Japan

   

Executive Capacity

#18
Key Findings
Despite an ongoing shift of power toward the core executive, Japan receives middling scores overall (rank 18) in the area of executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points since 2014.

Policymaking has become increasingly centralized. Planning on key issues is carried out by the prime minister’s Cabinet Office. Significant numbers of political appointees within each ministry help the prime minister shape policy proposals. The large Cabinet Secretariat has significant sectoral expertise. Many sensitive issues are negotiated informally, with cabinet meetings largely a formality.

RIAs are widely performed, but oversight and quality control are weak points. Ministries make considerable effort to engage in ex post evaluation of policies. The government has failed to realize major aspects of its economic and structural-reform program. Constitutional revision remains a controversial issue. The prime minister has retained his control over subordinate ministers.

Regulatory enforcement is in some cases biased toward the interests of large enterprises. A new plan is providing special assistance to 82 regional cities. The government been increasingly active in regional development programs competing with China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Tensions with China have relaxed, but relations with South Korea are at a low point.

Strategic Capacity

#20

How much influence do strategic planning units and bodies have on government decision-making?

10
 9

Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions, and they exercise strong influence on government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Their influence on government decision-making is systematic but limited in issue scope or depth of impact.
 5
 4
 3


Strategic planning units and bodies take a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions. Occasionally, they exert some influence on government decision-making.
 2
 1

In practice, there are no units and bodies taking a long-term view of policy challenges and viable solutions.
Strategic Planning
6
The central-government reform of the Koizumi government in 2001 strengthened the role of lead institutions considerably. The unit officially in charge of “policy planning and comprehensive policy coordination on crucial and specific issues in the cabinet” is the Cabinet Office (Naikaku-fu), which assists the prime minister and his cabinet. It is supported by a well-staffed Cabinet Secretariat (Naikaku-kanbō). The Cabinet Office also coordinates a number of policy councils including the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. While there is a certain amount of overlap between councils concerning strategic issues, the councils have at least contributed to informing the governmental and public discourses in a constructive manner. Whereas individual line ministries have strategic-planning units staffed with mid-ranking officials, their actual influence on long-term planning seems to be limited compared to the clout of bureau chiefs and more senior officials such as administrative vice-ministers. Policy-planning units tend to have very few staff members.

Prime Minister Abe’s reliance on the same chief cabinet secretary since 2012 has greatly contributed to strengthening the role of the Cabinet Office as a strategic-planning unit, as it has come to dominate fields even such as foreign policy. However, the power rests with the leading politicians rather than the bureaucrats involved.

Citations:
Harutaka Takenaka, Institutional Foundation for the Abe Government’s Political Power, Japan Foreign Policy Forum, No. 49, October 2018, https://www.japanpolicyforum.jp/politics/pt20181011174513.html

Dmitry Filippov, How Shinzo Abe Is Changing Japan’s Foreign Policy Apparatus, The Diplomat, 13 December 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/12/how-shinzo-abe-is-changing-japans-foreign-policy-apparatus/

Does the government regularly take into account advice from non-governmental experts during decision-making?

10
 9

In almost all cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 8
 7
 6


For major political projects, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government transparently consults with non-governmental experts in the early stages of government decision-making.
 2
 1

The government does not consult with non-governmental experts, or existing consultations lack transparency entirely and/or are exclusively pro forma.
Expert Advice
6
The Japanese government is assisted by a large number of advisory councils. These are traditionally associated with particular ministries and agencies, with some cross-cutting councils chaired by the prime minister. Such councils are usually composed of private sector representatives, academics, journalists, former civil servants and trade unionists. The question is whether advisory boards truly impact policymaking or whether the executive simply uses them to legitimize preconceived policy plans. The answer may well vary from case to case. In 2018, the government set up an advisory panel tasked with reexamining Japan’s defense guidelines, a move intended to expedite the process. In some instances, LDP-led governments have used outside expertise to overcome opposition to policy changes and reform. Think tanks, most of which operate on a for-profit basis, play only a limited role in terms of influencing national policymaking.

In 2019, powerful Financial Services Minister Taro Aso publicly rejected findings of a Financial Services Agency panel report on the pension system, raising concerns that expert recommendations would in the future be less able to guide policymaking.

Citations:
Sebastian Maslow, Knowledge Regimes in Post-Developmental States: Assessing the Role of Think Tanks in Japan’s Policymaking Process, Pacific Affairs 91 (2018), 1: 95-117.

Advisory panel in works to speed up review of Japan defense guidelines, The Japan Times, 26 August 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/26/national/politics-diplomacy/advisory-panel-established-step-defense-guideline-review/

Naoko Furuyashiki, Finance minister Aso blasted for rejecting report on inadequate pension system, The Mainichi, 21 June 2019, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190621/p2a/00m/0fp/015000c

Interministerial Coordination

#19

Does the government office / prime minister’s office (GO / PMO) have the expertise to evaluate ministerial draft bills according to the government’s priorities?

10
 9

The GO / PMO provides regular, independent evaluations of draft bills for the cabinet / prime minister. These assessments are guided exclusively by the government’s priorities.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO evaluates most draft bills according to the government’s priorities.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO can rely on some sectoral policy expertise but does not evaluate draft bills.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not have any sectoral policy expertise. Its role is limited to collecting, registering and circulating documents submitted for cabinet meetings.
GO Expertise
7
The Cabinet Secretariat has more than 800 employees, with expertise in all major policy fields. These employees are usually temporarily seconded by their ministries. While these staffers possess considerable expertise in their respective fields, it is doubtful whether they can function in an unbiased manner on issues where the institutional interests of their home organizations are concerned. Moreover, the system lacks adequate infrastructure for broader coordination (including public relations or contemporary methods of policy evaluation).

