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Friday, May 30, 2008

Reform bill sidesteps 'amakudari'


Staff writer

The Lower House passed a bill Thursday to reform the civil servant system, but the legislation omitted any steps to curb the notoriously corrupt system of "amakudari," the practice whereby bureaucrats retire into lucrative posts in industries they had overseen.

With the Diet closing on June 15, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition and the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, were able to draft a last-minute revision of the bill, which was submitted in April. Passage of the bill has been a key goal of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda as he struggles to regain public trust following a spate of scandals involving government employees.

After a majority vote by the ruling bloc, the DPJ and the Social Democratic Party passed the revised bill, it was handed to the Upper House, which is scheduled to deliberate on it Friday. Full passage is practically assured by the end of the Diet session.

The bill aims to restructure the civil servant system by having the chief Cabinet secretary propose a list of candidates for vice minister and other high-ranking positions in ministries and agencies, and by establishing a new Cabinet personnel bureau in the Cabinet Secretariat that would oversee personnel affairs at each ministry.

"The aim of restructuring the public servant system is to change a vertically structured and closed bureaucracy into one that is transparent and efficient, and to create an administrative organization that will truly benefit the public," DPJ lawmaker Kenta Izumi said at a Lower House plenary session.

Izumi pointed out that Japan's "bureaucrat-led administration" must be changed into a "politician-led Cabinet" to realize a true parliamentary government.

To ensure passage of the bill, the ruling bloc compromised on many of the DPJ's proposals. But one of the key issues in the civil servant reform debate — amakudari — was skipped altogether.

The infamous system, in which retired government officials are rewarded with high positions in private companies in industries they once oversaw, has been criticized as a key path to corruption. Although the DPJ called for banning amakudari, it apparently backed down to avoid jeopardizing the bill.

The Japanese Communist Party voted against the bill.

"The privileged bureaucrats served the business world, not the public, and as compensation, they continued to expand their interests through amakudari," JCP lawmaker Tetsuya Shiokawa said. "And the result of (amakudari) led to bid-rigging and contaminated blood products. . . . Regulation against amakudari is what is necessary to sever the collusion between politics, bureaucracy and the business world."

Another measure lost in the revision was disciplinary rules to regulate direct contact between politicians and bureaucrats. The DPJ protested the measure because it would make it more difficult to collect information needed to form policy.

Under the revised bill, when Diet members and bureaucrats make contact they are required to document the meeting and disclose the information to increase transparency.

Ruling bloc lawmakers admitted Fukuda strongly pushed for enactment of the bill, which pressured the coalition to compromise with the DPJ.



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