over five years.
Seki also proposed a five-year hiring freeze beginning in fiscal 2006. However, in the event that the expertise of outside specialists is needed, they would be hired for a fixed term. At the same time, an early retirement scheme would be introduced for city workers over age 50. Through these schemes, he hopes to cut the bureaucracy by at least 5,000 people.
Osaka has about 47,000 bureaucrats working in a city with a population a little more than 2.5 million, or roughly 185 bureaucrats for every 10,000 residents. By contrast, Yokohama, with 3.5 million people, has only 95 bureaucrats for every 10,000 residents. The proposal calls for a review of the city's salary and compensation system. In particular, Seki wants to introduce a merit-based system of pay raises and promotions. and strengthen rules and regulations to punish those bureaucrats who fail to meet specified performance standards.
Such reforms have long been pushed by the local business community, which has always been concerned with the amount of tax money the bureaucracy gets for salaries and retirement, and the lack of transparency in the hiring and promotion process.
A variety of scandals earlier this year involving tax money used for suits for bureaucrats and falsified overtime records created additional pressure on Seki to reform the system.