Citations:
Izuru Makihara, The Role of the Kantei in Making Policy, nippon.com, 27.06.2013, http://www.nippon.com/en/features/c00408/

Markus Winter, Abe and the Bureaucracy: Tightening the Reins, The Diplomat, 16 June 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/abe-and-the-bureacracy-tightening-the-reins/

To what extent do line ministries involve the government office/prime minister’s office in the preparation of policy proposals?

10
 9

There are inter-related capacities for coordination between GO/PMO and line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO/PMO is regularly briefed on new developments affecting the preparation of policy proposals.
 5
 4
 3


Consultation is rather formal and focuses on technical and drafting issues.
 2
 1

Consultation occurs only after proposals are fully drafted as laws.
Line Ministries
7
In Japan, the role of line ministries vis-à-vis the government office is complicated by the influence of a third set of actors: entities within the governing parties. During the decades of the LDP’s postwar rule, the party’s own policymaking organ, the Policy Affairs Research Council, developed considerable influence, ultimately gaining the power to vet and approve policy proposals in all areas of government policy.

Under the current LDP-led government, Prime Minister Abe has tried successfully to make certain that he and his close confidants determine the direction of major policy proposals. The reform program does indeed show the influence of the Cabinet Office, with the ministries either following this course or trying to drag their feet. Abe’s main instrument is the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, which grants control over more than 600 appointments, or as many as half a dozen political appointees per ministry.

While ministries have sometimes sought to regain their former clout over their portfolios, seven years under one prime minister (Abe since late 2012) have centralized policymaking practices to a quite substantial degree. The cabinet reshuffle of September 2019 seems to have strengthened this trend further, with Abe setting up “axes” of close political allies in core ministries to promote his agenda.

Citations:
Leo Lewis and Kana Inagaki, Japan Inc.: Heavy meddling, The Financial Times, 15 March 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/0118e3a6-ea99-11e5-bb79-2303682345c8

Jesper Koll, Abe’s lesson in stability and pragmatism, The Japan Times, 13 September 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/09/13/commentary/japan-commentary/abes-lesson-stability-pragmatism/

How effectively do ministerial or cabinet committees coordinate cabinet proposals?

10
 9

The vast majority of cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated first by committees.
 8
 7
 6


Most cabinet proposals are reviewed and coordinated by committees, in particular proposals of political or strategic importance.
 5
 4
 3


There is little review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees.
 2
 1

There is no review or coordination of cabinet proposals by committees. Or: There is no ministerial or cabinet committee.
Cabinet Committees
6
Government committees exist in a number of important fields in which coordination among ministries with de facto overlapping jurisdictions plays an important role. The most important is the Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), headed by the prime minister. However, this has never been a “ministerial committee” in a strict sense. First, it has only an advisory function. Second, individuals from the private sector – two academics and two business representatives in the current configuration – are included. This can increase the impact of such councils, but it also means they are somewhat detached from political processes.

Prime Minister Abe again strengthened the formal role of the CEFP and set up the Headquarters for Japan’s Economic Revitalization as a “quasi-sub-committee” of the CEFP encompassing all state ministers. The CEFP or the Headquarters are expected to hold initial discussions on the assignment of policies to committees, while the cabinet has to approve decisions. However, given Abe’s strong grip on the policy process, council discussions have lost some of their relevance.

There are currently four councils operating directly under the Cabinet Office, including CEFP and the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation.

The creation of the National Security Council in 2013 was a similar case in which interministerial coordination was intensified in the interest of asserting the prime minister’s policy priorities.

Citations:
‘Bold’economic and fiscal policy in Japan becoming a mere facade, Editorial, The Mainichi, 22 June 2019, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190622/p2a/00m/0na/009000c

How effectively do ministry officials/civil servants coordinate policy proposals?

10
 9

Most policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 8
 7
 6


Many policy proposals are effectively coordinated by ministry officials/civil servants.
 5
 4
 3


There is some coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
 2
 1

There is no or hardly any coordination of policy proposals by ministry officials/civil servants.
Ministerial Bureaucracy
7
The LDP-led government in power since 2012 has worked effectively with the bureaucracy. In 2014, the government introduced a Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs tasked with helping the prime minister make appointment decisions regarding the 600 elite bureaucrats in ministries and other major agencies. This significantly expanded the Cabinet Office’s involvement in the process and its influence over the ministerial bureaucracy, including the influence of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has been in office since 2012. There are more political appointees in the ministries than before, and since Abe’s accession in 2012, the average stay of such appointees has become longer, giving them greater expertise and clout in their ministries. In the September 2019 cabinet reshuffle, Abe again reappointed key allies. There are growing concerns that basing the promotion of senior ministry civil servants on political considerations and personal allegiances may diminish their utility in terms of offering neutral expertise.

Citations:
Loyalty trumps scandal in Abe’s selections for new Cabinet, Editorial, The Asahi Shimbun, 12 September 2019, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201909120031.html

Hideaki Tanaka, Should Civil Servants Offer Allegiance or Expertise? Lessons from the Moritomo and Kake Scandals, Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, 1 May 2018, http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/articles/2018/role-of-civil-servants

How effectively do informal coordination mechanisms complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination?

