Table Speech

Expected Roles of Politics and Public Administration

August 8, 2018

Mr. Teijiro Furukawa
Former Vice Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare
Former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary
Chairman & Board of Directors,
Imperial Gift Foundation Boshi-Aiiku-Kai

 These days, we find extensive media coverage of scandals that fuel disbelief in politics and public administration. I find it alarming that a series of the latest political scandals in this country over opening schools on state-owned land or the special government-designated deregulation zone as well as collusive relationships between executive government officials and related businesses could undermine the essence of political and administrative accountability and responsibility. Having served as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary under the Hashimoto Administration, I recall a number of inappropriate benefits offered to public officials that led to the enactment of the National Public Service Ethics Act in 1999. Unfortunately, some top governmental officials seem to have lost their vigor, integrity, sense of mission and commitment as public administrators. Feeling quite alarmed, I interviewed a number of young and middle management civil servants and found out the majority of them stay motivated and exert themselves amidst the current negative criticism.

 Looking at the political arena, I am equally alarmed by empty words and false promises made by our political leaders. I believe what makes a good statesperson is to serve the common good with fairness and honesty. Trustful relationships built with citizens as well as dedication to achieve one’s political commitment are the prerequisites for true authority. When the Japanese economy enjoyed rapid and sustained growth in the post-War period, the public service mechanism functioned well in distributing the fruits born to the people in an appropriate manner. As our economy entered a long period of recession, political figures came to exert strong leadership and play an instrumental role in reallocating limited financial resources to meet emerging needs.

 I must emphasize that public officials have an equally important role to play as groups of experts who assist politicians make a right decision by providing them with relevant and accurate information and striking out multiple alternatives. Once the policy is enacted, they must execute it with integrity. Unfortunately, the dividing line between political and administrative spheres has become permeable and led to much confusion. Both politicians and public administrators must be held accountable for serving the people, yet through different tasks. The former should concentrate on strategic and principled tasks, while more technical tasks should be delegated to the administrators. And the people must keep a close eye to ensure they function as two wheels of a cart. When I served three Ministers of Health and Welfare during my 15-month term as Vice Minister, I made painstaking efforts to achieve proper and smooth administrative management.

 The politics of Japan are conducted in a framework of a multi-party bicameral parliamentary representation. A political Party that gains majority support through an election will come into office. As such, a ruling Party must administer the affairs of state in a fair, just and inclusive manner to represent both its supporters and non-supporters alike. Politicians who hold an official position must be aware that with power comes responsibility. A good leader should move above and beyond any egoistic and primitive need of power and should champion diversity and inclusion to work for the benefit of all.

 Government officials, at the same time, are to represent the interests of citizens in a neutral and fair manner. As they are civil servants, they should not work to the advantage of a specific administration or politician. It is outrageous for officials to falsify official documents to cover up cronyism scandal related to the government. Suppose you are a government official and your belief runs counter to what the government aims to achieve. What should you do? I believe you should voice your objection and opinion as a public administration expert. And the regime must have the flexibility and tolerance to welcome different views and various perspectives. However, once a policy is officially set after going through extensive discussions, you must follow it no matter how different your personal opinion may be. If not, you must resign from the civil service post. I have long served as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary and assisted the regime in achieving its goals through constructive and thorough discussions to reach a clear-cut agreement. For a sound implementation and enforcement of national policies and legislations, politicians and bureaucrats must work in close collaboration to shape a good government that ensures stable development of a country.

 It is regrettable to know that many young promising students are not interested in pursuing their career in public administration. I sincerely hope that politicians who are in a position of authority are resolved to take on extremely heavy responsibilities, and public administrators engage in their duties with a strong sense of mission, responsibility and fulfillment. By setting a good example to the younger generation, I think we can motivate them to undertake public duties. As I close my speech, let me ask each one of you to make a positive environment for public administrators to work with a sense of pride and commitment.