Japan civil service reform in limbo

Japan civil service reform in limbo

The government and ruling parties are facing difficulties reconciling opinions over bills to reform personnel affairs systems of national government employees.

The bills are promoted by Tomomi Inada, minister in charge of the national public servant employment reform.

Opposing and cautious views toward the bills, which include the creation of new posts of minister advisers and the establishment of a new Cabinet bureau for personnel affairs, have persisted, and differences between the opponents and Inada have yet to be bridged.

The advisers, which are to be appointed by the Cabinet, will have the same status as parliamentary secretaries in each ministry, and will help reinforce leadership of politicians.

Diet members and representatives of the private sector, including former bureaucrats, will be eligible to hold the posts.

The Cabinet bureau for personnel affairs will be headed by a deputy chief cabinet secretary, which will allow the Prime Minister's Office to effectively control the appointments of about 600 posts of department chiefs and councilors in ministries and other key government entities.

At a general meeting Thursday of the Liberal Democratic Party's Administrative Reform Promotion Headquarters, Inada sought support for the government's draft of the bills.

However, many lawmakers voiced opposition, with one saying, "Does the Prime Minister's Office know all 600 people?" and another, "It's impossible to make fair personnel decisions."

Inada countered, saying, "I believe the bills are 100 per cent [perfect]," but the debates ended with little progress being made.

One of the reforms is to transfer the National Personnel Authority's power to decide on the number of bureaucrats for each salary bracket to the new Cabinet bureau.

Inada has clashed strongly with the National Personnel Authority over this move.

It is widely believed that giving the Cabinet Secretariat, the employer of national public servants, the authority to decide the quotas, which are major factors that determine the working conditions of bureaucrats, would undermine the role of the National Personnel Authority.

This is because one of the NPA's roles is to protect national public servants' basic worker rights, which are limited.

Given the situation, ruling party members made the resolution of the confrontation between the NPA and Inada a condition for approval of the bills.

"We can't discuss the bills before coordination inside the government has been realised," a senior LDP member said.

While Inada is enthusiastic about the new adviser posts, a Cabinet member voiced caution, saying, "No more posts are needed for politicians in ministries and other government offices."

During an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Oct. 15, many other key bills will be discussed, including one to strengthen industrial competitiveness for revitalizing the economy, and one to create a Japanese version of the US National Security Council, which will serve to coordinate diplomatic and security policies.

Aides of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also voiced alarm about the uncertainty of the civil service reform bills, with one saying, "If things go unchanged, the creation of the Cabinet bureau for personnel affairs will not be realised in next spring as planned."

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