10
 9

Informal coordination mechanisms generally support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


In most cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, informal coordination mechanisms support formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

Informal coordination mechanisms tend to undermine rather than complement formal mechanisms of interministerial coordination.
Informal Coordination
9
Informal relations and related agreements, which are very common in Japan, can facilitate coordination but may also lead to collusion. In terms of institutionalized informal coordination mechanisms in the realm of policymaking, informal meetings and debates between the ministries and the ruling party’s policy-research departments have traditionally been very important.

Under the government in power since 2012, the political leadership has had to navigate skillfully between the coalition partners, line ministries and their bureaucrats, and a more inquisitive public. The chief cabinet secretary is a key actor in this regard. Cabinet meetings are essentially formalities, with sensitive issues informally discussed and decided beforehand. Ministries collect and make public few, if any, records of meetings between politicians and bureaucrats as they are supposed to do under the 2008 Basic Act of Reform of the National Civil Servant System.

The general trend toward greater transparency may even have strengthened the role of informality in order to avoid awkward situations. In a number of instances, it has become apparent that senior agencies have deleted files relating to discussions extremely early. In 2019, the chief cabinet secretary admitted that no records of meetings between the prime minister and senior officials are kept at the prime minister’s office.

Citations:
Cabinet minutes show formality, no substance, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/05/national/politics-diplomacy/cabinet-minutes-show-formality-no-substance/

Enhancing government accountability (Ediorial), The Japan Times, 13 August 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/08/13/editorials/enhancing-government-accountability/

Tadashi Kobayashi and Taiji Mukohata, Japan trade ministry told employees to obscure meeting records, The Mainichi, 30 August 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180830/p2a/00m/0na/004000c

Hiroyuki Oba, Suga admits Japan PM office kept no records of meetings between Abe, gov’t agency execs, The Mainichi, 4 June 2019, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190604/p2a/00m/0na/011000c

How extensively and effectively are digital technologies used to support interministerial coordination (in policy development and monitoring)?

10
 9

The government uses digital technologies extensively and effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 8
 7
 6


The government uses digital technologies in most cases and somewhat effectively to support interministerial coordination.
 5
 4
 3


The government uses digital technologies to a lesser degree and with limited effects to support interministerial coordination.
 2
 1

The government makes no substantial use of digital technologies to support interministerial coordination.
Digitalization for Interministerial C.
4
Digital technologies designed for interministerial coordination and broader government-to-government (G2G) services are not at the core of Japan’s e-government initiative. Rather, the focus of e-government policies is on the creation and use of e-platforms that enable citizens to interact with the various levels of government more effectively and efficiently (G2C). This approach was confirmed in the Digital Government Action Plan released in 2018, in which G2G models do not play a prominent role.

Recent public discussion has focused on how to properly use official email services and other features such as shared folders. Quite a few civil servants, including senior ones, consider such technologies to be cumbersome. More importantly, these critics seem concerned that emails will be stored as public documents, a fact that might result the emergence of unwelcome evidence in the case of scandal, based on the requirements and disclosure rules of the Public Records and Archives Management Act and the Information Disclosure Law. Given this perspective, it is doubtful that G2G technologies will gain much momentum among senior ministry officials.

Citations:
Leading administrative reform under premise of digitization, METI Journal in the Japan Times, 11 January 2019, https://meti-journal.japantimes.co.jp/2019-01-11/

Bureaucrats reveal that most official emails are not kept properly, The Mainichi, 15 January 2018, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180115/p2a/00m/0na/017000c

Evidence-based Instruments

#18

To what extent does the government assess the potential impacts of existing and prepared legal acts (regulatory impact assessments, RIA)?

10
 9

RIA are applied to all new regulations and to existing regulations which are characterized by complex impact paths. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 8
 7
 6


RIA are applied systematically to most new regulations. RIA methodology is guided by common minimum standards.
 5
 4
 3


RIA are applied in some cases. There is no common RIA methodology guaranteeing common minimum standards.
 2
 1

RIA are not applied or do not exist.
RIA Application
8
The basic framework for policy evaluation in Japan is the Government Policy Evaluations Act of 2001.

The process is administered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC, Administrative Evaluation Bureau), while the ministries are charged with doing their own analyses, which has led some to question the impartiality of the procedure. However, a number of evaluations in strategically important fields have been undertaken by the MIC itself. In 2010, the ministry took over responsibility for policy evaluations of special measures concerning taxation as well as impact analyses of regulations dealing with competition issues.

The Ministry of Finance also performs a Budget Execution Review for selected issues, and the Board of Audit engages in financial audits of government accounts.

The fragmented nature of such assessments seems to indicate potentially low levels of reliability and effectiveness. Indeed, it is difficult to point to a major policy arena in which these endeavors have led to major improvements.

Citations:
Miki Matsuura, Joanna Watkins, William Dorotinsky: Overview of Public Sector Performance Assessment Processes in Japan, GET Note: Japanese Public Sector Assessment Processes, August 2010, World Bank

Hidehiko Ichimura and Daiji Kawaguchi, Evidence-based Policymaking: Independence and human resource development are the key, research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI), 30 November 2017, https://www.rieti.go.jp/en/papers/contribution/ichimura/02.html

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Administrative Counseling Division), Japanese Ombudsman System, Tokyo, March 2018

Does the RIA process ensure participation, transparency and quality evaluation?

