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Editorial: Political leadership needed to boost initiative of Japan's stalled Digital Agency

Less than eight months after Japan launched its Digital Agency, Yoko Ishikura has stepped down as chief digital officer, the agency's top bureaucrat. About the move, Minister for Digital Karen Makishima remarked, "She fulfilled her initial role," but Ishikura apparently struggled to set up the new organization.

    The agency must break out of its continuing standstill and boost its guiding function to promote the digitization of administrative processes.

    Fintech industry veteran Takashi Asanuma replaced Ishikura. We urge the new chief officer to swiftly set up an organization that can tap into the capacities of specialist workers.

    Staff at the Digital Agency hail from a variety of fields, including central government ministries and agencies, local bodies and private businesses. It had been anticipated from the very outset that frictions would arise among the staff due to the differences in their work styles and lines of thinking. That said, given the fact that some workers from the private sector left the agency in a mere half a year or so after its inauguration, the agency must take the situation seriously and adopt steps to deal with the situation.

    The agency's most pressing issue is to raise awareness among bureaucrats who have been unable to keep up with technological evolution. While using chat apps for swift communication has become widespread at the agency, it initially relied on paper documents and emails, slowing down decision-making processes.

    The agency faces a host of challenges, from revamping administrative systems to cultivating IT-savvy workers. It would not be able to keep up with this agenda unless it recruits talented personnel and tackles the issues more efficiently.

    It is essential to lay out a human resources system where workers are evaluated for their achievements and abilities, regardless of how long they have been with the organization. The Digital Agency should work together with the National Personnel Authority to make this a challenge for the country's entire bureaucratic establishment.

    What we need to see the most is political leadership.

    The government's provisional committee on digital administrative reform, which comprises experts, has been working on easing regulations to facilitate digitization of administrative procedures that currently require in-person or documented exchanges. There are 5,000 laws and governmental and ministerial ordinances affected by the process.

    Even as the Digital Agency is taking the initiative in digitizing administrative work and projects, it cannot do this unless the ministries and agencies concerned take relevant actions. Developing a system to quickly deliver administrative services to people in need of support in disaster prevention, medical care, welfare, and other spheres must happen soon.

    In Denmark, a leader in administrative digitization, the government spent some 20 years making the strategic steps needed. Not only did it clearly explain the aim of and process for digitization, but also its benefits, and secured public backing.

    Though Japan initiated its digitization approach around the same time, it is significantly behind other countries and regions. This inevitably takes a toll on the people of Japan. We urge Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to take the lead and press ahead with reforming Japan's bureaucratic center.

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