In a bid to give a technological upgrade to its services, the Japanese government has announced to launch of a new Digital Agency as an attempt to speed up the digitalisation of local and central government e-services amid the Covid-19 pandemic which has highlighted the need for reform.
While the Japanese Digital Transformation Minister Takuya Hirai will be in charge of the new agency headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Yoko Ishikura, honorary professor at Hitotsubashi University, will serve as the digital supervisor.
Of the roughly 600 members of the agency, over 30% are from the private sector while the remainder includes officials from the industry and communications ministry as well as secretaries and back-office staff.
The Japanese government has placed a high priority on digital reforms since its launch last September, as Japan has been struggling to promote administrative reforms that utilize information technology.
The slow progress to date in the country’s efforts dating back to around 2000 is partly due to decentralized information systems and privacy concerns. The pandemic has exposed challenges caused by a delay in the initiative, including local governments striving to provide financial support promptly and share information on Covid-19 patients.
Earlier online classes were also not widely available in Japan during school closures in the initial phase of the virus spread. The new agency will work on digitalising Covid-19 ‘vaccine passports’, or certificates for people who have been fully vaccinated against respiratory disease, by the end of the year.
It will also launch a system by March 2023 for people to register their ‘My Number’, or a 12-digit number distributed to each citizen and foreign resident, along with their bank accounts so that government benefits can be delivered quickly.
A total of 31 administrative procedures connected to childrearing, nursing care, and other aspects of living will be digitalized by March 2023, and information systems varying currently among municipalities will be standardized by March 2026.
Aside from promoting digitalisation in the hope that this will make various services more convenient to use, the agency will also be faced with the task of protecting privacy as the reform is expected to increase exchanges of personal information.