10
 9

RIA analyses consistently involve stakeholders by means of consultation or collaboration, results are transparently communicated to the public and assessments are effectively evaluated by an independent body on a regular basis.
 8
 7
 6


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to one of the three objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The RIA process displays deficiencies with regard to two of the three objectives.
 2
 1

RIA analyses do not exist or the RIA process fails to achieve any of the three objectives of process quality.
Quality of RIA Process
7
According to the Basic Guidelines for Implementing Policy Evaluation, revised in March 2007, the necessity, efficiency and effectiveness of measures are to be the central considerations in evaluations. However, issues of equity and priority are also to be included. The structure and content of assessments are further clarified in the Policy Evaluation Implementation Guidelines of 2005 and the Implementation Guidelines for Ex Ante Evaluation of Regulations of 2007. All of these specifications contain quite demanding tasks that must be performed as a part of the evaluations.

Critics have argued that many officials regard RIA as bothersome and lack strong incentives to take it seriously. Having RIA run by a line ministry, the MIC, instead of a powerful independent agency, does not seem to be very effective.

According to recent data, Japan scores considerably below the OECD average with regard to RIA implementation, particularly in the areas of oversight and quality control.

Citations:
Andrei Greenawalt, The Regulatory Process in Japan in Comparison with the United States, RIETI Column 318, 2015, http://www.rieti.go.jp/en/columns/a01_0431.html

Naohiro Yashiro, Regulatory Coherence: The Case of Japan, ERIA Discussion Paper 2016-16, March 2016, http://www.eria.org/publications/discussion_papers/DP2016-16.html

Nikolai Malyshev, Regulatory Impact Assessment: State of Play in OECD Countries, Paper for the KDI-OECD Seminar on Improving Regulatory Governance: trends, practices and the way forward, 6 September 2017

Does the government conduct effective sustainability checks within the framework of RIA?

10
 9

Sustainability checks are an integral part of every RIA; they draw on an exhaustive set of indicators (including social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability) and track impacts from the short- to long-term.
 8
 7
 6


Sustainability checks lack one of the three criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Sustainability checks lack two of the three criteria.
 2
 1

Sustainability checks do not exist or lack all three criteria.
Sustainability Check
2
According to the 2001 Government Policy Evaluation Act, policy effects have to be evaluated in terms of the three criteria of necessity, efficiency and effectiveness. These terms are somewhat flexible and do not necessarily encompass sustainability concerns. Indeed, actual evaluations apply the three guiding principles in a somewhat loose way, with few rigorous quantitative assessments. Reviews cover both pre-project as well as post-project evaluations.

Citations:
MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Japan), Website on evaluation results, http://www.soumu.go.jp/menu_seisakuhyouka/kekka.html (accessed in October 2018)

To what extent do government ministries regularly evaluate the effectiveness and/or efficiency of public policies and use results of evaluations for the revision of existing policies or development of new policies?

10
 9

Ex post evaluations are carried out for all significant policies and are generally used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 8
 7
 6


Ex post evaluations are carried out for most significant policies and are used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 5
 4
 3


Ex post evaluations are rarely carried out for significant policies and are rarely used for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
 2
 1

Ex post evaluations are generally not carried out and do not play any relevant role for the revision of existing policies or the development of new policies.
Quality of Ex Post Evaluation
7
Government ministries evaluate their policies on an ex post basis. The Administrative Evaluation Bureau (AEB) conducts inspections, and each ministry carries out independent evaluations of the effects of its own policies. The AEB supports such activities, for instance by encouraging ministries to share methodologies and experiences. It also works to standardize and prioritize policy evaluations, and reviews ministry and agency evaluations.

However, Japan is ranked comparatively low in an OECD ex post evaluation index for 2014. In 2017, a new rule was introduced requiring regulatory enforcement ministries and agencies, which previously had primarily evaluated regulations themselves, to engage in ex post evaluation.

At this stage, it is difficult to judge the quality of the ministerial evaluation efforts, or whether such activities have indeed become a major source of information in the reformulation of policies and projects. Such evaluations do not play a significant role in public-policy discussions.

Citations:
Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform, Third Report by the Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform – For New Era to Come, Provisional Translation, 4 June 2018

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Administrative Counseling Division), Japanese Ombudsman System, Tokyo, March 2018

OECD, Government at a Glance 2017

Societal Consultation

#19

Does the government consult with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner?

10
 9

The government always consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 8
 7
 6


The government in most cases consults with societal actors in a fair and pluralistic manner.
 5
 4
 3


The government does consult with societal actors, but mostly in an unfair and clientelistic manner.
 2
 1

The government rarely consults with any societal actors.
Public Consultation
6
LDP-led governments have traditionally engaged in societal consultation through the so-called iron triangle, that is, the dense links between parliamentarians, the ministerial bureaucracy and large companies. However, these mechanisms tended to exclude other societal actors such as trade unions. With the onset of economic problems in the 1990s, tensions within this triangle increased, and relations over time became strained enough to indicate the effective demise of the iron triangle system at the national level.

With respect to the current LDP-Komeito coalition, the Buddhist lay association Soka Gakkai provides the bulk of support for Komeito, and has consequently gained some influence over policy matters of interest to the organization. This has been particularly evident during the ongoing debate over constitutional reform. The LDP is in favor of this reform, while Soka Gakkai and Komeito have a pacifist background, and have sought to slow down any major initiative. Abe enjoys the support of the arch-conservative Nippon Kaigi lobby group, but its influence is difficult to substantiate and is possibly overrated in media reports.

