Consider Possibility of Turning Organization into Private Corporation

A bill to reform the Science Council of Japan takes the SCJ’s side into consideration and thus appears to have no problems. Nevertheless, what does it mean that the government has decided not to submit the bill to the Diet?

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida put off submitting the bill concerning the SCJ’s reform during the current Diet session and instructed relevant ministers and others to continue discussions with the council.

It is believed that the decision was made out of concern that if the government pushes through submitting the bill despite the council’s opposition, it might have a negative impact on the Cabinet’s approval rating.

If that is the case, this is an extraordinary situation. The bill should be submitted to the Diet, and the government and the ruling and opposition parties need to discuss from various perspectives how the organization that represents scientists should be.

In the first place, the reform proposals are sufficiently based on the wishes of the council.

In 2021, the SCJ compiled its own reform plan that stressed its intention to “seek opinions from outside experts” when selecting its members.

As a specific measure, the government has proposed the establishment of a third-party advisory committee that will be involved in the selection process of the council’s membership. The government’s proposed reform also requires the council to “respect” the opinions of the advisory committee.

At the SCJ’s general meeting, however, one member after another voiced opposition to the government proposals, with one saying, “Our independence will be threatened,” while another said, “This will allow government intervention.” The council also adopted a recommendation urging the government to refrain from amending the relevant law. This does not make sense, given that the SCJ had pledged to reform itself.

The government’s proposed reform also obliges the council to establish a system in which it will devise operational plans, self-evaluate its management based on the plans and make public the results. However, the council has been against these precepts, too, saying, “Evaluation is not compatible with academic research.”

It is natural that an organization that relies on state funds for its operations should be accountable for its activities.

If the council does not accept even moderate government proposals, reform under the current system is unlikely. The government must make it an option to turn the SCJ into a private corporation rather than allowing it to remain a “national institution.”

It would be understandable if the government’s decision not to submit the bill was a prelude to such reform.

The council has put forth various science-related proposals, but it cannot be said that it has sufficiently dealt with national crises, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic. Reform is essential to enable the academic community to make meaningful policy proposals in an agile manner.

The SCJ should clarify its position on what kind of reform it is aiming for. If it fails to do so, it must be said that the council’s opposition is simply for self-preservation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2023)