Civil service is a privilege, not a path to riches
Michio Hashimoto, who died last spring, was a bureaucrat who deserved to be called "Mr. Environment." During the 1960s, when pollution cases were rampant, Hashimoto served as the first chief of the former Health and Welfare Ministry's pollution division. He engaged in tough negotiations with industry and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, as it was then known.
As head of the Environment Agency's Air Quality Bureau, he dared to relax environmental standards in the face of strong opposition from people with pollution-related diseases. The development led him to retire. He declined offers of employment from the private sector and chose to teach environmental policy at the University of Tsukuba. He used the various privileges of government employees not as an excuse to slack off but as a tool to work.
The ruling and opposition parties are vying to abolish amakudari and watari work practices by retired bureaucrats. Amakudari refers to the way retiring bureaucrats land cushy jobs in industries that were once under their supervision. The practice of hopping from one such job to another, each time earning huge retirement sums, is called watari.
Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) criticized the newly established personnel exchange center, which serves as the only body for finding post-retirement jobs for outgoing bureaucrats, as an "amakudari mediation organization." The government also decided a schedule to integrate personnel administration to a new office within the Cabinet.
The National Personnel Authority, whose turf will be trampled, is resisting the move. NPA officials said it would not be able to maintain neutrality and fairness in personnel administration. NPA President Masahito Tani, who appeared stressed out, maintained a resolute attitude like a model civil servant. But can the situation in which high-ranking government officials alone hop from one lucrative post to another be called neutral and fair?
Like a paper airplane flown from a roof, the higher the post from which one descends, the longer the duration of flight. Tani himself retired from the post of administrative vice minister of the former Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in 2001 and landed jobs with a ministry-affiliated body and a communications satellite company before heading the NPA. Perhaps this is not the case with Tani, but some retired bureaucrats practically go on a leisurely tour across the nation hopping from one job to another.
Government employees are guaranteed their jobs and salaries and are given responsibilities and various powers. Hashimoto, whom I referred to earlier, explained that this is "because they must do unpleasant things when they have to, even when doing so may invite criticism and bashing." Too bad he is no longer with us to give a lesson.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 5(IHT/Asahi: February 6,2009)