It is frequently argued that business has considerable influence on government decision-making. Substantiating such claims is difficult, as there is a lack of transparent rules governing lobbying. There seems to be little scope for business-state alignment, as major firms have become global players that are decreasingly interested in or bound to the home market. Some lobbying firms now cater primarily to smaller and foreign companies. One traditional mechanism of bureaucracy-business alignment, the “amakudari” system of providing bureaucrats with lucrative post-retirement jobs, has been suppressed since the 2008 reform to the National Civil Service Law.

Citations:
Grant Newsham, Japan’s conservative Nippon Kaigi lobby: Worth worrying about?, Asia Times, 19 July 2016, http://www.atimes.com/article/japans-conservative-nippon-kaigi-lobby-worth-worrying-about/

William Pesek, Why Isn’t Japan Inc. Helping Japan?, Bloomberg View, 13 January 2015, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-01-13/japan-inc-isnt-very-japanese-any-longer

Yumiko Yokota, Ending “Amakudari” Descent from Heaven at Last?, http://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00317/

Rieko Miki, Lobbying firms offer outsiders access to Japan’s policy machine, Nikkei Asian Review, 30 March 2019, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Lobbying-firms-offer-outsiders-access-to-Japan-s-policy-machine

Policy Communication

#19

To what extent does the government achieve coherent communication?

10
 9

Ministries are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 8
 7
 6


Ministries most of the time are highly successful in aligning their communication with government strategy.
 5
 4
 3


Ministries occasionally issue public statements that contradict the public communication of other ministries or the government strategy.
 2
 1

Strategic communication planning does not exist; individual ministry statements regularly contradict each other. Messages are often not factually consistent with the government’s strategy.
Coherent Communication
6
Policy communication has always been a priority for Japanese governments. Ministries and other governmental agencies publish regular reports on their work, including white papers and other materials.

However, the triple disaster of March 2011 seriously undermined the population’s trust in governmental information, due to the lack of transparency and the failure to deliver timely public information. The degree to which Japan’s public trusts the government has since recovered somewhat, but according to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 survey, only 39% of citizens trust the government, a significantly lower share than in many other countries.

LDP leaders occasionally make policy statements that are not fully in line with party positions, generally prompted by personal dissatisfaction with specific government policies. One recent example involved dissenting stances on plans to change the so-called peace clause of the constitution.

The LDP-led coalition has pushed through its policy priorities more assertively than earlier governments, while giving less consideration to dissenting opinions.

In late 2018, it came to light that the Monthly Labor Survey had used an improper methodology for collecting data since 2004, leading to an overestimation of wage growth. Following this exposure, weaknesses in some other government statistical measures also became apparent.

Citations:
Edelman, 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer – Japan, https://de.slideshare.net/EdelmanJapan/2019-edelman-trust-barometer-japan

Hideo Hayakawa, Japan’s Statistics Scandal: The Need for New Approaches, Nippon.com post, 18 March 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/d00475/japan%E2%80%99s-statistics-scandal-the-need-for-new-approaches.html

Implementation

#22

To what extent can the government achieve its own policy objectives?

10
 9

The government can largely implement its own policy objectives.
 8
 7
 6


The government is partly successful in implementing its policy objectives or can implement some of its policy objectives.
 5
 4
 3


The government partly fails to implement its objectives or fails to implement several policy objectives.
 2
 1

The government largely fails to implement its policy objectives.
Government Effectiveness
6
While the economy has improved since Abe became prime minister in 2012, major aspects of the government’s economic-policy program remain unrealized. Most critically, structural reforms have not been carried out as promised. Reforms implemented to date have been too indecisive with regard to the labor market and other issues. As a consequence, economic growth remains weak, and the 2% inflation goal remains unrealized. The consumption-tax hike of October 2019 is too small to achieve fiscal consolidation any time soon.

Many longer-term issues continue to linger in the area of social policy. This is particularly true with regard to the much-needed reform of the social security system. While a new government panel was created in late 2019 to discuss sweeping measures in this area, the future course is still unclear and contested.

Seven years into Abe’s premiership, he has still failed to achieve his primary goal of constitutional revision. In the upper house election of 2019, Abe’s pro-amendment camp lost its two-thirds-majority in that chamber. Concrete measures such as an amendment to the Referendum Law made little progress in 2019. The population remains very divided on the issue, and the LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, is not in full agreement on the issue.

In terms of international relations, tensions with China have relaxed somewhat in recent years. Relations with neighboring South Korea are at their lowest point in many years, if not decades. A trade pact was successfully concluded in late 2019 with Japan’s core ally, the United States, although at the price of major concessions.

Citations:
Kaori Kaneko, Japan’s Abe gets middling marks on his economic performance, Reuters, 12 September 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-economy-poll/japans-abe-gets-middling-marks-on-his-economic-performance-from-analysts-poll-idUSKCN1LU0FB

Japan seen as unlikely to achieve fiscal consolidation target despite tax hike, The Japan Times, 1 October 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/10/01/business/japan-seen-unlikely-achieve-fiscal-consolidation-target-despite-tax-hike/

Song Jung-a and Kana Inagaki, Why Japan-South Korea relations have soured, The Financial Times, 28 August 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/94ce21dc-c584-11e9-a8e9-296ca66511c9

Abe wins upper house poll but suffers constitutional reform setback, Kyodo News, 22 July 2019, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/07/7daa3eb5fd2b-voting-begins-in-japans-upper-house-election.html

To what extent does the organization of government provide mechanisms to ensure that ministers implement the government’s program?

