Reform of the civil servant system is intended to strengthen the leadership of the Prime Minister’s Office in the personnel affairs of bureaucrats. The ruling and opposition parties should discuss the matter thoroughly so the system will function properly.
The government has submitted to the Diet a set of bills on national civil servant system reform. Its centerpiece is the establishment of a new “cabinet personnel affairs bureau” aimed at integrating the personnel affairs of about 600 senior officials, including administrative vice ministers, bureau chiefs and deputy directors general of the Cabinet Office and ministries.
The chief cabinet secretary will play the key role in examining the aptitude of senior civil servants and discuss appointments and dismissals with the prime minister and cabinet ministers.
Under the new system, the personnel affairs of bureaucrats will be cross-sectional in the Cabinet Office and among ministries rather than vertically segmented. If the system takes root it will help rectify the harmful effect of Kasumigaseki, the country’s bureaucratic nerve center, which is said to place ministries’ interests above national interests. The Prime Minister’s Office has a point in pursuing strategic personnel arrangements in light of the changing times and dealing with immediate administrative tasks.
The question is whether it is possible to make fair and accurate judgments in personnel affairs based on the ability and accomplishments of bureaucrats. The number of civil servants subject to personnel affairs is enormous if the candidates for top official spots are included. Consideration must be given to concerns that personnel affairs carried out arbitrarily may become common.
During the coordination of opinions on the bills, discussions on how to treat the so-called class-based quota, a system under which the number of officials, or quota, is set for each classification based on salary levels, faced serious rough going. The Liberal Democratic Party and the National Personnel Authority strongly opposed a plan to transfer administrative work related to the class-based quota from the personnel authority to the envisaged cabinet personnel affairs bureau.
No change in class-based quota
If the Cabinet, as an employer of civil servants, receives a demand from labor unions to determine the class-based quota, which is a major factor in deciding civil servants’ working conditions, it will be nothing less than de facto labor-management negotiations. The LDP and the personnel authority say this would please labor unions, as it would be a step toward granting basic labor rights to civil servants.
After the discussions, lawmakers compromised and agreed to stipulate in the bills, “The personnel authority’s opinions will be fully respected.” Therefore, there will be no major changes in the class-based quota, with the personnel authority giving its opinion on the quota and the cabinet personnel affairs bureau deciding on it.
It is unlikely the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will give civil servants basic labor rights, including the right to conclude labor agreements and the right to strike. Therefore, it is reasonable to create a new system giving consideration to the personnel authority, which has the function of compensating for restrictions on basic labor rights for civil servants.
The bills also incorporate a provision for creating the post of “assistant to minister”—up to six officials in the Cabinet Office, and one at the Reconstruction Agency and each ministry—“when it is particularly necessary.” Lawmakers and people from the private sector can be assigned to this post. These assistants will serve as government officials to strengthen politicians’ leadership.
However, the government must not appoint an excessive number of officials to this post. If it sets up the post, the government should explain why it needs it and determine what roles the ministerial assistants, senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries should play.
The administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan emphasized “lawmaker-led politics,” demoralizing bureaucrats and causing confusion and stagnation in public administration. We urge the government to reflect on this as it tries to realize lawmaker-led politics.