2019年12月03日

The strange tale of Japan’s prime minister

TOKYO − The guest list for a controversial state-funded party? Shredded.

Lists of visitors to the prime minister’s office? Shredded.

Journals showing the dangers encountered by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on duty in Sudan and Iraq? Initially said to have been shredded, although they were later rediscovered.

Important papers relating to a school scandal that threatened to bring down the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? Some falsified, some shredded.

The Abe administration’s secretive approach to government papers − and an industrial-size shredder that can dispose of 1,000 pages of official documents in a single load − is dominating the headlines in Japan this week, as the opposition and media cry foul.

Abe became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister last week, but his approval ratings are falling on accusations that he used an annual state-funded party over the cherry blossom season to invite hundreds of his supporters and cronies.

On Monday, a group of opposition politicians tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the Cabinet Office to see a massive shredder, reportedly the Nakabayashi NSC-7510 Mark III, that has become the symbol of government coverup in Japan.

Initially turned away, they came back on Tuesday to test the machine and discovered that it could shred an 800-page guest list in just over 30 seconds. On its website, Nakabayashi boasts that the shredder can dispose of 550 kilograms (1,200 pounds) of paper in an hour.

Smaller shredders exist in each department of the Cabinet Office, officials say.

“One wonders just how many pages of official documents are being fed into those machines every day in Kasumigaseki, the seat of Japanese bureaucracy,” the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in a scathing front-page commentary. “Whenever a scandal surfaces, the bureaucrats’ go-to excuse is that all pertinent documents have been ‘discarded’ or ‘cannot be located.’ Perhaps this is what they have to say to survive under the Abe administration.”

Opposition politicians argue that the guest list for an annual party held by the prime minister to observe cherry blossoms in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in April had grown to an unsustainable size, with 15,000 people invited at a total cost of 55 million yen ($500,000) and with members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party being rewarded with tickets.

They alleged that members of organized crime groups have been invited − as well as a businessman whose former company has been accused of defrauding the elderly through an investment scheme − to mix with politicians, diplomats, celebrities and other public figures under the blossom-laded trees. Concerns also have been raised about a reception held at a Tokyo hotel on the eve of the outdoor party.

On May 9, Japanese Communist Party member Toru Miyamoto requested that the guest list for the party be released, only to be told that it had already been destroyed to protect the privacy of the invitees.

Now, it has emerged that the 800-page document was shredded on May 9, the same day Miyamoto asked for it, with the electronic record deleted before that day.

Pure coincidence, the government insists: The shredder has to be booked in advance and simply cannot be used at a moment’s notice.

“If we can confirm the guests include people who are not qualified, there is a possibility that such an act could be illegal. In that sense, the list is part of evidence,” said Takahiro Kuroiwa of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, who is part of an opposition team investigating the issue.
In the United States, the Presidential Records Act stipulates that all papers touched by the president have to be preserved as historical records and sent to the National Archives. But there is a different problem in Washington: President Trump’s enduring habit of ripping up papers and throwing them in the trash, according to Politico, which reported that a team of people is tasked with piecing the fragments back together.

Japan has long lagged behind other Western democracies such as the United States in terms of freedom of information, but it did pass a “Law Concerning Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs” in 1999.

The problem, critics say, is that the Abe administration has been systematically breaking those rules and rolling back the law’s provisions since he took office in 2012.

“It seems to be a recurring pattern of tampering with and destroying documents to hide inconvenient facts,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“Also, they seem to have been changing the rules in the other direction, pushing back the clock and also trying to find ways to get away with not being so forthcoming about public records,” he said. “And so this is a mixture of rule-breaking and also rule-changing.”

Nakano said this is partly a result of the personalized control of the government and bureaucracy that Abe is able to exert after more than seven years in power. But it is also a function of the prime minister’s personality, one that just becomes more apparent the longer he stays in power, he said.

“It is a sign of the prime minister’s hubris,” Kuroiwa said.

Although Japanese law stipulates that, in principle, government documents should be kept for at least a year, it allows bureaucrats discretion to destroy them before that date if deemed appropriate. That is one of the problems for the opposition, Kuroiwa said.

Earlier this month, Abe abruptly announced that the cherry blossom viewing party would be suspended next year pending a review. But that announcement has apparently not restored public trust.


The Washington Post, November 27, 2019 at 8:13 p.m. GMT+9
The strange tale of Japan’s prime minister, official documents and a very large shredder
By Simon Denyer and Akiko Kashiwagi
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/the-strange-tale-of-japans-prime-minister-official-documents-and-a-very-large-shredder/2019/11/27/f5cf5276-10e8-11ea-924c-b34d09bbc948_story.html

 国の税金を使って、首相が主催する「桜を見る会」をめぐる疑惑が深刻化している。

 政権幹部らの後援者を大量に招待して「私物化しているのではないか」という問題に加え、マルチ商法で知られる「ジャパンライフ」の元会長が招待されたり、反社会的勢力の関係者が参加したりしていた疑惑まで浮上している。

 政府は、公文書である招待者名簿を廃棄したことを盾に説明を拒んでいるが、税金の使われ方は、民主主義の根幹にかかわる。
 政府は、国民から預かった税金を公正に使用していることを説明する責任を負っており、今の政府の姿勢はその責任を放棄していることにほかならない。
 政府は、電子データの復元などあらゆる手段を講じて、国民・市民の疑問に答えるべきである。

 とりわけ、主催者であり、多くの招待客を招いている首相の説明責任は重い。

 安倍首相は11月15日に記者団のぶら下がり取材に応じ、「桜を見る会」前夜に行われた後援会の懇親会費について、政治資金収支報告書に記載のないことは「政治資金規正法上の違反には当たらない」と主張した。
 しかし、明細書などの合理的な裏付けは示されず、その後、記者団が投げかけている追加の質問にもほぼ応じていない。

 また、15日に官邸で行われたぶら下がり取材は、開始のわずか約10分前に官邸記者クラブに通知されたものだった。
 今回の問題を取材している社会部記者や、ネットメディア、フリーランスなどの記者の多くは参加することが困難で、公正さを欠く取材設定だった。

 新聞労連は2010年3月に「記者会見の全面開放宣言」を出している。
 そのなかで示した「質問をする機会はすべての取材者に与えられるべきだ」との原則に基づく記者会見を開き、説明責任を果たすことを求める。
 記者クラブが主催する記者会見の進行を官邸側が取り仕切ることによる問題が近年相次いでいる。
 公権力側が特定の取材者にだけ質問を認めたり、一方的に会見を打ち切ったりするなどの、恣意的な運用のない状態で、オープンな首相の記者会見を行うべきである。

 また、多岐にわたる疑惑を確認するには、十分な質疑時間の確保も必要だ。
 報道機関の対応にも厳しい視線が注がれており、報道各社は結束して、オープンで十分な時間を確保した首相記者会見の実現に全力を尽くすべきだ。

 2011年に民主党政権の菅直人内閣が平日に官邸で行われていたぶら下がり取材を中止して以降、首相に対する日常的な記者の質問の機会がなくなった。
 記者会見の回数も減少している。
 官邸の権限が増大する一方で、説明の場が失われたままという現状は、民主主義の健全な発展を阻害する。
 国民・市民の疑問への十分な説明を尽くすと共に、今回の事態を契機に、首相に対する日常的な質問機会を復活するよう求める。

2019年12月2日 
日本新聞労働組合連合(新聞労連)
中央執行委員長 南  彰

新聞労連(日本新聞労働組合連合) 、2019年12月2日
労連声明:オープンな首相記者会見を求める
http://shimbunroren.or.jp/20191202-statement/

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