4. Japan’s structure and systems

The 2015 Development Cooperation Charter requires close collaboration amongst the government and implementing agencies. The MOFA plans and leads development co-operation policies and activities. It ensures close collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and other ministries and actors involved in implementation.

As for many DAC members, Japan’s humanitarian assistance is managed centrally with responsibility shared between MOFA and JICA. MOFA mostly manages voluntary contributions to the multilateral system and the grant aid system, while JICA mostly manages emergency relief including in-kind stocks and the dispatch of emergency response teams.

Accountability is exercised at a number of levels within the Japanese system. As an incorporated administrative agency, JICA is accountable to MOFA, providing an annual report and a self-evaluation report in which it is assessed by MOFA every year. The government is held to account for its ODA policy through questions in the Diet, and the work of the Special Committee on ODA and Related Matters of the upper house of parliament, which oversee ODA. The committee discusses issues related to ODA and other forms of international co-operation and its members regularly visit projects funded by Japan.

The Prime Minister and his office play a significant decision-making role in investments using ODA and other official channels. The Prime Minister’s office organises the Management Council for Infrastructure Strategy, which aims to promote export of Japan’s quality infrastructure – whether financed from ODA or other official sources. The initiative responds to increasing demand for infrastructure globally and is based on win-win relationships. As well as contributing to the economic development of partner countries and building the capacity of officials working on infrastructure, it also benefits the Japanese economy. The initiative is co-ordinated by the cabinet office together with relevant ministries including the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) in co-operation with the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI), JICA, and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). This emphasis on infrastructure is reflected in JICA’s sectoral focus in implementing Japanese ODA (Chapters 2 and 3).

There is almost no delegation of financial and programming authority to the field. Embassies and JICA country offices engage in dialogue with partner governments and co-ordinate with other development actors. They propose initiatives and formulate proposals. The need to make recommendations to MOFA and JICA in Tokyo adds time to what is already considered a lengthy process (reported during the field visits to Cambodia and Ghana in Annex C). Cabinet approval is required in principle for any grant and loan project, including some grant projects under USD 1 million. Apart from decisions on small amounts of expenditure, embassies and JICA country offices always need approval from MOFA and JICA in Tokyo. Most payments are also made from Tokyo, either to consultants or contractors responsible for grant projects or to contractors responsible for loan projects.

MOFA and JICA, as the two main players, co-ordinate closely in Tokyo and in the field. JICA co-ordinates closely with ministries and agencies on specific projects, especially those involving technical co-operation. Co-ordination benefits project activities implemented by a range of Japanese actors in priority sectors: they receive sectoral and technical advice from ministries, and input from Japanese experts and volunteers in sectors such as health and education. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) reviews all loan proposals, paying particular attention to debt sustainability. Prior to grant and loan proposals going to Cabinet for approval, MOFA and JICA also co-ordinate closely with MOF and other related ministries to ensure that funding is available.

Country policy documents could be more comprehensive and better describe Japan’s whole-of-government approach. Development co-operation policies are elaborated for each partner country in co-ordination with related ministries and agencies, including ODA Task Forces. However, these documents could better outline the results that Japan expects to achieve in each of its partner countries. As a result, Japan’s many good individual projects could complement one another effectively and efficiently and add up to a whole-of-government approach (Chapter 5; Annex C).

Each embassy oversees and co-ordinates Japan’s development co-operation in-country and with Tokyo. The embassies’ Economic and ODA Section comprises staff from MOFA and a range of other ministries, depending on its size. ODA Task Forces are present in 130 countries, generally made up of embassy and JICA staff, though composition can vary. Other institutions such as JBIC and JETRO may participate where relevant to the sectoral focus of each country portfolio. The task force enables the embassy and JICA to discuss Japan’s development co-operation, including approaches to policy dialogue with the partner government and programming options. It is also a mechanism through which to review progress and address bottlenecks during implementation.

While project management processes are clear, Japan does not allocate to country and thematic portfolios. Japan has systems in place to implement and assure the quality of its development co-operation activities (Table 4.1). However, it does not have a practice of allocating funding to each country and thematic portfolio, which risks creating uncertainty for programme staff and for partners (Chapter 3). Instead it considers needs expressed by partner governments, generating ideas for projects that are aligned with Japan’s development co-operation policy for each partner country. These ideas are then considered and pitched within the system – through the embassy to MOFA and JICA in Tokyo.

