Concerns over three laws, namely, the Public Document and Archive Management Act, the Information Disclosure Law and the Act to Protect State’s Secrets, are closely related to the people’s right to know. They deeply link to democracy and constitutionalism. Full guarantee of the right to know is indispensable for people to watch and monitor the state’s power. However, the Secret Protection Law totally undermines the right.
PEOPLE’S RIGHT TO KNOW MUST BE ASSURED AS PRECONDITION
The Cabinet Legislation Bureau has failed to have records on the decision-making process over the grave alteration of interpretation of Article Nine. The previous issue of this organ pointed out the Bureau’s breach of the Constitution in terms of the Public Record Management Act.
As far as the management is concerned, we see another failure in making the proceedings on the 2011 Earthquake’s disaster in the Tohoku Region. It was a time of the Noda Government led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The fact was disclosed in January, 2012, and revision was made in the law. Thus in June in 2012 the Council on Management of Public Documents of the Cabinet Office changed guidelines to obligate government bodies that should be in charge of decision-makings in a time of natural disaster to prepare the minutes.
Basis of Democracy
The Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito, the opposition parties at the time, harshly criticized the DPJ government over the absence of records on the calamities. Member of the House of Councilors Yamaguchi Natsuo, President of the Komeito, told harshly: ‘the absence means serious betrayal to people and the international community. It has produced a vacuum in the history’ (in the Plenary Session held in January, 2012). Another eight members of the opposition parties continued to denounce the government, but the ruling DPJ did not put the issue on the agenda.
Yet, recently, only two MPs out of the nine, who had accused the DPJ government in the two Houses, responded to a request of news coverage by the Mainichi newspaper. President of the ruling Komeito Yamaguchi replied through his office, saying that ‘this time I will not answer to reporters’ (the Mainichi dated November 8).
This column has discussed the two cases concerning public documents. It is not because the key element lies in the practices of political parties, in which ‘the ruling party is exempt from persecution’ and ‘the opposition criticizes the government’, but public records constitute ‘intellectual property shared by people who sustain the sound basis of democracy’ (Article One, the Objective of the Law, the Public Records Management Act).
After 181 Years
The National Archives of Japan, a house to keep official documents, was established in 1971. In France in the following year of the 1789 French Revolution, the Archives Nationales was created to store documents of the ancient regime and keep official documents of the revolutionary government systematically and disclose them to the public. In Japan, an underdeveloped nation in terms of control of public records, the scheme was built after 181 years of the experience in France.
The document management law was implemented in 2011. Ten years before that, in 2001, the Information Disclosure Law had been taken effect. They are in an adverse order; usually right preparation and preservation of public records comes first and then comes disclosure. If documents are absent, neither disclosure nor verification is possible.
What the Abe government did, however, was to force legislation of the Secret Protection Act to incorporate it in the structure built up for preservation and disclosure of administrative records.
If the government hides important information from sight of people, relying on the secrets protection law, the state power will go violently and people will suffer in the similar way as that during the previous war.
Assurance of the right of people to know and of information disclosure is crucial so that tragedy may not be repeated.
November 17, 2015