It is five years since the Public Records Management Act was implemented. This year the law will be reviewed. It has been disclosed one after another since last year that important documents concerning policy decisions by the government have been managed carelessly. A more stringent law is urgently needed so that public records may be controlled rightly.
REVISION IS NECESSARY TO BAR CARELESS MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC RECORDS
Cabinet Legislation Bureau violates Law
The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper dated September 28 last year put striking headlines, ‘Interpretation of Constitution changed, It took Cabinet Legislation Bureau just a day for examination, No public records left how review processes went on’. It was just a week or so after the Abe government forced to pass the controversial war legislation in the Diet and people in the country felt indignant.
The Cabinet Legislation Bureau, which played the key role in allowing the Abe government to admit the right of collective self-defense which the Constitution clearly prohibits, again violates the Public Records Management Act. The Bureau was found negligent that it had not recorded and kept public information appropriately: its duty as ‘a guardian of laws’ lies in keeping interpretation of laws consistent (according to Director-General Yokobatake Yusuke), but the bureau did not leave written records on the process how was hastily changed the traditional interpretation of the Constitution maintained as long as 40 years.
Disclosure of Diplomatic Records
Great debates went on in the last ordinary session of the Diet concerning the bills related to the TPP (=Trans-Pacific Partnership) initiative negotiation in terms of processes of talks with the foreign counterparts.
The opposition Minshin-to, the Democratic Party, requested the government to disclose documents on negotiation process between former Minister on TPP Amari Akira and the US counterpart, Trade Representative Michael Froman.
The government replied that:
(1) no public records were made as the content of talks has been shared with only by some of the leading officials,
(2) summary documents were made on the major points related to negotiation talks before and after them, and
(3) meetings of leading ministers were held prior to the negotiation to explain the related items so that members could debate (distributed written papers were recollected).
The government presented the Special Committee on TPP of the House of Representatives April 5 the document on ‘the related items’ with its date and title blackened and explained the reason for the darkened data, saying ‘disclosure will produce certain disadvantages when negotiating with foreign partners’. The government told it had not made archives on the negotiation but the officials had shared the information in common. That implies that the government left written records but it would not open them with an excuse of insisting absence of written records.
Accountability of the government is crucial though people see that full disclosure of diplomatic information will impact adversely on negotiation. If the government is sincere to the sovereign people, it should be serious in the Diet debates. The TPP-related bills will be put on the agenda in the coming extraordinary Diet session this autumn. An old proverb must not be applied, ‘the authority should make people obey and must not tell them truths’.
The laws on the right of people to know, for instance, the Public Records Management Act, Administrative Information Disclosure Law and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, are closely linked with democracy and constitutionalism. Full guarantee on the said right is indispensable for people to watch the state authority, but the protection of secrets act infringes it.
Common Asset of People
The Public Records Management Act needs to be revised so that the information should be dealt with properly and archives may be maintained rightly to verify the history. Research Associate Sebata Hajime of the Nagano Prefectural College raises major points. He told that it is necessary: (1) to strengthen legal obligations to leave public records, (2) to intensify functions and jurisdictions pertaining to the Public Records Management Section of the Cabinet Office, and (3) to clarify and recognize designated secret information in the context of the protection of secrets act.
He continues to say, emphasizing: ‘this issue ultimately reaches awareness of bureaucrats and law makers. It takes them long time to change the consciousness. Public records are people’s assets. We must keep insisting on the fact’.
July 12, 2016