Early consultation on the relevance of projects is good practice. MOFA’s Development Project Accountability Committee, comprised of officials and external development co-operation stakeholders, considers the relevance of projects before analysing their feasibility. Once accepted, the project formulation process commences, with final approval depending on the results of feasibility studies and consultation between MOFA, JICA and other relevant ministries.

Rigorous processes reduce risk but add to the time needed to commence projects. The care that Japan takes to determine feasibility and then design projects, particularly infrastructure projects, results in careful definition of their specific requirements. The process is managed by consultants who are hired by partner governments to design loans and by Tokyo in the case of grants. A competitive bidding process then drives total costs down and limits opportunities for corrupt practices in particular. However, project preparation takes a long time, reducing Japan’s attractiveness when other options are available to partner governments (Annex C). While processes have been streamlined over the past decade, further effort is needed to speed up the time taken for Japan to prepare, approve and procure projects in order to respond better to partner government needs, in particular for good quality infrastructure investments. In addition, the level of specification can reduce contractors’ ability to respond to challenges during implementation.

Japan has increased its focus on security, with implications for work in fragile contexts. Following the deaths in 2016 of Japanese consultants working on a JICA project in Bangladesh, MOFA and JICA have reviewed and strengthened safety measures for people involved in international co-operation projects. The Council on Safety Measures for International Cooperation Projects was established under MOFA in order to define new safety measures. Japan makes safety a prerequisite for implementing ODA projects, and JICA has introduced a code of conduct for project partners to be applied in insecure countries and areas. Travel advisories provide guidance to Japanese nationals, including government officials, non-government organisation (NGO) staff and people working in multilateral agencies, regarding access to insecure areas. Visits to insecure areas by Japanese NGO staff members working on government-funded projects, especially level four areas, are considered on a case-by-case basis, which can limit their ability to work in fragile contexts.

Japan has improved its management of corruption risks considerably since the 2014 Peer Review and has made other commendable efforts to implement the 2016 OECD Council Recommendation on Managing the Risk of Corruption. There is now a code of conduct for staff, a staff-training programme and a whistle-blowing system. At programme level there are monitoring tools and financial controls, including a solid auditing system. However, Japan could strengthen and systematise its assessment and follow up of risks of corruption, such as developing policies and guidelines for corruption risk assessment, mitigation and follow up, and gather lessons learned from corruption incidents. It could also give better guidance and support to staff on assessing corruption risks, in particular the particular challenges in different sectors, and make information about complaints procedures more widely known (Annex C).

Japan is communicating with the private sector on anti-corruption and has a solid sanctioning system. Japan also gives substantial technical support to partner governments, strengthening governance capacity to reduce corruption. It has introduced third party checks of contractors and implementers, and publishes the results of sanctions imposed on offenders. Japan could broaden its approach to corruption beyond the fiduciary risks to Japanese funds to also include its potential threat to achieving development goals. As noted in the recent Phase 4 Report undertaken by the OECD Working Group on Bribery, Japan’s good practice in entering into agreements, and establishing joint committees with the governments of three countries where the corruption risk is high – Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam – might be extended further. JICA and MOFA could further raise awareness and offer guidance and training to its staff and contractors on foreign bribery risks and red flags, as well as the channels for reporting suspicions to Japanese law enforcement agencies. They could also review the accuracy of information provided by project applicants, not just by looking at the World Bank debarment lists, but also those of other national and multilateral financial institutions, as well as considering applicants’ corruption risk management systems (OECD, 2019[1]).

Japan recognises the need to do more to prevent the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Japan is committed to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual harassment (SEAH) within its development co-operation system. It has signed Donor Commitments agreed in London in 2018 (UK Government, 2018[2]), and translated and disseminated the DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance (OECD, 2019[3]). It has taken initial steps to raise awareness of these risks amongst staff, experts and volunteers prior to deployment and is working with Japanese NGOs to raise awareness amongst their personnel. JICA has formulated an action plan and included SEAH in existing mechanisms, such as the staff code of conduct and contract, from July 2020 (UK Government, 2019[4]). Japan could build on its existing focus on preventing and responding to harassment as it operationalises the recommendation.

