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The Value of JICA Volunteer Projects Reform or Rationalization? Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers

『International Development Journal』2018 June edition

In November 2017, the Cabinet Secretariat Administrative Reform Promotion Headquarters carried out “administrative review” for each ministry and agency with the aim of reducing the wasteful spending of the government budget, among which a drastic system reform of “JICA volunteer projects” was requested. Concurrently, as JICA’s budget crunch became serious at the same time, people are concerned that the budget would be scaled down considerably.

Sudden Drastic Reform Request

Administrative business review is held twice a year, every spring and autumn. In FY 2017, the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) Project became an agenda in the spring review.In the spring review, discussions were mainly focused on how to increase the number of recruiters, including promotion of recruitment of cooperating volunteers and support for career paths after returning home. Some problems such as the evaluation method of JOCV activities were pointed out, but overall positive evaluation was done.However, in the autumn review, a drastic review of the system was requested and changed. Particularly, among the “incumbent participation schemes” that JICA can participate in the Cooperation Volunteers program while enrolled in the workplace, “JICA will bear the personnel expenses for the affiliation during the leave of absence” personnel expenses compensation system “was suddenly picked up for review. In response to this, JICA considered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance and decided to drastically review the cost compensation system from 2018, announcing that it will abolish the system from spring recruitment of the same year on March 15.
Many officials are confused about the sudden review. “As long as we use taxes, it is natural that we reform the system according to changes in social situations, taking into consideration the essential parts such as the ideals and objectives of this project.”
This autumn review is directly linked to the budget decision of the Ministry of Finance the following year, and immediately before that, JICA’s budget execution is fuelling the “JICA funds problem”. In addition to the emergence of the issue, there is concern that this project will shrink significantly.

Are “Personnel Expenses” Necessary?

“Personnel expenses compensation system” was developed in 1973 to ensure the return of workers after coming home.
JICA supplements 80% of salary and bonuses to members belonging to companies and organizations in Japan with registered employees on leave of absence. In addition, private companies are supplemented with 40% of salaries and bonuses added as general administrative expenses.
Lifetime employment was common at the beginning of this system, so the members were concerned about reinstatement after returning home. Therefore, with this system that can participate without quitting work, I was able to urge more citizens to participate.
However, the lifetime employment system is changing now, including reform of workers. In anticipation of the downsizing of the Japanese market accompanying the declining population, companies must also secure global human resources in order to proactively expand into new overseas markets such as emerging countries. That is why, “It is easy to reinstate a person with experience in cooperation without having to bother paying the personnel expenses”. This is the reason why the system reform was requested in the review.
However, this sudden abolition could lose confidence in the Cooperation Volunteers project that we have built up with companies. Especially for small and medium enterprises, it is difficult to bear the human costs such as social security for two years, leaving the participation of the participants in the company. If there is not any supplement, it may not be possible for companies to gain approval in the future.
On the other hand, Minister for Foreign Affairs Mitaka Okamoto, Member of the House of Representatives, said, “Japanese society has changed since more than 50 years ago when the Cooperation Volunteers started, as it is a public utility that uses taxes, It is important to reform the system. ” Meanwhile, “It is not appropriate to suddenly set zero compensation for personnel expenses, and we should carefully” fix “the system so that the system change will not be detrimental to those who wish to participate.”
Also, Mika Yamamoto, Secretary General of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, JICA, the executing agency of the project said, “What was regarded as an issue in the review was supplementing salaries and bonuses even in the personnel expenses compensation system. Unlike treatment, it can be said that “salary” is occurring, so the evaluator may well point this out. I will take it seriously as a critical point of view from the public’s perspective, and I will deal with it seriously. “
Meanwhile, the “In-service participation system is also highly necessary from the viewpoint of social return after returning home. It is an important system. Social security expenses that are burdensome to companies as they leave their affiliation will be supplemented as necessary expenses. ” It seems that JICA is currently discussing the concrete contents of institutional change.

Questioning the Introduction of Quantitative Evaluation

In the review, besides the personnel expenses compensation system, it is requested to review the “qualification for volunteer selection”, “how to evaluate the project”, “distinction between JOCV and senior volunteers”, and “cooperation with NGOs”.
Among them, objections are also raised by stakeholders on the policy of introducing a quantitative evaluation method to the volunteer project. As far as the JOCV project uses taxes of the people, implementation of project evaluation is natural, but members will be dispatched to countries that can make use of their experiences and skills in the same position regardless of age, sex and career. Since each of them is doing activities that were consistent with their daily lengths, it would not be reasonable to quantitatively evaluate the activities of individual crew members, as long as they are evaluated for the entire project.
From the time of establishment, the JOCV project has consistently been “contributing to the development and reconstruction of the economy and society of developing countries”, “deepening mutual understanding and coexistence in cross-cultural society”, “social return making the most of volunteer experience” It is aiming at three pillars. All three of these are JOCV projects and the points on the project evaluation method in the autumn review are “contribution to development and reconstruction to developing countries”, that is, the two-year activities at the dispatch destination of cooperating volunteers.
On the other hand, Director Yamamoto said, “We will never rank volunteers by quantitative evaluation, but I would like members to learn and use the PDCA cycle evaluation method to make their activities more fulfilling, JICA will evaluate the entire project based on the evaluation of the activities of the men and will fulfill the accountability to the people, and I will promote the establishment of such evaluation system. “
Establishment of the evaluation system is a problem that Yamamoto was chiefly addressing from the time he was appointed director. “In particular,” mutual understanding in cross-cultural society “for business purposes has a diplomatic aspect, and” individual social return after returning home “is done by experienced persons outside the framework of ODA. For this reason, it can not be measured by JICA’s other evaluation method of ODA projects. I will do my utmost to devise a unique evaluation system suitable for this project. “
Okamoto, a parliamentary official also said, “It is important to consider the purpose and the means which are important to the implementation of the policy. Attainment of the purpose of the three pillars of this project is the most important. We must undertake reform. “
In addition, the Youth Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (20-39 years old) and senior volunteers (40-69 years) separated by age will also review the system contents considerably from the fall recruitment in FY 2006. “We will not unify the age category and integrate them, but we will review them together,” Yamamoto said.

Refocus on the results of 50 years

As a citizen-participating ODA project, the Cooperation Volunteer Project, which is in its 53rd year this year, has achieved tremendous results.
Okamoto, a parliamentary official, also visited many countries where cooperation troops were dispatched and said that he was keenly aware of the significance of this project. “The biggest reason why leaders in each country appreciate Japan is the cooperation team, they live together with the residents in the local community, volunteer on the residents’ perspective, and pass the baton to the next generation. I am improving the lives of the residents over time. The long-term activities are highly appreciated, and the significance of diplomacy is immeasurable, “he said.
The JOCV business is undergoing a turning point now. It is left to concrete reforms to be carried out by the autumn of this year whether to be reborn into a better system for members, families and workplaces supporting them, people in dispatched countries, and for all Japanese citizens. The mission of reform is great how to pass the baton connected for half a century to the next generation.

Planning Department/Director : Nobuyuki Tanaka

***** 以下、日本語原文 *****













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