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THE RIGHT TO KNOW IN JAPAN

Japanese Diet (national parliament) passed Information Disclosure Act (IDA)  on May 7, 1999. Finally Japan has national level IDA or FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) .  Here is the long history and background behind the enactment of the law.
 

Overview

Preceding the national legislation, all 48 prefectural governments enacted IDA, with most recently Nara Prefecture that enacted IDA in 1996. About 300 of the total 3,250 municipalities had introduced their own IDA.

In March 1982, Kanayama, Yamagata Prefecture enacted IDA. That was the first municipality to enact IDA. In October 1982, Kanagawa Prefecture enacted IDA. The first prefecture to enact IDA.

In 1980, the Democratic Socialists Party introduced a national IDA bill. The first attempt by any party. Communists, Socialists, Komei (Clean Government), and other smaller parties followed in 1981. All bills failed.

In 1983, Second Ad Hoc Committee on Administrative Reform (Rincho, a Prime Minister's advisory committee) mentioned the needs to "positively consider" IDA measures. The Management and Coordination Agency (Somucho) established "Information Disclosure Study Group" to find pros and cons of IDA.

There was no progress in Nakasone and other conservative Liberal Democrats Party (LDP) administration in the 80s and early 90s.

In 1993, Hosokawa Administration, the first non-LDP cabinet in more than 30 years, stated interests in IDA legislation. In 1994, the Murayama administration created the advisory Administrative Reform Committee, in which IDA measures were discussed.

In November 1, 1996, the Administrative Reform Committee issued a final report draft.

The general election of Japan in October 1996 sent LDP back to their solo, yet minority, ruling position in Diet. Prime Minister Hashimoto's cabinet adopted on December 25, 1996 the "Administrative Reform Program" which prepared for LDP's IDA bills, which were adopted by the Cabinet  in March 1998. The bills, contested by competing bills and accepting some amendments,  passed the Lower House on February 16, 1999 and the Upper House on April 28, 1999. The full floor Lower House passed a final version on May 7, 1999.

There are pros and cons in the law. The analysis of it will come later.
 

BACKGROUND

Japan's rapid economic expansion after the World War II caused many problems, including air and water pollution, hazards of medicinal side-effects, and safety problems of food additives. In the early 1960s, when the thalidomide birth defect incidents spread, the government was criticized of not having publicized the Lentz Report, which determined thalidomide as the cause of the defects. Half of the mothers of the children with the defects took thalidomide during the 10 months after the government's learning of the Lentz Report and before their actual banning decision.

In the 60s and 70s, consumer groups working on food and medicine safety started a campaign for public access to government information. The government collects medical data from private pharmaceutical companies for approval of new medicine and food additives. In the United States, the public can access this data, using FOIA. In Japan, they cannot. The approval commission meetings are largely closed. (Thus, it is said, Japanese pharmaceuticals have competitive advantages over American counterparts by obtaining rivals' application data.)

The Lockheed Scandal, in which then Prime Minister Tanaka and other government officials received bribes of more than 2 billion yen from the American airplane manufacturers in the early 70s, also heightened public concern for an IDA. The criminal acts of Japanese politicians were exposed not from Japanese sources but from the U. S. Tanaka was arrested in 1975 and the "Lockheed court battle" went on in the 70s and 80s.

In 1976, Japan Consumer Union launched a demand for an IDA type legislation. The first formal attempt for IDA legislation was by civic groups. In 1979, Japan Civil Liberty Union (JCLU) adopted "IDA Basic Principles" and launched a campaign for IDA legislation. In 1980, these and other grassroots groups formed Coalition for Civic Movement for IDA to campaign for IDA legislation. They issued "IDA Eight Principles" and "Rights to Know Manifesto".

However, virtually no progress was made in Nakasone and other conservative Liberal Democrats Party (LDP) administration in the 80s and early 90s.
 
 

RECENT MOVES

Japan's seemingly invincible bureaucracy showed flaws in recent years. The following incidents heightened public concern for a more accessible government.

1) Minister of Welfare's secret AIDS-related files, which it repeatedly claimed nonexistent, were suddenly "found" in early 1996, after the newly appointed Minister Naoto Kan ordered a full internal investigation. Since the 1980s, more than 400 hemophilia patients have died of AIDS, which they contracted from virus-contaminated blood coagulants. The newly "found" files proved that the Ministry of Welfare knew, as early as 1983, of the possible AIDS virus contamination of non-heat-treated blood coagulants which hemophiliacs had been using. The Ministry did not ban nor recall the products, letting more than 2000 hemophiliacs contract AIDS/HIV by 1988. One of the high-ranking Ministry officials was arrested in October 1996 for this misconduct. That incident was the first arrest in post-war Japan of a government official for his misconduct in official policy making.

2) Monju, a prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui (north of Kyoto), had a serious accident of natrium leaking and a subsequent fire in December 8, 1995. The government's Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (Donen) swiftly stated that the accident was minor, disclosing a one-minute video of the accident scenes inside the plant. Eleven days later, the video was found to be only part of a 10 minute video which had more serious leakage footage. Donen said that the cover-up was made by the plant site director: only to be found the next month, the Tokyo headquarters was heavily involved in the cover-up. During the process of exposure, a Donen staff member committed suicide on January 13, 1996. He was in charge of the internal investigation of the video cover-up done by his colleagues.

3) Before the current consecutive 7-year depression, Japan was in a booming "bubble" economy. Especially excited in the boom was the Housing Loan Speciality Corporations (Jusen), major bank-supported institutions which actively invested in real estate. After the bubble burst, the seven Jusen companies had bad loans of more than 6 trillion yen ($10 billion), constituting 55% of their total loan. The powerful Ministry of Finance was criticized in allowing this bubble economy to happen as well as inefficient handling of the debt crisis. Their plan to pump up hundreds of billions of tax yen into the Jusen companies did not receive easy understanding by the public, partly because of the Ministry's secrecy in handling the matter. understanding. The Ministry also faced a trouble in the Daiwa Bank scandal, in which the Ministry initially allowed Daiwa Bank to hide $1.1 billion loss from unauthorized trade at its New York office in 1996. The Ministry was also responsible for the government's more than 440 trillion yen fiscal deficit. The list goes on and on.

4) Then came the current fiasco. The Japanese government is criticized by other countries for their inability to respond quickly to save the Asian economy, due to its strong impact in the region.
 
 

Local-Level IDA

While the national-level IDA was slow in proceeding in the parliament, local-level IDAs were  gaining some results little by little. One of the most prominent examples is the exposure in recent years of local government officials' improper spending of tax money. Grassroots groups in many localities, organized into the National Coalition of Civic Ombudsmen, used local IDAs to access bills and receipts of officials' expenditures for business meetings and trips. They found that local officials spent large amounts of money to entertain visiting national government officials (Kan-kan settai, "government-government entertainment"). The officials also created fake business trips to receive reimbursements (Kara-shuccho, "empty business trip"). According to NHK (National Broadcasting Corporation), more than 5.4 billion yen was spent improperly in 14 prefectural (state) governments between the fiscal years 1993 and 1995. This was only the "official" amount the governments had confirmed.

The corruption of bureaucracies sent signals to the public to become more concerned about accessible government. Heightened grassroots campaigns (and even more corruption cases) are forces behind the national IDA legislation.