Column Foreign Affairs and National Security 2009.07.08
They have shown considerable courage by applying for PAC Dojo, an unheard-of forum with no track record that they had probably learned about by word of mouth, but once they become PACs, they will encounter plenty of challenges to overcome. In this second column, I would like to present my views on the realities of Japanese politics they will have to face.
Although heated discussions on political leadership and civil service reform continue in the political world and media, I feel that many of them are missing the point. Frankly, I find it intolerable to hear misleading arguments that consider taking on bureaucrats' work as political leadership, and bureaucracy bashing as political control. Such views will only deepen moral hazard in the bureaucracy and eventually lower Japan's overall governance capability.
I want PAC members to open a way that will provide a breakthrough to the current impasse. They are expected to pride themselves on taking part in policy-making and implementation for the good of the people, with serious commitment to the national interest, while breaking free from conventional constraints.
The problem is that things are not so easy when one tries to realize such ideals. From my experience, I have learned that there are several points that must be understood before formulating policies.
1. Policy-making is physical work
Policy-making, although it may sound like an intellectual exercise, is a "3K" job (the Japanese acronym for demanding, difficult, and dirty). Young policy-makers should typically dedicate only a few late night hours to purely intellectual work, in their dozen-or-so-hour work day. If they get involved in other projects, it is not unusual for them to work around the clock for a few days straight-even without taking a shower, of course. Policy-making in government is unlike writing a research paper in the library.
2. Implementing policy takes more time
Far more time-consuming than policy-making are prior consultations with related ministries for consensus building and the preparation of briefing materials for parliamentarians of the ruling and opposition parties and answers to questions to be asked at the Diet. Among the many democratic states in the world, no other country would have an organization that consumes as much time and labor of government officials as the Diet of Japan does. Elsewhere in the world, it is unlikely that anyone could find a legislative body that forces rank-and-file bureaucrats to come to the office on weekends in the case where they have to prepare answers to questions expected at the national assembly.
3. Typical politicians do not care about the details of policies
Except for some eccentric individuals, most politicians pay more attention to how to deal with the policy at the Diet and what political impact the policy will have on the political situation. This is the norm and natural, but what concerns me is that recently more and more politicians have become anxious about making detailed administrative decisions, while avoiding the kinds of political decisions they should be making.
4. New breed of politicians do not protect bureaucrats
Recently, there seem to be a greater number of politicians who support a policy after receiving a full explanation from bureaucrats but suddenly change their attitude as soon as their public approval rating drops following an opinion poll. Politicians used to protect the bureaucrats they had worked with, but this rarely applies nowadays. Maybe politicians consider bureaucracy bashing more politically rewarding.
5. As a natural consequence, bureaucrats do not trust politicians
Since bureaucrats are humans, too, it is natural for them to be disinclined to work themselves to the bone for a politician who would not protect them. This is creating tensions between politicians and bureaucrats, tensions different in nature from those in the past. This new relationship is sapping the motivation of dedicated bureaucrats and putting pressure on them to resign. Such a situation will only lead to the deterioration of the administrative arm of government rather than assisting the exercise of political control.
6. Subordinates do not work like robots
The administration is not dependent on personal performance but on long-term organizational efforts. Superiors should be aware that their subordinates are human and will break down in a matter of days unless they are allowed to sleep at least a few hours each night. It is impossible to continue the task of policy-making and implementation unless a team-based approach is taken. Superiors can order their subordinates to work all night, but they should be held responsible for the consequences.
All these are common sense that anyone engaged in policy-making in the Japanese administrative organizations should recognize in the first place. Political appointee candidates are no exception. Moreover, those who are assigned senior positions, such as a director-general and a vice minister, in the Japanese government by political appointment must be willing to work hand-in-hand with bureaucrats to tackle 3K tasks as mentioned above.
We strongly hope that PAC members will devote themselves to training at PAC Dojo while getting ready to confront these challenging tasks.