Governor Koike’s selling point has been her pledge of “sweeping reforms of Tokyo.” It is something that she has been promising since her election campaign. If what she says is true, could we then describe the way the current Tokyo administration is being run as a “sweeping reform of Tokyo”? In my opinion, it is only partly so. It may be a sweeping reform of the Tokyo metropolitan government, but it is not a sweeping reform of Tokyo. If she is going to keep talking in these terms, she will need to concern herself with three major areas.
The first of these areas is “the fundamental improvement of the metropolitan government.” This has already started. The governor immediately established a metropolitan government reform headquarters and appointed 14 special advisors. The headquarters has split up into a number of some study teams, from which recommendations have already started to emerge. This is the very first stop on Koike’s journey of reform. Just in the area of information disclosure alone, the highly secretive nature of the administration, symbolized by the excessive blacking-out of documents, has reached epidemic proportions, and a bureaucratic organization “of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats” has become rampant. The situation in the metropolitan government could not be further removed from any notion of “the citizens of Tokyo first.”
Also part of this is the laxness and leniency when it comes to the use of taxpayers’ money, seen in the high costs of the administration’s programs. While I would not go so far as to call it bloated, at the very least, there is a distinct lack of effort in all areas to achieve the maximum effectiveness at minimal cost. Also, in the Tokyo metropolitan government, the governor is elected directly by the people, not by the Assembly, which puts the governor and the Assembly on an equal footing, with mutual checks and balances. The way in which the administration currently operates, with its cozy ties with the Assembly, fails to make the most of this advantage of this dual representation system. Another symptom of this problem is the budget allocation of some 20 billion yen for the political parties in the Metropolitan Assembly, something that no other prefectural government has. Is that acceptable? I would hope that these will be the issues that the governor will start with in her transparency and citizens-first reforms.
The second area that she will need to make inroads into is to accelerate the metropolitan government’s pursuit of its primary policies. At this stage, this point is being completely overlooked. The massive metropolis of Tokyo has entered a period of unprecedented change. It has plunged into absolute population decline, and it is now imperative to find solutions to the various problems being faced by an aging Tokyo. This area is concerned with the more intangible aspects of Tokyo life from the standpoint of priority on residents, and involves the strengthening of healthcare, welfare, nursing care, culture, education, and child-raising support. It also concerns the deterioration of tangible metropolitan infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water and sewerage facilities, subways, underground walkways, and public facilities, some of which were built fifty years ago. This will involve the systematic renewal of these facilities and will require massive amounts of time and effort. I cannot see any measures in the Koike government for taking powerful steps in this direction.
Of course, there is much that needs to be done in terms of the economic, financial, and urban diplomacy aspects of the global city of Tokyo. In any event, the Koike administration must devise steps to dispel the concerns of the citizens of Tokyo and the people of Japan about the way Tokyo is aging in both tangible and intangible ways. This is the primary work of the metropolitan government. No doubt, what the citizens of Tokyo most want to see is the creation of a powerful structure for the promotion of policy, through the establishment of a Tokyo Metropolitan Government Policy and Strategy Headquarters. Such a body should also include experts from outside the administration. The metropolitan government of Governor Koike will not be able to tread a course towards stability unless it makes real inroads into this area.
The third area to be tackled is to make progress on the decentralization of powers within the city. I am not talking about the decentralization of powers within the Tokyo metropolitan government. I am referring to reforms that will change the mechanisms of governance within the massive metropolis that is Tokyo. This means the aggressive pursuit of decentralization, in which the special wards and municipalities of Tokyo will be the primary governments. Particularly in need of attention is the relationship between the Tokyo metropolitan government and the 23 special wards, in which some nine million citizens, or more than two-thirds of Tokyo’s population, reside. The reform of the metropolis-ward structure is a task of the greatest urgency from the perspective of decentralization. Already, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has issued a policy to the effect that children’s welfare offices should be established in the wards, which are closer to the population.
However, for almost twenty years, the metropolitan government has put almost no effort into reforms of its relationships with the special wards. While some of the blame for this could be placed in the fact that successive governors, from Aoshima to Ishihara, Inose, and Masuzoe, came from non-political backgrounds such as authors and social commentators, over the years, the Tokyo metropolitan government has continued to carry its own workload and has only become more bloated. As a result, criticism of the relationship between the TMG and the wards is growing, with claims that the division of roles between the two is unclear, their administrative responsibilities towards residents are indistinct, and the metropolitan government’s administration of this massive metropolis as a wide-area local government is weak. Under the major premise that “near is best,” the local ward governments, which are closer to the residents, should be strengthened, and the metropolitan government should be refined into an administration that is more focused on policies of broader significance to the wider metropolis. Its transformation from a project bureaucracy to a policy bureaucracy along with the review of its policies, is the crux of the reform of the Tokyo metropolitan government.