Twenty years ago, Japan had ambitious digital plans, Reuters reported. Two decades later, the sudden outbreak has exposed a serious lack of technology within the government system: departments remain in the tradition of paper documents. Experts say this reduces the efficiency of government.
Although Tokyo has made “digital transformation” its main policy platform this year, the transition may not be easy because officials from different government departments are still unable to participate in conference calls together and government administration is rarely done online.
Analysts say the government’s lack of digitalization will reduce the incentive for digital transformation in the private sector, undermining Japan’s efforts to increase productivity.
“The lack of digital investment by the government has hampered productivity and efficiency in the private sector, ” said Takuya Hoshino, a senior economist at first life. “
In its mid-year policy strategy, the Government of Japan pledged to accelerate the digital reform of its backward administration. Because of the backwardness of digitalization, cash reimbursements to help people weather the pandemic have not been released in time.
Many of the problems stem from the Japanese bureaucrats’ habit of using paper documents, which are approved only as official seals.
“Paper documents and official seals are still very common. Many of the politicians I work with also prefer face-to-face meetings,” said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Japan’s verticalstructured bureaucracy is further hampering digital transformation. For example, each department and local government has developed its own computer systems that are incompatible with each other.
A Cabinet Office official in charge of IT strategy says each department is currently working with different vendors to develop its own LAN network. Conference calls between departments are difficult due to different online security policies.
In Japan, less than 12% of administrative work is done online, according to the Japan Institute.
In a report released last July, the government’s regulatory reform team estimated that without digital transformation, the government would have worked 323m hours a year, or nearly $8bn, if it turned into human costs.
The lack of digitalization has also shattered Japan’s image as the world’s leading high-tech nation. In fact, Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, ranks 23rd out of 63 countries for digital competitiveness, behind Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea and China, according to the ImD, a Swedish think-tank.
According to the latest OECD Digital Economy Outlook report, Japan ranks bottom in 31 countries for online processes, with only 5.4 per cent of its citizens using digital applications in public offices, well below Denmark, Estonia and Iceland, which each reach 70 per cent.
Seiji Kihara, the ruling party’s deputy policy chief, was formerly finance minister. Twenty years ago, he said, young officials were holding a stack of papers everywhere to get their superiors to sign and seal them.
“Now, nothing’s changed,” he said.