Japan is exploring the greater use of science, technology and innovation in its development co-operation. The Global Health Initiative Technology Fund and the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development International Collaborative Research Program, for example, aim to address global issues, including health challenges.1 Efforts to promote innovation in JICA include establishing a Science, Technology and Innovation Office and a Digital Transformation Taskforce. Applying lessons from the forthcoming DAC peer learning on innovation for development could further these efforts. JICA recognises that its systems have been very rigid and a staff task force is looking at tools for being more flexible in project management. JICA staff are encouraged to think and act differently, and this is a component of performance assessment. Building on this, and on its efforts to encourage innovation across its operations, would help JICA to become more agile and adaptable.

Extensive expertise is available across the development co-operation system. MOFA and JICA can rely on highly qualified and experienced staff to manage Japan’s development co-operation, drawing in expertise from across the Japanese government, academia, civil society and the private sector as needed. This is exemplified in the technical co-operation provided to developing country partners.

The centralised location of skills and expertise introduces challenges. JICA country offices rely heavily on Japanese contracted staff to supplement permanent staff, as do embassies to a lesser extent. However, as sectoral, thematic and project management expertise is held in Tokyo with limited capacity retained in the field, this requires communicating with Tokyo, as well as Japanese language skills. In addition, JICA is limited in its ability to identify, and effectively promote and implement a diverse range of private sector initiatives in the field, as observed in Cambodia and Ghana (Annex C). These require a different set of skills and further capacity building in country offices, backed up by strong support from Tokyo. Japan might consider whether a more decentralised approach, with greater capacity in the field, would achieve greater efficiencies in programme management.

Regular rotation of staff offers both benefits and challenges. Staff working in the International Cooperation Bureau of MOFA and in the Economic and ODA Section of embassies are rotated regularly, and senior MOFA staff are assigned to roles with JICA and other institutions. These rotations and assignments can boost understanding of development co-operation across the ministry, and promote synergies among development co-operation and diplomacy, defence and other relevant areas of expertise. However, the loss of continuity can also create challenges given MOFA’s key role in planning development co-operation policy and co-ordinating amongst government ministries and agencies, and the leading local role played by embassies. Retaining institutional knowledge and learning is of key importance in the Japanese system therefore (Chapter 6).

JICA is responding to the challenge of retaining and developing its staff. It has defined a set of knowledge, skills and abilities that all staff should acquire to be competent development practitioners, and outlined expectations for staff to meet these as their career develops. This is good practice. The staff rotation policy in JICA contributes to this, as does career consultation offered to relatively young, permanent staff.

Greater investment is needed in locally engaged staff. Partner country staff are essential to the successful implementation of development co-operation by the embassy and JICA. Efforts have been made to enhance career development opportunities for locally engaged staff. JICA recently introduced the possibility for its national staff to be promoted to managerial positions and has increased the number of short- and long-term training programmes offered at headquarters and some core country offices. Short-term exchanges of partner country staff are conducted among JICA country offices to enhance specific skills such as procurement, disbursement and evaluation. However, there is room for improvement, particularly regarding their opportunities for capacity development, career progression and advancement. Also, their job titles do not always reflect the work they do, particularly their engagement with partner government counterparts. While retention rates are good, investing in their capacity and improving their terms and conditions of employment could enhance their motivation and job satisfaction, adding value to Japan’s ODA.


[5] JICA (2019), JICA 2019 Japan International Cooperation Agency Annual Report, Japan International Cooperation Agency, Tokyo, https://www.jica.go.jp/english/publications/reports/annual/2019/c8h0vm0000f7nzvn-att/2019_all.pdf (accessed on 22 February 2020).

[3] OECD (2019), DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance: Key Pillars of Prevention and Response.

[1] OECD (2019), Implementing the OECD Anti Bribery Convention Phase 4 Report: Japan, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/corruption/OECD-Japan-Phase-4-Report-ENG.pdf (accessed on 17 July 2019).

[4] UK Government (2019), Progress report on delivering the donor commitments from the October 2018 London Safeguarding Summit, UK Government, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840067/Progress-report-on-delivering-donor-commitments.pdf.

[2] UK Government (2018), Commitments made by donors to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the international aid sector, UK Government, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/749632/donor-commitments1.pdf.


← 1. The Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development involves collaboration between the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development the Japan International Cooperation Agency. See www.jst.go.jp/global/english/about.html. The Global Health Initiative Technology Fund brings Japanese industry, academia, and research institutes together to create new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases. See www.ghitfund.org/.

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