Copyright GLOBIS

In Japan, the best and brightest university students have always pursued jobs in government. With the risk of government easily becoming unstable, it is important for each bureaucrat to be reform-minded and work to ensure the stable functioning of the bureaucracy. Article 15 of the Constitution of Japan states: “All public officials are servants of the whole community.” It is hoped, more than ever, that bureaucrats with outstanding capabilities in policy administration will execute their duties from the standpoint of the public, with a sense of mission and high ambition.

1. Inculcating a Sense of Mission in Our Bureaucrats

“For whom am I working?” “For what purpose does the bureaucracy exist?” Bureaucrats, first of all, must return to basic principles. The awareness that a public servant “serves the people” and has a high sense of mission to “make Japan better” must be drilled into our bureaucrats through every available process, such as employment entry examinations, training, and evaluation. In private businesses, what is most important is a commitment to the corporate philosophy. Similarly, in government, what is most important is the philosophy of “why government exists and whom it serves.” A firm commitment to this philosophy will preserve the relationship of trust between the bureaucracy and the people.

2. Shifting from Ministerial Interests to National Interests!

Bureaucrats must rise above their traditional loyalties to their own ministerial interests. Instead, they must at all times pursue Japan’s national interests as bureaucrats serving under one flag. This will require such new approaches as centralized personnel management by the Cabinet (centralized recruitment) and bold cross-ministerial reassignment of personnel (a free-agent system and open-application recruiting for all posts above section chief for Japan’s central bureaucracy throughout Kasumigaseki [the area in Tokyo where most central bureaucrats work]).

3. Open-Ended Personnel Exchange with the Private Sector!

In order to overcome the difficult policy challenges that confront Japan today, it is absolutely essential to draw on the resources of the government, bureaucracy and the private sector to bring together the best available knowledge and wisdom. This means that the private sector’s management capabilities, cutting-edge expertise and insights must be put to active use in managing the affairs of the nation and in government administration. For this to work, Japan’s central bureaucracy must be like a “revolving door” to achieve greater fluidity in the movement of policy experts, a task to be realized by promoting greater personnel exchange between the bureaucracy and the private sector, by pursuing mid-career recruits from the private sector, and by implementing open-application recruiting from the private sector with a primary focus on expertise. Success in these undertakings will enable Japan to achieve higher standards of national strategy development and policymaking.

From such a viewpoint, with regard to so-called amakudari (descent from heaven), government officials should be regarded as “political public goods” and this practice should be approved as part of the effective use of human resources as long as transparency is fully ensured and there is no profit inducement. Similarly, mid-career recruits and secondments from the private sector to a government agency should also be encouraged.

4. Creating Responsive Organizations!

The negative implications of the term “bureaucratic” are well known both in English and in Japanese, where the term is used to convey the idea of “authoritarianism,” and “ritualistic tendencies and attitudes.” It is easy to understand that for the sake of fairness, some things can be said directly and other things cannot be revealed. Similarly, we can appreciate that formalism is required in certain situations. It is also understandable to seek to keep an appropriate distance from the party concerned. In this moment of great transition, however, what is needed is sensitivity to understand the local, the actual situations. Bureaucrats must remember that they are individual human beings before they are bureaucrats. We want them to be responsive to individuals as they use their outstanding brainpower in the service of Japan and its people.

In a period of turbulent political change, it is important for capable bureaucrats to be fully responsible for running government administration. To make this possible, our administrators must be committed to principles, national interests, exchanges with the private and local sectors, global perspectives, and responsiveness in government administration. In this context, it is necessary to reorganize Kasumigaseki, its personnel management system, and its communication systems. When outstanding bureaucrats have their pride and confidence restored and start acting in a responsive manner, strong relationships of trust with the public will be established. In this way, we believe a better society founded on trustworthy administration will be achieved.

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