Tentative Translation of Blog by Mr. Takuya Hirai (on Digital First Bill; July 20, 2018)
I am currently working on establishing the Digital First Bill as Chair of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Special Mission Committee on IT Strategy. The lawmaker-led bill puts forward a “safe, secure and convenient government” that realizes a “high-touch government.” Many people probably think that “high touch” refers to the gesture of doing a “high five.” However, high touch in this sense is a Japanese-English phrase. Originally,high touch refers to “a human connection, kindness, consideration and hospitality.”Nowadays, we often hear the terms “paperless” and “cashless” mentioned in the world of politics. In this blog, I would like to introduce why I am pursuing a high-touch government and promoting the digitalization of Japanese society.
In general, when we discuss the digitalization of the government’s administrative procedures, some people may be concerned that computers will take the place of everything that government officials respond to directly, which will complicating matters. This is a major misunderstanding. In fact, the objective of digitalization is to make the current administrative service more convenient. As the administrative service currently stands, people sometimes have to fill in the same types of forms multiple times for different applications to receive the appropriate governmental services. This occurs because all the applications are managed on paper, so different types of application that cross different sections (even in the same city hall) in the government require different paper applications. Until now, Japanese citizens were not able to receive any public services without making an application to the public sector. This is known as the “apply-centric” policy. Since the public sector only owned citizens’ personal information on paper, they didn’t know what sorts of support citizens wanted from the public sector. Once all the processes are digitalized (and the government owns your information digitally), you may receive notifications from city hall that say you need to apply for a specific subsidy after turning a certain age. If public services work in this way, they will be more convenient and closer to citizens’ lives. Of course, there are some concerns, such as unauthorized access to personal accounts and elderly people forgetting their passwords. However, such logging-in issues can be resolved through the introduction of new technology, including fingerprint authentication and voice input. A support structure for people who are not used to ICT will be another important factor. Finally, people are starting to talk about the digitalization of the public sector and politics.
There have been some incorrect cases in which digitalization itself has become the objective, but ultimately it is just a means. For example, all the meetings in the Special Mission Committee on IT Strategy are completely paperless. As the result, the Committee has saved approximately JPY 14 million (USD 140,000) on copy and paper costs over the last three years. Besides such basic costs, we have saved HR costs and resources for printing, changing, enclosing, distributing and making additions to documents. The 3 benefits of going paperless are immeasurable. In the Digital First Bill, we have to avoid confusing “objective” with “means.” Our objective is to try to establish an environment where people can access public sector services whenever and wherever they are. The most important factor in achieving this is making all the administrative procedures accessible via smartphones, so that Japanese citizens feel that public services are convenient. A wavering in this premise will make it difficult to know why digitalization is being carried out. Hence, the Digital First Bill considers citizens’ convenience as the top priority, without being bound by ministries’ hierarchy. That is the role that citizens have entrusted in politicians. I believe that the Digital First Bill, which is the third IT-related lawmakerdriven bill that I have been involved in after the Basic Act on Cybersecurity (2015) and the Basic Act on the Advancement of Public and Private Sector Data Utilization (2016), should be considered as the culmination of my IT policies.
“Present-push” and “future-pull” are the other two concepts that I think are important when establishing a bill. Present-push refers to ideas derived from an understanding of the current state of affairs to provide solutions to the current issues. The Digital First Bill includes the idea of future-pull, which creates new ideas from future perspectives. As I am sure you are aware, Japan is now facing the prospect of a becoming an ultraelderly-decreased-population society unlike any other on the planet. This will undoubtedly result in reductions in the budgets that central and local governments can spend. A paper-based public administration may have worked up until now, but it clearly creates harmful effects from the perspective of costs and efficiency, etc., in the current hightech
information society.For example, in 2017 the government distributed “premium gift certificates” valued at JPY 220.6 billion (USD 2.2 billion) to stimulate regional consumption. It cost JPY 52.6 billion (USD 526 million) in terms of the office procedures involved in this nationwide distribution. This is unbelievable amount of money. If we attempt to distribute the same kind of gift certificates again, the costs will be the same because of the current administrative service. I think that the transition to digitalization is the only way to resolve this issue. If we consider Japan’s future, we have to commit to this transition right now as our most important policy. I believe that the transition to a digitalization that citizens feel reassured about is mandatory for Japan to be the first country in the world to overcome the challenges of an ultra-elderly-decreased-population society.