10
 9

The organization of government successfully provides strong mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 8
 7
 6


The organization of government provides some mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 5
 4
 3


The organization of government provides weak mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
 2
 1

The organization of government does not provide any mechanisms for ministers to implement the government’s program.
Ministerial Compliance
8
Japan’s political framework formally provides the prime minister with powerful tools to control ministers. Prime ministers can appoint and fire ministers at will. Moreover, prime ministers can effectively veto specific sectoral policies. In practice, however, prime ministerial options have been more limited, as most have lacked full control over their own parties and over the powerful and entrenched bureaucracy.

Recent governments, including the current one, have sought to centralize policymaking within the core executive. Some measures have been institutional, such as giving new weight to the Cabinet Secretariat attached to the Cabinet Office and to the Council for Economic and Fiscal Policy, a cabinet committee in which the prime minister has a stronger voice. Other measures include a stronger role in top-level personnel decisions, aided by the creation of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs in 2014. Such institutional measures have proved quite successful, and the cabinet reshuffle of September 2019 indicated that the prime minister retains a strong grip on ministerial appointments.

Citations:
Michael Macarthur Bosack, Abe shows his command over LDP in reshuffle, The Japan Times, 12 September 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/09/12/commentary/japan-commentary/abe-shows-command-ldp-reshuffle/

How effectively does the government office/prime minister’s office monitor line ministry activities with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The GO / PMO effectively monitors the implementation activities of all line ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of most line ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The GO / PMO monitors the implementation activities of some line ministries.
 2
 1

The GO / PMO does not monitor the implementation activities of line ministries.
Monitoring Ministries
6
Generally speaking, the Cabinet Secretariat, upgraded over a decade ago, offers a means of monitoring ministry activities. In recent years, its staffing has expanded, improving its monitoring capacity. However, effective use of the secretariat has been hindered in the past by the fact that the ministries send specialists from their own staff to serve as secretariat employees. It de facto lacks the ability to survey all activities at all times, but the current, long-serving chief cabinet secretary is considered an effective enforcer of official positions.

At the same time, some critics argue that the need to handle the simmering scandals engulfing the prime minister have distracted him and his central staff from following up on major policy issues.

Citations:
Heizo Takenaka, The season of economic policy (Commentary), The Japan Times, 1 July 2018, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/07/01/commentary/japan-commentary/season-economic-policy/

How effectively do federal and subnational ministries monitor the activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The ministries effectively monitor the implementation activities of all bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 8
 7
 6


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of most bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 5
 4
 3


The ministries monitor the implementation activities of some bureaucracies/executive agencies.
 2
 1

The ministries do not monitor the implementation activities of bureaucracies/executive agencies.
Monitoring Agencies|Bureaucracies
7
Japanese ministries are traditionally run by civil servants who work in a single ministry throughout their career. Government agencies that belong to a specific ministry’s sectoral area are thus also directed by civil servants delegated from that ministry, who may return to it after a number of years. From that perspective, control of executive agencies below the ministerial level can be quite effective. This mechanism is supported by budget allocations and peer networks.

In 2001, so-called independent administrative agencies were established, following new-public-management recommendations for improving the execution of well-defined policy goals by making them the responsibility of professionally managed quasi-governmental organizations. These agencies are subject to evaluation mechanisms similar to those discussed in the section on regulatory impact assessment (RIA), based on modified legislation. In recent years, voices skeptical of this arrangement have gained ground because the effectiveness of this independent-agency mechanism has been hindered to some extent by the network effects created by close agency-ministry staffing links. In addition, the administrators in charge have typically originated from the civil service, and thus have not always possessed a managerial mindset.

To what extent does the central government ensure that tasks delegated to subnational self-governments are adequately funded?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to fulfill all their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 8
 7
 6


The central government enables subnational governments to fulfill most of their delegated tasks by funding these tasks sufficiently and/or by providing adequate revenue-raising powers.
 5
 4
 3


The central government sometimes and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational governments.
 2
 1

The central government often and deliberately shifts unfunded mandates to subnational self-governments.
Task Funding
6
Local governments – prefectures and municipalities – strongly depend on the central government. Local taxes account for less than half of local revenues and the system of vertical fiscal transfers is fairly complicated. Pressures to reduce expenditures have increased, as local budgets are increasingly tight given the aging of the population. In 2019, the Ministry of Finance issued proposals to reduce the local-government workforce accordingly.

Other measures have included a merger of municipalities designed to create economies of scale, and a redefinition of burdensome local-agency functions. Since 2014 – 2015, special regional vitalization zones and special economic zones (tokku) where national regulations have been eased have served as field experiments for improved policymaking. Many observers have criticized this approach as being insufficiently bold. In late 2018, the government unveiled a plan to designate 82 regional cities as core urban centers and support them with special assistance.

