Magazine article Public Finance

Whole Lot of Shaking Up Going On

Magazine article Public Finance

Whole Lot of Shaking Up Going On

Article excerpt

Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is perhaps best known in the West for his spectacular hairstyle, his love of Elvis and his radical attempts to reform the way Japan's government and public services work. His government is much less well known for one specific aspect of reform - the innocuous-sounding Government Policy Evaluation Act, passed in 2001.

In June, I travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Soumusho, the interior ministry, to speak at a conference reviewing the Act's progress four years on from its implementation in 2002.

The Act reguires all government ministries and agencies to produce performance evaluations. And they do - to the tune of about 10,000 a year. This is, by any standards, a massive undertaking. It makes the 160 or so Public Service Agreement targets set for our central government ministries pale into insignificance. The Japanese do things in a very determined way.

The rhetoric surrounding the Act is very similar to that heard in many democratic capitals in recent years, as various forms of results reporting have been introduced - from the UK's PSAs to the United States' Government Performance and Results Act. Even the French, after seemingly considering all this 'performance' stuff to be some sort of Anglo-Saxon aberration, have now adopted a rather similar set of policies.

But as with many things Japanese, the surface appearance - omote- isn't always quite what is going on behind the scenes - ura. The Act is certainly a general attempt to introduce some sort of results reporting into Japanese public administration, but it also has a very specific target: Japan's public works programmes.

Public works in Japan have a unigue role. From the middle of the 1950s, they played a crucial part in maintaining the stability of Japanese politics, helping to keep the Liberal Democratic Party in power for almost four decades. In the early 1990s, this role was exposed in a series of corruption scandals, but these were only a symptom. The underlying problem was that Japan's whole post-war political system was built, at least partly, on the systematic use of extensive public works to 'buy' votes and influence for the LDP, especially in the rural areas favoured by the electoral system. …

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