Vol.36-No.11 November 1,1997
On September 3, the advisory Administrative Reform Council, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, unveiled its interim report. The report proposes a streamlining of various ministries and agencies. From the beginning, the Council focused on identifying the functions the nation should perform in the 21st century. It then drew up a reorganization plan for the ministries and agencies which constitute the national government. In the discussions involving the reorganization of ministries and agencies, the Council members hotly debated the division of the government's fiscal and financial functions, and Japan's postal services were also contentious. The interim report provides a blueprint for "one office and 12 ministries and agencies." The report now provide the Council with a basis for discussions at the political level while drafting the final report.
In the area of labor administration, the Council agreed that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health and Welfare should be merged into one ministry which was tentatively named "the Ministry of Employment and Welfare." A new Ministry of Employment and Welfare would be in charge of employment, industrial safety, medical care, pensions, welfare provisions and other related matters. The report documents the development of its discussions and lists issues for each of the ministries regarding the proposed merger. It argues the view that "labor administration should be separated from other tasks" but notes that "care should be taken to prevent the administration of employment and labor affairs from being left untouched."
Integration of the two ministries is generally considered in terms of the graying of Japanese society, with a decline in the younger population in the years to come. As for measures to deal with the elderly, the report stressed the need to move ahead in providing an environment which will enable elderly people to work and in developing medical and welfare services including nursing care. As for the declining number of children, the report calls for the establishment of facilities to help women rear children while working. Here, the government is seen as a "referee" whose job is to ensure that the labor market functions properly while also being a "player" on the welfare side as it redistributes income outside the labor market. These two functions are fundamentally different, and many informed people fear that the amalgamation of the two ministries will result in the functions being less clearly defined and thereby less effectively performed.
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