Citations:
Takuji Okubo, The truth about Japan’s tokku special zones, JBpress Website, 02.07.2014, http://jbpress.ismedia.jp/articles/-/41109

Promoting local autonomy, The Japan Times, 9 January 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/01/09/editorials/promoting-local-autonomy/

Eric Johnston, Abe’s plan to battle Japan’s regional brain drain draws mixed reviews, The Japan Times, 9 January 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/01/09/national/social-issues/abes-plan-battle-japans-regional-brain-drain-draws-mixed-reviews/

Japan’s Finance Ministry proposes cuts to local government workforce as population drops, The Japan Times, 23 May 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/05/23/business/japans-finance-ministry-proposes-cuts-local-government-workforce-population-drops/

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments may use their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation?

10
 9

The central government enables subnational self-governments to make full use of their constitutional scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 8
 7
 6


Central government policies inadvertently limit the subnational self-governments’ scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 5
 4
 3


The central government formally respects the constitutional autonomy of subnational self-governments, but de facto narrows their scope of discretion with regard to implementation.
 2
 1

The central government deliberately precludes subnational self-governments from making use of their constitutionally provided implementation autonomy.
Constitutional Discretion
4
The Japanese constitution guarantees the autonomy of local governments. However, articles 92 to 95 discussing local self-government are very short and lack specifics. The central state makes its power felt through three mechanisms in particular: control over vertical fiscal transfers, the delegation of functions that local entities are required to execute, and personnel relations between local entities and the central ministry in charge of local autonomy. Moreover, co-financing schemes for public works provide incentives to follow central-government policies.

Over the last decade, there have been a growing number of initiatives aimed at strengthening local autonomy. However, the success of the government’s regional revitalization drive remains questionable given the continuing allure of Tokyo and its surroundings. This issue is gaining in urgency as remote regions age and lose population with increasing speed.

Experiences with increasing agency autonomy in Japan have been underwhelming to date. A recent survey suggested that quasi-public so-called independent agencies still essentially remain dependent on the government.

Citations:
Local autonomy in dire peril (Editorial), The Japan Times, 26 January 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/01/26/editorials/local-autonomy-dire-peril/

Shuntaro Iizuka, Consequences of Agencification in Japan: An Analysis of Survey Data, Paper for IPSA Conference 2018, https://wc2018.ipsa.org/events/congress/wc2018/paper/consequences-agencification-japan-analysis-survey-data

To what extent does central government ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services?

10
 9

Central government effectively ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 8
 7
 6


Central government largely ensures that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
 5
 4
 3


Central government ensures that subnational self-governments realize national minimum standards of public services.
 2
 1

Central government does not ensure that subnational self-governments realize national standards of public services.
National Standards
8
Japanese government authorities put great emphasis on the existence of reasonable unitary standards for the provision of public services. The move toward decentralization makes it particularly important to raise standards for the local provision of public services. Within the central government, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is in charge of this task, which involves direct supervision, personnel transfers between central and local entities, and training activities. While a 2000 reform abolished local entities’ agency functions in a strict sense (with direct administrative supervision losing some importance as compared to legal and judicial supervision), other channels have remained important. At the local and particularly the prefectural level, there is an elaborate training system that is linked in various ways to national-level standards. The government seeks to promote evidence-based policymaking through new data platforms, which are also meant to support local governments in the implementation of plan-do-check-adjust cycles.

A unified digital “My Number Card” system (based on the new social-security and tax number system) was introduced for citizens in 2015 to help authorities provide and enforce uniform services. However, this system is facing sustained opposition and foot-dragging by citizens. The government has implemented a variety of initiatives seeking to increase usage, including the use of these cards as health insurance cards.

Citations:
My Number law takes effect amid privacy fears, The Japan Times, 5 October 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/05/national/number-law-now-effect-notifications-set-sent/

Japan to Allow Use of My Number Cards as Health Insurance Cards, Nippon.com, 15 February 2019, https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2019021500354/japan-to-allow-use-of-my-number-cards-as-health-insurance-cards.html

Cabinet Office, Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2017 – Increasing productivity through investment in human resources, Overview, 9 June 2017

To what extent is government enforcing regulations in an effective and unbiased way, also against vested interests?

10
 9

Government agencies enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 8
 7
 6


Government agencies, for the most part, enforce regulations effectively and without bias.
 5
 4
 3


Government agencies enforce regulations, but ineffectively and with bias.
 2
 1

Government agencies enforce regulations ineffectively, inconsistently and with bias.
Regulatory Enforcement
6
During the early postwar period, the operations of the so-called iron triangle between LDP politicians, the ministerial bureaucracy and big business served to promote overall economic growth, with a bias in favor of large enterprise groups. At the same time, this system ensured that policymaking was not captured by selective industry interests. Following the collapse of the bubble economy around 1990, the iron triangle declined, but a bias in favor of larger enterprises can still be noted.

In some policy areas, however, the role of vested interests is conspicuous. A notable example is energy policy, where the relationship between ministerial bureaucrats, specialized politicians and the nuclear-power industry – basically the major regional energy providers – has remained rather close. Another example is agriculture, which has received particularly favorable treatment and protection for decades as governments have sought to secure rural votes. Whereas the government has stepped up the liberalization of agriculture in recent times, trade agreements such as the Japan-EU FTA and even the 2019 Japan-U.S. trade pact have reflected this to only a limited degree.

Citations:
Jeff Kingston, Japan’s nuclear village. Power and resilience, in: Jeff Kingston (ed.), Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan, Abingdon: Routledge 2013, pp. 107-119

Masayoshi Honma and Aurelia George Mulgan, Political Economy of Agricultural Reform in Japan under Abe’s Administration, Asian Economic Policy Review, Volume13, Issue1, January 2018, pp. 128-144

Xiaochen Su, The Toxic Influence of Japan’s Rural Political Interest Groups, The Diplomat, 5 January 2019, https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/the-toxic-influence-of-japans-rural-political-interest-groups/

Adaptability

#16

To what extent does the government respond to international and supranational developments by adapting domestic government structures?

