Deterioration of Politics Has Increased Burden on Bureaucrats

If bureaucrats, who help guide the nation, lose their pride, their ability to formulate policies will decline. The ruling and opposition parties need to change the way they submit questions ahead of question and answer sessions in the Diet and how they contact bureaucrats.

The Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs conducted a survey on the time spent by central government ministries and agencies in preparing answers for last autumn’s extraordinary Diet session. Of a total of 864 cases, the average time when they started preparing their answers was before 8 p.m. on the day before the committee meetings, and the average time when they finished was nearly 3 a.m. on the day of the meetings.

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed that the deadline for submitting questions is “by noon two days before” the meetings. However, only 19% of lawmakers observed this rule.

Delayed submission of questions forces bureaucrats to work overtime late at night, which would wear them out. The government has repeatedly called on all parties to adhere to the deadline for questions, but this has yet to improve. This must be described as thoughtless.

According to the survey, the average time required to prepare an answer was about seven hours.

The reason why bureaucrats put so much effort into their answers is that the Diet is not a forum for policy debate as it should be.

Opposition parties tend to focus on pursuing scandals involving the prime minister and Cabinet ministers, or pouncing on any slip of the tongue. Bureaucrats who prepare answers bear a great burden because they have to pay attention even to minor details.

It is essential to transform the Diet into a forum for debate on the aims and significance of policies. Such efforts will help reform the way bureaucrats work.

There were about 18,000 applicants for national civil service recruitment examinations for career-track positions in fiscal 2022, down 30% from 10 years ago. The number of people who quit after working for ministries and agencies for less than 10 years is also on the rise.

Misusing the politician-led decision-making system, opposition parties often question bureaucrats in a heavy-handed manner at meetings they call “hearings.” As a result of media coverage of what appear to be scenes of “bullying bureaucrats,” there is no doubt many people are no longer attracted to the work of national civil servants.

Unless these unreasonable methods are changed, it will not be possible to curb the tendency of young people to shy away from national civil service.

Improving the treatment of bureaucrats must also be addressed in order to motivate them.

The starting monthly salary for a university graduate in a career-track position is ¥189,700, which is less attractive than that of a major corporation. The 1984 regulations still apply to accommodation expenses for national civil servants on overseas business trips, and they are reportedly forced to cover the shortage out of their own pocket. Improvements are urgently needed.

As a result of administrative reforms, the number of national civil servants has been reduced to 300,000, and the government is still in the midst of a plan to lower their number further. The burden on a single bureaucrat is likely to increase.

The number of national civil servants in Japan is lower than that in Western countries in terms of population ratio. Increasing their number should also be considered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 16, 2023)