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Suga spent first month of premiership seeking advice of over 70 private-sector experts

Oct. 16 marks end of the first month of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Yuga. Since becoming prime minister, Suga had met more than 70 private-sector experts as of Oct. 13, far more than any of his predecessors during the same period. Some of these experts have joined government councils or been appointed as special advisors to the cabinet, enabling Suga to reflect their insights and knowledge in the digitalization of the government and his other major policy initiatives.

 

The Nikkei Shimbun found that as of Oct. 13, Suga had held 115 meetings with cabinet members and senior ministry officials and over 51 meetings with upwards of 70 private citizens, including 24 businesspeople, 19 heads of organizations such as the Japan Medical Association, and 9 academics. This analysis is based on data from the Nikkei’s daily report on the prime minister’s activities titled “Prime Minister’s Office.”

 

Looking back on the inaugural months of past administrations, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with at least 31 private citizens and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with 24. These figures are less than half of Suga’s.

 

Suga often says that he values the common sense of the Japanese people. He aims to move forward with reform initiatives that the ordinary people desire, such as cutting cell phone fees and digitalizing government offices.

 

Suga exchanged opinions on restructuring regional banks with Yoshitaka Kitao, president of SBI Holdings, and Yasuyoshi Oya, chairman of the Regional Banks Association. He also received briefings from members of the Japan Medical Association and the Japan Nursing Association about their struggles to deal with the novel coronavirus.

 

On Sept. 20, soon after he became prime minister, Suga discussed setting up a digital agency during a conversation with Keio University Professor Jun Murai, who is often referred to as the father of the Internet in Japan, and stressed the importance of breaking down the vertical segmentation of the government.

 

Suga appointed Murai and five others from the private sector, including Kaetsu University Professor Yoichi Takahashi, whom he met with, as special advisors to the Cabinet on Oct. 13. Murai will also head an IT policy council that was recently launched by Minister in charge of Information Technology Policy Takuya Hirai.

 

Suga met with one of his brains in the private sector, David Atkinson, chairman of Konishi Decorative Arts and Crafts on Sept. 25.  Atkinson advocates promoting inbound tourism and restructuring smaller businesses, a policy Suga is keen to implement. He will join a council on growth strategy that will be established soon, and in that capacity he will become able to provide Suga with official advice.

 

Along with the opinions of private-sector experts, Suga values swift action. Because of this, the decision making process of the Prime Minister’s Office (Kantei) is under transformation.

 

Previous Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tasked groups such as the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy and the Growth Strategy Council-Investing for the Future with the formulation of important policies, such as growth strategy and coronavirus countermeasures.

 

In contrast, Suga avoids large councils, where consolidating opinions among related ministries and agencies often takes time. Instead, he holds brief meetings on single topics and gives instructions to the ministers in charge.

 

Suga’s first Cabinet meeting concerned establishing a digital agency, during which Hirai and others in charge were tasked with formulating a basic strategy by the end of the year. Since then, Suga has used the discussion frameworks he set up as chief cabinet secretary during the Abe administration, such as ones on tourism and agricultural export promotion and urged ministers to firm up their strategies before the end of the year.

 

Prime minister instructs ministers to draw up specific policies

Minister

Number of meetings

Main policy agenda

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama

7

Energy policy

Minister of International Affairs and Communications Ryota Takeda

5

Reduction of cell phone fees

Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Yasutoshi Nishimura

5

Novel coronavirus countermeasures

Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi

4

Promotions of Free and Open Indo-Pacific Initiative

Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono

3

Launch of red-tape hotline and abolishment of “hanko” seals

Minister for Digitalization Takuya Hirai

3

Establishment of Digital Agency

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda

2

Digitalization of Education

Minister for Promoting Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens Tetsushi Sakamoto

2

Insurance coverage of fertility treatments

(Note: As of Oct. 13)

 

 

It was not until Oct. 6 that Suga finally held the first meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, the control tower for the nation’s economic and fiscal policies.

 

Suga meets with the ministers in charge of particular issues that he thinks are especially important and has them brief him directly on their progress. This is why Suga has met with members of his Cabinet more than 50 times in one month.

 

After Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication Ryota Takeda reported on the hearings his ministry had held with cell phone carriers, Suga pushed the minister to take action, saying, “I really want this to be done as swiftly as possible.” Suga has met with Takeda five times, excluding Cabinet meetings, almost once a week since the administration launched.

 

Hirai and Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform Taro Kono are also ministers who regularly report to Suga. During a speech, Kono once described Suga as “actually rather rushed,” adding, “we must move forward with the reform with a sense of urgency.”

 

Looking at Suga’s interactions with officials from various ministries, he has met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), including Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Akiba, a total of 25 times. The number exceeds National Security Secretariat Secretary General Shigeru Kitamura, who has met with Suga 17 times. Their reports to Suga often focused on preparations for his visits to Indonesia and Vietnam, as well as the situation surrounding North Korea.

 

Following MOFA, the Cabinet Office has had 14 meetings with the prime minister. The Cabinet Office is in charge of regulatory reform and economic measures. Officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), who wielded large influence over the Abe administration’s policy decisions, have only met with Suga 9 times.

 

The opinion polls at the time of and immediately after the launch of administrations of Koizumi (2001) and Abe (2nd, 2012) showed a rise in approval ratings. The approval rate of the Suga administration at its inauguration was 74%, the third highest rating in history. The Nikkei Stock Average is on an upward trend since the start of the administration. Going forward, Suga’s popularity will largely be dependent upon how he handles the economy that has been hit hard  by the pandemic.

 

Comparison of last three administrations’ first months

 

 

At launch

After 1 month

Suga administration

Approval

74%

?

Stock prices

23,475.53 yen

23,626.73 yen (Oct. 14)

Second Abe administration

Approval

62%

68%

Stock prices

10, 230.36 yen

10,926.65 yen

Koizumi administration

Approval

80%

85%

Stock prices

13,973.03 yen

13,765.92 yen

Note: Stock price is Nikkei average. Approval ratings are from Nikkei opinion polls.

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