Comparative Local Governance: Lessons from New Zealand for Japan
This study concerns local governance in Japan and whether lessons can be derived from New Zealand and other countries. There are significant differences in the constitutional arrangements of Japan and New Zealand and the history and cultural influences that shape local governance in each country. The case studies, which compare three different policy areas in both countries, confirm, however, the usefulness of the comparative analysis.
This is not a parallel comparison; the focus is more on lesson learning from different systems and styles of local administrations. The Japanese local government sector is more subject to control and guidance from the centre. A premise of this study is that that a greater degree of autonomy for local government in Japan will be beneficial.
‘Governance’ is a term used in different ways in many contexts. In this study emphasis is placed on the ‘means for achieving direction, control and coordination of individual or organizational units on behalf of their common interests’ (Hill and Lynn Jr, 2004, p. 6). It is associated with the notion of ‘steering’ rather than ‘rowing (Osborne and Gaebler, 1993). Governance is not synonymous with government. In a decentralised environment, local governance concerns the way different interests are settled among, broadly, central government, local authorities and communities.
The power balance among central government, local authorities and communities is at the centre of analysis in this study. Six case studies in roading administration, environmental management and emergency management identify characteristics of the so-called ‘strong’ Japanese state while revealing both positives and potential pitfalls of autonomous local governance in New Zealand. Each of the cases is assessed against five criteria ― local capability, responsiveness, coordination, sustainability and financial/economic viability ― and classified as one of eight hypothetical governance ‘types’. Imposed relationships are often observed in Japan, which is contrasted with more consensual multilateral interactions in New Zealand. Constituents of the Japanese power balance include constant administrative guidance (gyosei shido), human resource management (including amakudari) and other ‘informal enforcement’, whereas devolution, contracts and strategic guidance are more conspicuous in New Zealand.
Breaking the inertia of age-old practices in Japan would not be an easy task as unsuccessful attempts to reform local government in the past indicate. Political and administrative interests at both agent and institutional levels are inevitably involved. The power balance results not only from strict hierarchy and longstanding institutional influences from the centre, but also from the passiveness of local authorities and communities. Altering the power balance and the nature of local governance can be triggered and sustained in various ways: New Zealand experiences through policy transfer examined in this study can provide useful insights.