Residents in Osaka City are once again confronted with a weighty choice over the pros and cons of a plan to dissolve the city, with a population of about 2.7 million, at enormous cost and with great effort.
The Osaka city assembly has approved the draft proposal for the Osaka metropolis plan. The Osaka prefectural assembly has already approved it. A referendum by the city residents is set to take place as early as November.
If it is endorsed by a majority of votes, Osaka City, which comprises 24 administrative districts, will be dissolved and reorganized into four special wards in 2025.
Urban development and industrial promotion, among other functions, will be transferred to the prefectural government, while the special wards will be in charge of services closer to residents’ lives, such as education and child-rearing support.
The metropolis plan has been advocated by regional political party Osaka Ishin no Kai to rectify administrative overlap between the prefectural and city governments. But it was rejected in a referendum in 2015. This is apparently because residents could not get a clear view of the effects that the new system would bring about, and they continued to have concerns about a decline in the administrative services they receive.
The new draft proposal was created after three years of discussions at a council comprising the prefecture and the city. The council reviewed the zoning of special wards in the previous draft proposal and made efforts for fiscal balance among the wards. The council intends to reduce the costs for the transition to the new system, such as by making use of existing municipal government office buildings, and to introduce a system in which the prefecture and the wards will examine their finances every fiscal year.
It is clear that detailed examination of the Osaka metropolis plan has progressed to a certain extent compared with the previous draft proposal.
The problem is that, while cooperation between the prefectural and city governments is steadily progressing, the merits of making a major change in the current system are still unclear.
Since 2011, the posts of Osaka City mayor and Osaka Prefecture governor have been held by Osaka Ishin leaders, and the unification of organizations, including research institutes, port and harbor bureaus, universities and others, has been decided. If the prefecture and the city continue to cooperate closely in the future, wouldn’t it be possible to improve efficiency just as they are now?
According to the new draft proposal, out of the financial resources of the Osaka city government, which are about ¥850 billion annually, ¥200 billion will be transferred to wide-area projects to be implemented by the prefectural government.
Since the bubble economy period, the prefectural and city governments have been involved in many projects and improvements of facilities, but most of them have failed. The failure to draw up a clear strategy while proceeding with them in a haphazard and makeshift manner resulted in serious fiscal deterioration. A concrete blueprint should be presented as to how the metropolis plan will be able to solve such problems.
In Tokyo, mistakes in counting the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus were discovered, and it has been pointed out that cooperation between the Tokyo metropolitan government and wards, which have public health centers under their jurisdiction, was lacking. Even if special wards are created under the Osaka metropolis plan, it does not automatically mean they would be able to realize efficient administration.
The initial cost alone for the transition would be ¥24.1 billion. Amid the coronavirus disaster, a huge amount of clerical work is also required.
Coronavirus prevention measures mean that opportunities to inform residents of the metropolis plan are limited. There were 39 briefings in 2015, but only eight briefings are scheduled this time.
The prefectural and city governments must make efforts to clear up the questions of residents before the referendum so that they can make correct decisions.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 4, 2020.