--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 28
EDITORIAL: Kansai federation

A Kansai regional federation to cover the affairs of seven prefectures, including Osaka and Hyogo, is expected to be established before the end of the year. Shiga, Kyoto, Wakayama, Tokushima and Tottori prefectures will also take part in the federation, which will be set up as a special organization under the local autonomy law.

Most administrative affairs, such as education and road maintenance, will continue to be under the jurisdiction of each prefecture. However, the seven prefectures will fund joint work in seven areas that they feel are better dealt with collectively, including disaster prevention, promotion of tourism and culture, industrial development, medical provision and environmental conservation. The federation will be run by an assembly of 20 members chosen from prefectural assembly members and a committee of the seven governors.

This is Japan's first attempt to establish a regional federation that transcends prefectural borders. There are pressing needs that the new body can help address, such as getting seriously ill patients to hospitals in neighboring prefectures when no hospitals in the local community will accept them.

As a next step, the organization will consider expanding its remit to improving infrastructure for transportation and goods distribution, and plans to eventually take over functions from central government.

Long-held discontent in the local business community is behind the move. Business people question why the Kansai area is lagging behind Tokyo despite its advanced technology and economic strength. There is also an expectation that the new structure will allow the streamlining of administration and some local business leaders, including members of the Kansai Economic Federation, hope the move will advance decentralization.

However, Nara, Fukui and Mie prefectures, which took part in advance consultations about the new federation, decided not to join. Skeptics say that the federation is redundant within the existing structure of government, which is made up of municipalities, prefectures and the central government, and that cooperation is enough in the seven areas the federation will deal with. Another criticism is that the new body will complicate government and obscure where responsibility for lies.

The federation agreement asserts that it will not directly lead to a doshusei regional system of government and the abolition of prefectures. While the Kansai Economic Federation and Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto are positive about the doshusei concept, quite a few other governors are either opposed or cautious about the idea. The federation will start with different views as such.

Some people have voiced concerns that once the federation is established, funding will be concentrated on densely populated areas, causing surrounding areas to decline. This has been seen to happen in some municipal mergers. Thought is needed to avoid concentration on central areas.

The Kansai region has many historic and cultural sites. It would be more effective for prefectures to work jointly to attract tourists. When natural disaster strikes, prefectures should help each other, not only during the initial emergency response but all the way down the path to full recovery. Will residents actually see results? This could decide whether the federation is successful.

The new federation was forged on the initiative of business people and governors, not ordinary residents. The impetus has come from above, rather than the grass roots. It must ensure that it does more than just increasing the government payroll, and actually present residents with achievements.

While opinion is divided on this novel experiment, we believe it is worth giving a go and will carefully watch its progress.

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