10
 9

The government has appropriately and effectively adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 8
 7
 6


In many cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 5
 4
 3


In some cases, the government has adapted domestic government structures to international and supranational developments.
 2
 1

The government has not adapted domestic government structures, no matter how beneficial adaptation might be.
Domestic Adaptability
6
Japan’s reform processes are usually driven by domestic developments and interests, but international models or perceived best practices do play a role at times. Actors interested in reform have frequently appealed to international standards and trends to support their position. However, it is often doubtful whether substantial reform is truly enacted or whether Japan follows international standards in only a formal sense, with underlying informal institutional mechanisms changing much more slowly.

To what extent is the government able to collaborate effectively with international efforts to foster global public goods?

10
 9

The government can take a leading role in shaping and implementing collective efforts to provide global public goods. It is able to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
 8
 7
 6


The government is largely able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Existing processes enabling the government to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress are, for the most part, effective.
 5
 4
 3


The government is partially able to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. Processes designed to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress show deficiencies.
 2
 1

The government does not have sufficient institutional capacities to shape and implement collective efforts to provide global public goods. It does not have effective processes to ensure coherence in national policies affecting progress.
International Coordination
8
Japan is actively involved in G-7 and G-20 mechanisms. While the country has a lower profile in international and global settings than might be expected in view of its global economic standing, the growing linkages between international economic and political issues have helped the Abe-led government to raise its profile, for instance by chairing the 2019 G-20 summit. Japan established an “Osaka Track” framework for free and secure cross-border data flows, created an initiative to tackle marine plastic litter, and has been a prime mover for the G-20 Action Agenda on Adaptation and Resilient Infrastructure relating to global ecological calamities.

The Japanese constitution makes it difficult for Japan to engage in international missions that include the use of force, although it can contribute funds. As a result of Japan’s five-year participation in a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (which ended in 2017), the government has flexibly expanded various procedures stopping just short of active military engagement, such as providing ammunition to endangered military units from partner countries. In 2015, despite considerable public opposition, new security laws were passed that allow military intervention overseas in defense of (somewhat vaguely defined) allies.

Japan has actively supported and contributed to regional initiatives. In recent years, China has emerged as an increasingly influential actor shaping regional initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative. Partly in response, Japan has started to promote its own (smaller-scale) initiatives, such as the Partnership for Quality Infrastructure in 2015 – 2016; the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy of 2016, which also includes Australia, India and the United States; and an invigoration of its development cooperation with Africa, particularly in the context of the 2019 meeting of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

Citations:
Mitsuru Obe, Japan Parliament Approves Overseas Military Expansion, The Wall Street Journal, 18 September 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-parliament-approves-abe-security-bills-1442596867

Werner Pascha, The political economy of new multilateral initiatives in Pacific Asia, in: Carmen Mendes (ed.): China’s New Silk Road. An Emerging World Order, Routledge: London and New York, 2019, pp. 69-86

Michael Bosack, What did Japan Learn in South Sudan?, The Diplomat, 10 June 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/what-did-japan-learn-in-south-sudan/

Paul Goldstein, Japan’s growing geostrategic role, The Japan Times, 23 June 2019, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2019/06/23/commentary/japan-commentary/japans-growing-geostrategic-role/

Organizational Reform

#9

To what extent do actors within the government monitor whether institutional arrangements of governing are appropriate?

10
 9

The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly and effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The institutional arrangements of governing are monitored regularly.
 5
 4
 3


The institutional arrangements of governing are selectively and sporadically monitored.
 2
 1

There is no monitoring.
Self-monitoring
7
Reform of the executive has been a major topic in Japan for over a decade. Under Prime Minister Abe, the LDP-led government has sought to readjust institutional arrangements by establishing and/or reinvigorating a number of councils and committees. To some extent, the Abe government has sought to bring back the leadership framework that characterized the government under Prime Minister Koizumi (2001 – 2006), for instance through a strong Cabinet Office.

To what extent does the government improve its strategic capacity by changing the institutional arrangements of governing?

10
 9

The government improves its strategic capacity considerably by changing its institutional arrangements.
 8
 7
 6


The government improves its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 5
 4
 3


The government does not improve its strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
 2
 1

The government loses strategic capacity by changing its institutional arrangements.
Institutional Reform
7
The failure of the reform initiatives led by the short-lived DPJ governments demonstrated the difficulties of transplanting elements from Westminster-style cabinet-centered policymaking into a political environment with a tradition of parallel party-centered policy deliberation. Reverting to the traditional system coupled with strong central leadership, the Abe-led government has been quite successful in getting at least parts of its policy agenda implemented. It is open to debate whether the centralization of power has accounted for this or whether the strong majority in both houses of parliament, paired with opposing political parties’ weakness, has been at least as important. The passage of the security laws in 2015 – a major success from the government’s perspective – may seem to provide evidence of more robust institutional arrangements than in earlier years. However, problems in moving the government’s economic-reform agenda decisively forward, particularly in fields such as labor-market reform, suggest that the Abe-led government too has struggled to overcome resistance to change in a number of policy areas. This also applies to the slow progress of plans to change the constitution.
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