To rebuild Tohoku, first rebuild trust
The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration and the nation's politics as a whole are now on the very edge. It is essential for the government to do its utmost to carry out important policies with urgency and seriousness.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda delivered his first policy speech at the Diet since taking office.
The stagnant state of Japanese politics has come under scrutiny by other countries. Noda said the trust that Japan has accumulated over the years is now at risk. He also said the government and the Diet should fulfill their roles "to restore hope and pride to Japan."
We have no objection to Noda's view of the current situation. The problem is how to take concrete action to restore trust and revitalize the nation.
In his policy speech, Noda said restoration of social infrastructure and reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake are among his Cabinet's top priorities, and emphasized that the government will speed up the compilation of a third supplementary budget.
Six months have passed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but restoration of social infrastructure and reconstruction of areas affected by the disaster have been significantly delayed. This is because politicians failed to exercise leadership and bureaucrats simply put the problem off.
Show respect for bureaucrats
An urgent task is to rebuild the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. Noda needs to thoroughly instill among ministers, senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries a mind-set in which politicians and bureaucrats work on tasks together. The Noda administration can be praised for its decision to reinstate administrative vice ministers' meetings, which is a positive step.
It is important for politicians to set policy priorities themselves and take responsibility for the results, but it is also essential for them to humbly listen to bureaucrats' technical opinions, to motivate them and to elicit and utilize their abilities to the maximum extent.
Noda also announced in his policy speech that the government will establish a new body tentatively called the "national strategy council" that will gather wisdom from academia, government and the private sector to achieve economic growth and restore fiscal soundness. He will charge the council with drawing up by the end of this year a strategy to revitalize Japan.
It is proper and appropriate for the government to cooperate with the business sector to effectively deal with the hollowing-out of industry and the yen's surge after the March 11 disaster.
Undo damage done by Kan
Economic policy went astray under the administration of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan due to his impromptu responses, and trust between the government and business groups was damaged. It is vital for Japan to work as one to overcome the current national crisis.
Noda also announced that the government will submit to the ordinary Diet session next year bills related to integrated social security and tax reforms that include a consumption tax rate hike. He called for discussions between the ruling and opposition parties on the matter as quickly as possible.
To pass those bills under the current divided Diet, it is imperative for the government and ruling parties to approach discussions with the opposition with "seishin seii" (sincere spirit and just intent), a Japanese term used by Noda.
Yet, the ruling parties decided to hold the extraordinary Diet session for a mere four days, the better to dodge questioning by the opposition. This is unreasonable. The ruling parties must repair strained ties with the opposition by holding examinations at the Budget Committee during a Diet recess as soon as possible.
The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties also should be aware of their responsibility to revitalize Japan as they enter discussions with the ruling parties.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 14, 2011)