The government decided to shelve a bill to extend the retirement age of top prosecutors, but the move does not solve the fundamental problems with the legislation.
The government should scrap the bill and start debate on the initiative from scratch.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given up on securing passage of the bill, which includes a provision designed to give the government discretion to delay the mandatory retirement of prosecutors holding the most senior positions, during the current Diet session.
Many citizens have wised up to the implications of the bill and voiced their opposition to it through social media and other means. There is much significance in the fact that the public backlash has blocked the administration’s agenda despite Abe’s dominant political power, which has allowed him to push through various questionable policies in a heavy-handed manner.
But the Abe administration has not abandoned its ambition to enact the bill. Instead of retracting this proposal, the administration has decided to carry over the bill to the next Diet session along with another bill to extend the legal retirement age of central government employees from 60 to 65.
It is obvious that the administration has only opted to hunker down to wait out the storm. It clearly plans to wait for the dust to settle and then restart efforts to get all these bills passed in the next Diet session, possibly in autumn.
In explaining the government’s rush to promote deliberations on the bill at the Diet, Ryota Takeda, minister in charge of civil service reform, said local governments will need time to prepare for the extension of the retirement age for government employees.
If so, the government should focus on its proposal to extend the retirement age of ordinary government employees by separating the initiative to revise the Public Prosecutors Office Law. Takeda gave a dodgy answer to Diet members, who are representatives of the people.
The original bill, which was drafted by the Justice Ministry and basically deemed free of serious flaws last autumn by the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, was designed only to gradually extend the retirement age of public prosecutors in general. It also would introduce a system to set the age at which senior prosecutors are required to retire from their posts, if not from the profession.
It did not contain a provision to empower the government to delay the mandatory retirement of top prosecutors.
If the aim of the initiative is to make better use of the experience and expertise of seasoned prosecutors, as Abe has insisted, the original bill would have served the purpose well.
But it was abruptly reviewed just before the Cabinet decided in January to postpone the scheduled retirement of Hiromu Kurokawa, chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, by six months beyond his 63rd birthday, by changing the government’s long-established interpretation of the law.
The process leading to the review still remains unclear. Abe told reporters that the government cannot push the initiative forward without public understanding and support. If he really thinks so, he needs to start by disclosing the process of the formulation of the bill, which started last autumn, by publishing related official documents along with digital data showing the dates they were created.
The Cabinet also needs to retract its decision in January. It was a personnel decision made forcefully by changing unilaterally the traditional government position that the retirement age of prosecutors cannot be extended, a principle that has been upheld for nearly four decades.
The act of trampling on the principle of the rule of law must not be simply ignored.
Its foiled attempt to make the legal change reflects the illness of the administration. The document provided by the National Personnel Authority to justify the Cabinet decision is not dated. But NPA President Nahomi Ichimiya insists that it is not a problem.
Justice Minister Masako Mori has unashamedly said that the important decision to change the official interpretation of the law was sanctioned only “orally.”
This is time for the nation to free itself from politics that disregards the importance of official records, hates serious reviews of policy decisions and actions, and fails to respect accountability.