Pursue Digitization Reforms That Will Bring Real Convenience to Daily Life

It is important to efficiently develop administrative services by making good use of digital technology. Efforts should be made toward reforms that will make the public feel that administrative services have become convenient.

The government has approved a package of bills for digital reform at a Cabinet meeting. There are a total of six bills, including one to establish a new basic law that will replace the current basic law on information technology enacted in 2000 and another to create a government agency to deal with digital transformation.

The IT basic law will be drastically revised for the first time in 20 years. As technology has been progressing at a fast pace, it is significant to present future digital strategies and lay the legal foundation for that purpose. The government must establish a system to steadily promote digitization so that reforms will not end up being merely cosmetic.

Information and telecommunications infrastructure has been well developed in Japan. However, due to delays in making administrative procedures available online, Japan ranks last among the 30 nations, according to a related survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has positioned digitization as a “driving force for growth.” It is an urgent task for the government to make efforts to shift away from infrastructure-oriented policies and take steps for digitization in our daily lives, so that various administrative procedures are only conducted online.

The key is how to unify the information systems of the central and local governments under the control of the digital agency.

As each ministry, agency and local government has developed their systems separately, the specifications of the systems differ, causing inefficient operations and a vertically segmented administrative system. If the digital agency takes the initiative in creating a common nationwide infrastructure in this respect, that would make information sharing smoother and improve the quality of services for residents.

The bill for the digital agency also includes measures to promote the use of My Number personal identification cards. The measures would link the My Number system with deposit or savings accounts to speed up the provision of cash benefits in the event of a disaster, and also make it possible to incorporate the My Number card function into smartphones.

To expand digitized administration, it is essential to increase the dissemination rate of My Number cards, which stands at about 25%. The government should not only increase opportunities for the public to use the cards in places close to them, but also take thorough measures to prevent information leaks.

Through the package of bills, the government intends to collectively revise 48 related laws to do away with hanko seals on official papers, such as papers to submit a family register, and abolish the obligation to issue various kinds of paper documents for many administrative procedures.

It is necessary to review longstanding practices and regulations, and remove elements that hinder digitization. In addition to digital transformation, it is desirable to explore the ideal form of administration that meets the needs of the times, through such measures as streamlining procedures by reducing the licensing authority of government ministries and agencies.

Human resource development is also the role of the digital agency. A glitch on a contact-confirming application to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus was left unaddressed because the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had no employees with specialized knowledge to deal with it. The government must attract talented people and make the digital agency an organization that can absorb know-how from the private sector.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 10, 2021.