市町村合併 特例法後も息長く取り組め

The Yomiuri Shimbun(May. 25, 2009)
Municipal mergers should continue
市町村合併 特例法後も息長く取り組め(5月25日付・読売社説)

Strengthening the administrative and fiscal footing of local governments and establishing frameworks to undertake decentralization--these are admirable basic guiding principles for mergers of municipalities. From a mid- to long-term perspective, it is important to continue such efforts.

A draft proposal compiled by the local system research council, an advisory panel to the prime minister, suggested that a merger promotion campaign end when the current law aimed at promoting municipal mergers expires at the end of March. The proposal apparently came out of a judgment that there is a limit to the number of municipal mergers that can be encouraged with measures currently employed.

Through the so-called Heisei-era megamergers, the number of municipalities is to decrease from 3,232 in March 1999 to 1,760 or fewer by March 2010.

But since April 2006, when special bond issuance as a fiscal assistance measure for municipal mergers was abolished, the rate of decrease has slowed, with a mere 61 communities consolidated through mergers since that time. There still are 471 small municipalities whose population is less than 10,000.

Although it is inevitable to put an end, at least for the moment, to the merger facilitation project, each municipality should voluntarily continue seeking mergers. Both the central and prefectural government should support such moves.


Consolidation brings efficiency

In the draft proposal, the panel called for revising systems to allow joint establishment of internal organizations by a number of municipalities to improve local administrative efficiency as an alternative to a full merger.

This idea is based on the assumption that organizational functions of attracting businesses and promoting tourism could be shared. Such wide-ranging cooperation among municipalities may possibly start the ball rolling for future mergers. Positive consideration should be given to the idea.

Municipal mergers are aimed at improving administrative efficiency to cope with a shrinking and aging population coupled with a declining birth rate. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has estimated that such improvement could save as much as 1.8 trillion yen, including a reduction of 540 billion yen in personnel spending, annually in fiscal 2016 and after.

Coupled with reform efforts for decentralization, a plan is being considered to transfer 359 administrative powers under 64 laws from prefectural governments to municipal governments. It is important that transfer of fiscal resources be implemented simultaneously.


Problems remain

Adverse effects, meanwhile, have been pointed out. They include regional confrontations within newly merged municipalities as well as gaps between residents' expectations of improved administrative services and the reality of the actual situations.

In a series of local elections in April, incumbent candidates ran in 39 mayoral races, but were defeated in 17 cities--all of them newly merged. Dissatisfaction among local residents who complained about the focus of their respective municipalities' administrative work on city centers reportedly was a major factor behind the failure of incumbents to win reelection.

It also is said that the dire financial situation faced by local governments resulting from cuts in tax grants from the central government--part of the so-called triple reform of local finances involving cuts in subsidies, a transfer of tax revenue sources and a review of local tax grants--and sluggishness of regional economies, dealt a blow to the candidates.

It is important that newly merged municipalities pay careful attention to regional gaps and implement policy measures to enable residents to feel the benefits of mergers. In some new municipalities, autonomous communal organizations for residents of former towns and villages consolidated through mergers have been set up in an attempt to promote regional development. These kind of efforts should spread more widely.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2009)
(2009年5月25日01時26分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-05-25 12:02 | 英字新聞

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