The Yomiuri Shimbun
Decentralization of power imperative to revitalize regional economies
A comprehensive set of policy measures must be adopted to revitalize regional economies, one of the main initiatives of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Decentralizing power from the central government to local governments would be an effective step to help achieve this.
A governmental panel of experts on decentralization reform has compiled an interim report in which 129 of 935 administrative procedures that local governments want transferred from the central government’s ministries and agencies are deemed feasible.
The Cabinet Office called on local entities to work out during the May-July period what administrative procedures and authorities they believe should be transferred to them. If combined with items that can be handled without changing existing laws and regulations, the transfer of such procedures and authorities to the local governments stands at 218, about 20 percent of the proposed 935 items.
The government is set to finalize its decentralization plans by concluding by the year-end the screening process on about 660 pending items.
The transfer of administrative procedures from the central government to local governments will help reinvigorate regional economies and possibly enhance the administrative efficiency of local entities.
On Friday, Shigeru Ishiba, state minister in charge of revitalization of local economies, called on other Cabinet members concerned to exert their leadership in “bringing to fruition the local governments’ proposals to the greatest possible extent,” noting decentralization of power “is absolutely necessary for reinvigorating regional economies.” The government should respond as much as possible to the demands of local governments.
One envisaged transfer of administrative authority to prefectural governments, including Tokyo and Hokkaido, is the licensing and supervisory power of tap water services in entities with populations in excess of 50,000. As a result of the declining population, tap water supply services in many areas are subject to integration to expand the service areas. The roles of prefectural governments have increased in this respect, and the transfer of the authorities concerned is quite reasonable.
The government also favors abolishing regulations under the Urban Parks Law to clarify that decisions to keep or abolish parks should be left up to the discretion of the municipalities concerned. This will help local entities devise community resuscitation programs on their own.
Balancing conflicting tasks
However, many items have been shunted aside in the interim report. For instance, easing regulations for establishing day nurseries, which has been strongly sought by local entities, has been frowned on by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The minimum floor space of day nurseries has been set on a uniform basis throughout the country. The health ministry permitted exceptions for 40 densely populated areas in big cities, where many children are on waiting lists, but only for the three-year period from fiscal 2012 to 2014.
The city of Osaka, the only local entity that has made good use of the relaxation of this regulation, has reduced by half the minimum floor space for infants’ crawling, setting the space at 1.65 square meters per head. As a result, the number of children on the city’s waiting list fell by about 1,800 as of August this year.
If the special measure is done away with at the end of this fiscal year as scheduled, about 750 children will reportedly have to be removed from day nurseries. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto sent a written request last month to Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasu-hisa Shiozaki asking for the extension of this period.
The easing of regulations regarding day nurseries helps support child-rearing services, a major countermeasure to the shrinkage of the population. The government should work out measures to ease day nursery-related regulations to enable local entities to secure a “desirable quality of day care services” suited to the realities of individual day nurseries.
As for the transfer of the power to permit the conversion of farmland into residential land or other purposes, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry objects on the grounds of “keeping the nation’s overall farmland acreage intact.” It is extremely important for the government to seek a middle ground by working out a balance between the promotion of farming industries and providing local entities with sufficient leeway to undertake community redevelopment projects at their discretion.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2014)Speech