JSPA and Annual Convention 2012

July 3, 2012

THE JAPAN SOCIETY FOR PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

Introducing JSPA
 The Japan Society for Public Administration is the country’s leading organization in the field. It is made up of academics, practitioners and graduate students, in addition to a multitude of organizational members. The society hosts an annual conference in either Tokyo or Kansai area each year on an alternating basis. For the 2012 meeting, Keio University served as the venue. In the general assembly convened during the meeting, Professor Ken’ichiro AGATA of Waseda University was elected president. His term of office is two years. Both the secretary general and the secretariat have a staggered term and remain in office until the end of September, 2012. Currently, Prof. Satoru OHSUGI is responsible for all functions.

Annual Conference for 2012
 This year’s meeting was held from May 19 -20 at Keio University’s Tokyo Mita campus. The gathering was co-hosted by the Committee of Public Administration and Local Government in the Science Society of Japan. It began with a keynote session. The overall theme was ‘rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of the regions victimized in the Great East Japan Earthquake (hereafter: GEJE).’ Professor Kengo AKIZUKI of Kyoto University chaired the session. The presenters included: Akira MORITA (of Gakushuin University and the former president of JSPA), Yoshiteru MUROSAKI (of Kwansei Gakuin University), Masakatsu OKAMOTO (Director-General of the Reconstruction Agency for the GEJE) and Jun IIO (Graduate Research Institute of Policy Studies).

Synopsis of the Keynote Session
 The following is a brief recapitulation of the presentations and discussions in the keynote session. At the outset, the moderator of the session explained the objective of the plenary. He noted that it would essentially deal with GEJE from the view of public administration. Subsequently, the first speaker, Prof. Morita took the floor and elaborated on the activities of the JSPA Task Force organized in the aftermath of the calamity. According to his remarks, the task force was formed in response to a request from the Science Council of Japan. A major thrust of Prof. Morita’s presentation was to elucidate both activities and impact of this task force. The speaker described that the organization had been earnest in examining such vital issues as the rehabilitation and recovery of the disaster stricken areas. Prof. Morita divided his presentation into three parts. First, he discussed the common proclivity to underestimate the extent of potential disaster. Specifically, he questioned the validity of the popular utterance, ‘beyond anyone’s expectation,’ which appeared frequently following the triple disaster. In his view, this expression looked to be an excuse for the government and the electricity supplier to cover their lack of preparedness. Likewise, he touched on the fallacy of the ‘fail safe’ notion. While ruling this out, Prof. Morita stressed the importance of disaster mitigation. In his view, an effort to increase disaster mitigation would become essential. He held that it would substantially help improve the existing measures against potential hazards. Finally, he commended the tremendous contributions that the Self-Defense Force, the police corps and the fire brigades made to the relief efforts since the disasters. Nonetheless, the government responsiveness in the rehabilitation of victims was, more often than not, inflexible. He argued that there remains much to be desired in this policy dimension of government.

 Subsequently, Prof. Murosaki discussed several lessons the Japanese should learn from the recent fiasco. He argued that one of the major experiences to keep in mind was the significance of ‘disaster mitigation.’ In his opinion, this idea should be considered to be more important than ‘disaster prevention.’ He held that this was because we would not be able totally to defend against either natural calamities or man-made accidents. Such being the case, Prof. Murosaki believed that we would have to mobilize our resources and efforts more towards disaster mitigation, in lieu of prevention. Similarly, he contended that a program based on the idea of ‘risk free’ would be untenable. He stressed the need for citizen engagement and community coordination in the future crisis management program.

 Mr. Masakazu Okamoto was the third speaker. He is Director-General of the central government’s Disaster Reconstruction Agency. He delineated a number of problems inextricable from the government disaster relief efforts. His account came primarily from his own experience and involvement in the field. Mr. Okamoto emphasized the utmost importance of information disclosure to the general public and especially disaster victims. Likewise, he raised the critical issue of inter-agency coordination. He viewed that administrative fiefdoms were often formed in Japanese government. In his opinion, this would often prevent various agencies from coordinating with each other. Mr. Okamoto pointed to the need for functional coordination of different national agencies responsible for the rehabilitation of the disaster affected regions. Unless the national bureaucracy can become better horizontally coordinated, he argued that the rehabilitation programs would tend to become haphazard and more often fail to generate effective and efficient outcomes.

 In the keynote session, the final presenter was Mr. Iio. He served as chair of the working group of the Reconstruction Design Council. The council was charged with drawing a blueprint for the reconstruction of the devastated regions. According to Mr. Iio, the organization initially was formed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). He noted that the party tried to make it an embodiment of its important campaign agenda, an entrenchment of ‘political leadership.’ However, this generated a number of serious political misgivings. He first delineated that the council was unfortunately short of political power and resources, even though the organization was put in place with great fanfare and under the blessing of the governing DPJ. From his perspective, the council suffered because the DPJ tended to be steadfast and impatient to consolidate their political leadership. He described the subsequent development of uneasy and subtle relationships between the party leaders and public officials. From his point of view, the bureaucrats in the central government were inclined to keep their distance from the party and often fended off an idea to provide different information to the party leaders. He remarked that a major schism between the party members and public officials eventually resulted. In addition, he pointed to a measure to increase taxes for the rehabilitation of northern Japan which was embroiled in political conflicts. Nevertheless, the council was able to come up with a final report on June, 2011.

 Question and Answer Session
  After the initial presentations by four prominent speakers, a Q & A session followed. One participant, Akira IMAI of Fukushima University, raised several issues. One of the most significant was his assertion that, at the time of disaster, no information would become available for a number of days for both different levels of government and for residents. Furthermore, in the ensuing debacle, several local governments themselves were washed away and caused even greater havoc for the residents in the communities in northern Japan. In taking this into account, he called for urgent needs to devise measures to secure vital, personal information and promote safety for neighborhood residents. A key point made during his comments was that the government reconstruction efforts ought to become creative and innovative.

Special Advisor to Japan Society for Public Administration 
Vice-President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences 
Akira NAKAMURA

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