The Yomiuri Shimbun December 24, 2013
Local governments’ will, capabilities tested in transfer of state authority
国の権限移譲 地方の意志と能力も試される(12月24日付・読売社説)

It is essential to revitalize regional areas by eliminating the waste caused by dual administration of central and local governments and work out innovative measures to utilize the individuality and characteristics of each region.

The government has decided to transfer 48 types of clerical work and authority, including the expansion and management of national roads and first-class rivers under its direct control, to prefectures. It also plans to reexamine 18 clerical items, including provision of HelloWork’s job information.

It will submit related bills to the ordinary Diet session convening early next year to realize these goals.

The transfer of authority on national roads and rivers has been left pending since the Council for Decentralization Reform, an advisory panel of the Cabinet Office, recommended this action in 2008. However, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government then came up with a wild scheme of “abolishing in principle” local agencies of the central government, thereby adding a serpentine dimension to discussions on decentralization. But the issue was eventually resolved with realistic measures worked out by the Liberal Democratic Party-led administration.

Administration of some sections of national roads and first-class rivers has already been transferred to prefectures. It is unreasonable to assert that administration can only be carried out by the central government. Coherent town building may be possible by integrated expansion and administration of national roads and connected local roads.

It was appropriate for the government to work out measures to secure fiscal resources, including one allocating local tax grants to finance maintenance and management costs incurred by prefectural governments. Decentralization will not make much headway without securing such fiscal resources.

2-way shift possible

It also will be possible depending on the situation to transfer authority over roads and rivers under the control of local governments to the central government.

Recent years have seen flood damage caused by heavy rain in various parts of the country. In some of these disasters, small municipalities found it difficult to take adequate crisis-management measures for rivers. The central government’s role in times of disaster was recognized anew following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accompanying huge task of reconstruction.

Transferring authority in this manner is reasonable, rather than calling for the uniform transfer of authority to local governments.

Noteworthy is a system for handling registration and clerical work to audit nonprofit organizations that will provide paid-for transport services to replace taxis and buses in underpopulated areas.

Clerical work will be transferred to municipalities that apply for the system. If they are reluctant to do this, such work will be transferred to prefectures willing to do so.

Thus, municipalities will be asked whether they want to undertake new clerical work or are capable of doing so and to make decisions on their own initiative. This formula can be applied to the transfer of other kinds of clerical work and authority to local governments.

It also has been decided to move 29 types of clerical work and authority, including a decision on standards for the composition of primary and middle school classes, to government-designated major cities. These cities will be required to bear the financial burden of paying schoolteachers and administrative personnel, but they will be able to exercise a wider range of discretionary powers, including whether to form small classes.

It is indispensable for the government, prefectures and municipalities to continue studying how to divide the various roles to promote practical decentralization.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2013)
(2013年12月24日01時42分  読売新聞)