Assessing Government Efforts to (Re)Build Trust in Government: Challenges and Lessons Learned from Japanese Experiences

Masao Kikuchi

Abstract


The decline of trust in government has been a critical issue in many parts of the world. Various surveys have indicated that the public cast suspicious eyes on their government and become less trustful of performance of their public sector. The OECD labels trust in government as a fundamental element of the democratic “contract”, while its decline may have significant impacts on government activities. Likewise, the UN also refers to trust as the foundation for good governance; therefore, improving trust would help strengthen sound governance in any polity. As these examples demonstrate, trust in government has increasingly become a central concern for government reformers.

In Japan, for a long time, bureaucrats have been perceived to be trustful social agents and they have enjoyed more confidence than those of party members. However, a series of scandals involving high-ranking bureaucrats, in addition to several policy failures and severe financial difficulties, have deteriorated the trustful image of Japanese public officials. Confronted with the problem, both central and local governments in Japan have attempted to improve their public perceptions and tried to rebuild trust in government by resorting to various types of administrative reform. However, the identification of reasons for the decline of public trust in government appear an awesome task and hard to come. While some of the reforms could have contributed rebuilding trust, others have further eroded the level of government confidence.

Against these backgrounds, the paper aims to show the current level of trust in government, specifically in Japan. It tries to assess government efforts of rebuilding trust by discussing different government reforms at both the central and the local levels.


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