The good bureaucrat
Sep 14th 2011, 4:51 by K.N.C. | TOKYO
After 3/11, Mr Koga decided speak out about the awful practices he had experienced while working on Japan’s energy policy. The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, run by TEPCO, is symptomatic of a wider malaise. The utility companies buy the academy by sponsoring research, buy the media through mountains of public-service advertisements and junkets, buy big business by paying top-dollar for everything, buy the bureaucrats and regulators by handing them cushy post-retirement jobs.
Talking to him one gets a chill down the spine. Often, bureaucrats are regarded as lemming-like self-interested do-nothings or devious micro-managers. But Mr Koga’s brave words and deep understanding of how energy companies pad their costs, block competition, keep energy prices high and ultimately strangle Japan is an antidote to that image. Instead, the figure that emerges is a deeply intelligent, hard-working civil servant who wants the best for his country.
In the spring he devised his own restructuring plan for TEPCO that was utterly ignored by the ministry (which has long been in the pocket of the energy companies), though it won him plaudits from a handful of reformist politicians. He advocates opening the energy monopoly to competition and separating the power generation and transmission operations of today’s ten regional monopolies.
If only his country would listen. His private views to colleagues landed him in the wilderness. Superiors told him to resign. Yet since going public with his revelations and criticisms, he has been placed into an even darker solitary confinement. His current assignment is, well, nothing. When he asked the previous trade minister, Banri Kaieda, for a meaningful post, Mr Kaieda was noncommittal. (When The Economist asked Mr Kaieda about Mr Koga’s views, the then-trade minister dismissed it as something for “the long term”. Translation: “Never”.)
“I believe this is the final chance for Japan to change,” Mr Koga said in May, when I asked him during a wide-ranging interview why he was speaking out. “If I shut my mouth and obtain a good post in the ministry—even if I did that, in a few years Japan’s economy would plunge,” he said. “That is why I am taking on risks, and I don’t care if I have to resign. Because if I don’t speak out, Japan will not change. It is meaningless for me to be in the government if I cannot advocate reform.”
On September 14th, Mr Koga was poised to send an e-mail to his latest boss, the trade minister Yoshihiko Edano, asking for a real post. If he fails to get one, he says he will retire later this month. It will be a true pity if Japan loses one of the few men who could actually improve the country considerably. It will be a shame; a self-inflicted wound.
If Mr Edano has any sense—and courage—he will promote Mr Koga to vice-minister (the highest civil-servant position in the ministry) with a remit to see through his wise reforms. Japan needs its leaders just as it needs its heroes. The country’s haplessness is precisely because people like Mr Koga, who strive for what is right despite the personal consequences, are banished rather than elevated.