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Japan after Abe

Suga's $1tn budget proposal to target digitizing government

Japan drops to the 14th spot in UN e-government ranking

Japan's Minister in charge of digital reform, social security and tax number system Takuya Hirai attends a news conference in Tokyo.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will propose a national budget for fiscal 2021 set to top 105 trillion yen ($994 billion) that places digitization of government services front and center.

Digitization has emerged as a pressing issue after Japan's failure to distribute stimulus payouts to households in a timely manner this spring. Outdated systems also have hampered the collection of coronavirus-related data. That performance caused Japan to drop in the United Nations' e-government development ranking to 14th place for this year.

Suga has responded by ordering the creation of a "digital agency" to remedy the technology gap. Japan's ministries are seeking extra money in their budgets to address digitization.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications roughly quintupled its request for funding to promote digital transformation of local governments compared with this fiscal year's budget.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry asked for 38.9 billion yen to support digital applications at businesses -- nearly double the request from a year ago. Japan's new fiscal year begins April 1.

"Bringing local government systems up to standard can't be done within a year," said Masahiko Shoji, a professor at Musashi University in Tokyo. "It can't end in one burst of fireworks. I'd expect they should plan for five to 10 years of work."

Hideaki Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo's Meiji University, takes a more critical view of the digitization push.

"It appears the ministries have jumped on the government's digitization policy and are making [budgetary] requests," Tanaka said. "But if they don't examine and reflect on past government information technology strategies and budgets, this will end up in failure as well."

Japan's Finance Ministry soon will release the total of the budget requests submitted by government agencies. The specific allocations will be hammered out, with Suga's cabinet expected to approve a proposed budget for next fiscal year in December before the plan goes to the Diet for final approval.

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