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DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama wants to remove power from the hands of bureaucrats. Can he do it? And is it a good idea?

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I really doubt he can remove 50 plus years worth of old fogies in one day.

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It might be a good idea to just clear out all the old bureaucrats and replace them with new ones, but to have no bureaucrats would be terrible - then politicians would be free to implement their policies without any rhyme or reason.

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Depends how serious he is about it. He could try the bull in the china shop approach, however, the mandarins down in Kasumigaseki probably have a few tricks up their sleeve to derail any such policies. Think "Yes Minister" and multiply by 10.

Whether disarming the bureaucrats is a good thing or not, is a difficult question to answer. One issue that has to be resolved is that of policy expertise. Through the LDP years, it was standard practice for Ministers (politicians) to be switched every couple of years so that everybody in the LDP factions got a chance to play chief (rather than just being an Indian for ever). One side effect of this is that policy expertise power in Japan is very much eschewed towards the career bureaucrats. To put this in more simpler terms, rightly or wrongly, they are the only people who know how to negotiate the bureaucracy in order to get things done. This in itself is a form of power. As such, if Hatoyama and his wide-eyed (inexperienced) cabinet try to rest such power from the bureaucracy, there is a chance that policy gridlock might result because the politicians don't have the institutional memory (policy expertise) to push things forward.

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It's never going to happen, but they should purge everyone over 40.

That should get most fingers out of most pies.

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In no country do they just remove all the bureaucrats. We are talking about a system where the new party in power brings in its own people if need be to replace the top bureaucrats from the previous administration, so a new agenda can be implemented without internal opposition. The issue in Japan is, first, whether the politicians have the knowledge to oversee the government. Here they hand power to people like Aso or Mori, who are clearly lacking leadership and administrative skills, among other things. If politicians are to be law-makers, they need an understanding of the law. The number of lawyers elected is small compared to many countries. Second, it seems difficult to implement a system to just fire a bunch of top bureaucrats. That is why Hatoyama is suggesting that politicians will be sent to the Ministries to act as senior vice-ministers, which seems like a duplication of duties. They should be able just replace the previous vice-minister, who oversees the bureaucrats under her or him. If this were the case, then the question is who has the knowledge and ability, besides a now retired bureaucrat to go into a Ministry and run it. So rather than "remove power," whatever that means, he should and probably will be looking to redirect the authority and efforts of that branch of governance towards implementing DPJ policy, whatever that is. I would think that if there is resistance, just removing the senior guy at the Finance and Foreign Ministry would have the necessary ripple effect.

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Up until now, the bureaucrats have wielded power and made the decisions and the minister, who very rarely had any expertise in his field, just signed his name or seal to it. I think Hatoyama wants it to be in reverse. But to do that, he has to appoint men and women to the cabinet who know their fields, otherwise they'll flounder. For example, how about appointing a doctor as health minister? And bring in some savvy businesspeople from the private sector. Then they can set the agenda at their respective ministries and make bureaucrats toe the line.

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@smartacus

That's a fair point but I don't think it's realistic to expect every minister to be an expert in his/her particular portfolio. Rather, the issue is having ministers who have the nous and leadership skills to lay down the policy direction and who can get the bureaucracy to work with them in implementing that. If it means firing or reshuffling some recalcitrant senior bureaucrats in the process then so be it.

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If Mr Hatoyama really wants to have the "power" and "control" of the government and Japan. So that he is able to make good policies that will improve life in Japan, then he should make it a law that there is a mandatory retirement age of 60 for all politicians and bureaucrats!!! That would really get things going.

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Rugbyfan

But Hatoyama is 62, so your idea wouldn't work. He could hardly push for everyone else to retire at 60, and stay on himself, could he?

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Well "Razor" then make it 65. You don't obviously get my point, do you. What Japan doesn't need is all the elderly politicians (some in their late 70s) running the country. We need younger more positive thinking. Not just "how many pies can I get my fingers into" mentality.

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He needs to reduce government spending.

It also seems to me that bureacrats are inappropriately self-confident. Many seem to have little desire to reduce blantant inefficiency even in the face of the massive deficit and government borrowing.

Tōru Hashimoto seems to have achieved some cutting and humbling in Oosaka, so I guess, with a concerted effort, it may be possible and pretty essential, if Japan is not to go bankcrupt.

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The easeast way is like restructuring a company on bankruptcy. A bunch of corrupt and innept managers are in charge and need to be replaced by the midle managers that have a better idea of what reforms are neded, but failed to get the political support for rise on their sections. For a real reform, DPJ need to have a bunch a people that have a clue about what an economic policy really means.

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Hatoyama cannot do it unless the will of the Japanese people who voted his party in start taking ownership and responsibility for their decaying society. There is more at stake here than a stagnant economy and failing health/social system. What is at stake here, in the long run, is the survival of a culture. A culture I say, not a race. Japan has to wake up and take stock of its real natural resources, namely ALL people currently living in Japan, including foreigners and Japanese women, who have long been excluded from exercising their potential. Japan also needs to look at its other natural resources, such as Geothermal energy, to supply homegrown power in a land where up to 90% of fuel is imported. All for one and one for all! Enough of the LDP selfishness and cronyism! Japan has to realize that its seat as the #2 economic superpower will be swept away by year's end. It is time to move on and set more human goals that put people first instead of profit for a few.

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I heard a tale of a friend in the bureaucracy that a meeting was held for ten day to decide the name of a new office, this is the type of inefficiency and time and money wasting that can easily be fixed and is no doubt a good idea. If the point is to streamline the bureaucratic system, and have them working smarter, cheaper, and more effectively, then yeah, its a great idea, but it is a cultural issue that needs a lot of work to change - in the way that Japanese offices work. Not enough delegation, and too much patting each other on the back and talking in circles among other things. I can't see that changing very easily. But if Toyota can have an efficient assembly line, then bureaucrats and administration can develop a better system too. But who has the vision and charisma to design and get everyone to follow such a drastic change?

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If Mr Hatoyama employed an independent company to do efficiency reports on each ministry, and to make recommendations like firing staff that would be great.

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Great idea -- Never happen. To Japan's detriment.

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No. Of course.

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It's tough to implement ideas when the Ministry head musical chairs can change at any moment few months time.

It'll also help if the appointed heads have some experience managing in their fields, like the Health Ministry headed by a doctor.

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It'll be the greatest of his accomplishments if he can remove the completely incompetent monitors of this news service, though probably impossible.

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I hope he can do it, and it would be a very good idea for Japan. But I think it would bring with it a certain amount of pain until the politicians were able to gain the necessary expertise to govern by themselves without the bureaucrats. They haven't had that power/knowledge for 60 years, they won't get it overnight. But I really would like to see them try.

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I believe the Japanese Constitution reflects that Hatoyama has been elected to be the "manager" of these bureaucrats and he has the power to pick and choose those who his party feels are working in the best interests of the people of Japan. YES, he has the power and he should shoulder the responsibility of being a good manager

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Were I in Hatoyama's position, I would immediately close all foreign Military bases and send them all home and then give greater independent autonomy to the Governor of Okinawa. Do more doing and less talking.

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