Reform - Japanese style

Henry C.K. Liu hliu at
Fri Apr 16 22:19:31 PDT 1999

Ministry overhaul in name only

THE Japanese government plans to do away with its fabled Ministry of Finance (MOF).

Well, its name at least.

In a debate breathlessly chronicled by the media, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has accepted a blueprint to overhaul the central government bureaucracy, including a name change for the nation's most powerful ministry.

But the symbolic change may mask the fact that the government is doing little to pare the size or curb the discretionary powers of the nation's powerful civil service.

The MOF, called Okurasho, a name said to date back to 701, will be renamed Zaimusho under an agreement between the LDP and opposition Komeito group.

Japan's English-language press has dubbed the new unit the ``Treasury Ministry'', although spokesmen at MOF and the Prime Minister's Office said no English translation had been decided.

But while the LDP agreed on the change with Komeito _ thus ensuring it has the votes to win enactment_ the deal waters down plans to strip MOF's extensive financial oversight powers.

Sources said rather than handing over powers, the new ministry would share responsibility with a planned Financial Agency on planning and legislating financial crisis management measures, such as handling failed banks.

The plan flies in the face of a deal the LDP struck last October with the main opposition Democratic Party to ``completely separate fiscal and financial functions'' held by MOF.

Mr Obuchi has vowed to reduce the number of bureaucrats over time but his blueprint is largely a merger of the existing 22 ministries and agencies into 13, without a clear diminution of discretionary power held by bureaucrats.

MOF bureaucrats fought a rear-guard action even to prevent their 1,300-year-old name from disappearing, according to Takao Toshikawa, a veteran watcher of politics and the bureaucracy.- Reuters

HK Standard - April 17, 1999

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