This month's featured article
Civil Society: Giving People a Voice <RIETI Featured Fellow> MEKATA Motoko
MEKATA Motoko Fellow, RIETI
Greetings from RIETI
Happy Valentine's Day! Here in Japan, we have a unique gift practice: girls give chocolate to boys. It started in 1958 when chocolate makers had special sales on Valentine's Day at a department store in Tokyo. Some people queue for hours to buy chocolate at trendy chocolateriers. Consumers spend money if they think it is worth it.
This volume of RIETI Report Interviewed our fellow Motoko Mekata on roles of government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs.
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Dr. Mekata became a visiting fellow at RIETI in April 2001 and she has been a fellow at RIETI since April 2002. After she received her M.A. in international politics from Georgetown University, she worked for Fuji TV. She received her M.S. in architecture and urban design from Columbia University in 1995. She became a research fellow at Tokyo Foundation in 1999. She received her Ph.D. in international public policy from Osaka University. Her expertise is transnational civil society. She has been a committee member of Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines (JCBL) since 1997.
Her publication in English includes:
"Deeds or Words: Japan and Nuclear Disarmament", Disarmament Diplomacy, Acronym Institute, No. 45, May 2000.
Helmut Anheier and Regina List eds., "Cross-border philanthropy, An exploratory study of international giving in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany and Japan", Center for Civil Society, The John Hopkins University, 2000.
Ann Florini ed., "The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society", Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2000.
RIETI Report: What do you think will be the future roles of NGOs?
Mekata: An increasing number of former NGO members are now playing active roles in international organizations, government agencies and universities. In Canada and (some European Countries) where advanced information disclosure systems are implemented, gaps between the government and NGOs in information and special knowledge have been shrinking. But they cannot be considered to be typical.
In Japan, NPOs and NGOs have failed to develop. A reason behind this is the fact that bureaucrats have monopolized information for years. Since 1995, however, things have been changing drastically with civil societies emerging rapidly. Among global issues such as human rights, refugees and emergency assistance, the information boundaries between the government and people have been substantially lowered. With a series of restrictions eased or eliminated, peoplecfs incentives and spontaneity have been boosted. Also, they have come to take more interest in government policies. When NGOs accumulate their experience and become a good partner for the government, the downsizing of the public sector will proceed. However, they cannot become a good partner without sufficient information, knowledge and experience and nothing will change unless government officials release information. The same can be said about the relationships between the United Nations and NGOs. With the deepening of their interdependency, NGOs are increasingly entrusted to implement and operate U.N. projects. With international organizations, relevant governments and civil societies working in a way to complement each other, a check-and-balance function would work properly to maximize effects.
RR: What impacts have the Sept. 11, 2001 attack brought to democracy and civil societies?
Mekata: Looking back on the course of events, 911 has highlighted the U.S. unilateralism. But we have to distinguish the positive and negative factors. I have an impression that a shift from power politics to multilateralism has stopped with more people reemphasizing the importance of the power politics. At the same time, however, we are also hearing calm views that power politics cannot solve all. We should think what root causes exist behind the incident. One-sided victory by the West and the presence of numerous forgotten people are the common background behind the problems of terrorism, North Korea and Iraq. The poor get poorer and the wealth gap between the rich and the poor is widening. The problems are not easy to solve and steady efforts must be made. The rise of the anti-globalism movement and the expansion of transnational civil societies are closely related with each other. Due to frequent conflicts and the lack of infrastructure, developing countries such as those in Africa are trapped in a negative cycle. But once cessation is established and peace efforts begin at conflict zones, various supports and assistance will be extended, as exemplified by the restoration of post-Pol Pot Cambodia. Afghanistan, though still in a devastated state, has taken a step toward democracy. Wars ended in Kosovo and a cease fire was reached in Sri Lanka. In South American countries, the transition to civilian rule has proceeded and civil societies'check-and-balance function is beginning to work. These countries have established a firm foundation not to allow dictatorship and any other forms of one-sided suppression.
The past 20 years witnessed a substantial rise in the number of countries in which the freedom of expression is guaranteed and free elections are implemented. Although bipolarization remains the general trend of the world, we do have a positive development. For instance, South American countries, which used to be in the middle, are now becoming richer. But the fact that many African countries remain forgotten is a negative aspect. The Human Development Index issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that the population of the poor is increasing and the situation cannot be taken lightly. It is also true that gaps exist between countries with democracy and freedom and those without. As NGOs and other civil societies in each country speak up and people express their wish through elections, problems that have long been ignored are beginning to attract attention.
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RIETI and the Reischauer Center of Johns Hopkins University jointly organized a roundtable on relations between Japan and the United States as seen from the viewpoint of budget formulation. Fellow Mieko Nakabayashi reports the result in detail.
"Report on the Roundtable on Japan-U.S. Relations and Budget Formulationquot;
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