Multiple crises call for clear command structure
The government's measures to deal with the disasters caused by the March 11 earthquake have lagged from the beginning. The Prime Minister's Office must rebuild its crisis management system as soon as possible.
Extensive physical damage is not the only characteristic of the Tohoku Pacific Offshore Earthquake. The multiple disaster situation includes a wide variety of problems, such as the nuclear plant accident, the urgent need to rescue disaster victims and support their livelihoods, paralysis of the commodity distribution system, a shortage of electricity, the yen's appreciation, and falling stock prices.
The government has to tackle these problems concurrently. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano are taking all the work upon themselves, but they are too busy dealing with the nuclear accident to handle other issues and have become trapped in a vicious cycle.
The prime minister shows strong interest in measures to deal with the nuclear accident since he studied science at university and feels that he has considerable knowledge about nuclear issues. But he has not made any major achievements. Meanwhile, Edano has his hands full with press conferences, which are held very frequently, and has been failing to play his original role as a senior coordinator for measures to deal with earthquake disasters.
Govt must meet basic needs
Of course, it is very important to prevent a large-scale diffusion of nuclear material from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But at the same time, the government should not neglect delivering food and medicine to disaster victims and must work to minimize the adverse effects of electricity shortages on economic and civic activities.
The government's crisis management should be rebuilt as a system headed by the prime minister, with a commanding officer appointed for each problem and a clear chain of command established.
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, now acting president of the Democratic Party of Japan, was appointed deputy chief cabinet secretary and put in charge of supporting the livelihood of disaster victims. This unusual appointment suggests that the government acknowledged flaws in its current crisis management system, though it came a bit too late.
The Kan administration proposed a plan to appoint three additional ministers and invited Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, to join its Cabinet. This aimed to create a national salvation Cabinet by forming a grand coalition with the major opposition party. We well understand this attempt because the present time of emergency is rightly considered a national crisis.
The LDP has taken the increase of ministers under consideration, but refused the request for Tanigaki to join the Cabinet. The party said the government made the request "too suddenly." However, we expect the LDP not to act on partisan interests but to cooperate with the government as much as possible.
Involve the experts
Meanwhile, the Kan Cabinet should stop clinging to its principle of leadership by politicians, which already has come to exist in name only. Politicians and bureaucrats must unite to overcome the current crises.
It is important for the prime minister and other ministers to listen calmly to the opinions of bureaucrats and experts first and then concentrate on bringing out the best in the gigantic bureaucratic organization. They must avoid by all means a situation in which the pretext of leadership by politicians discourages bureaucrats from taking the initiative in their work.
Kan made a high-profile visit to the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the troubled nuclear plant, and State Minister in Charge of Government Revitalization Renho was told to serve concurrently as state minister in charge of a campaign to save energy. But such mere performances are no longer wanted.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 20, 2011)