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Defense Ministry violated Cabinet Office rule by using obscure names for 2011 quake docs

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Defense violated a Cabinet Office directive for government ministries and agencies to name their documents related to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in ways easy to understand their contents in an online list open to the public, the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

The document names are listed on the government's administrative document management registry that can be searched on the e-Gov web portal. Experts say the ministry's failure to follow the rule makes it difficult for the public to utilize important records on the disaster. The quake and subsequent tsunami left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and three of the nuclear reactors at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 power plant suffered core meltdowns.

An examination of the registry with information on some 40,000 documents revealed that at least 180 of them did not have names or descriptions in their remarks sections indicating they are about the disaster.

For example, a file created by the Air Self-Defense Force's Air Communications and Systems Wing is named "Fiscal Year 23 original draft C (five years)." However, according to a supplementary explanation of the file on an internal Defense Ministry list for fiscal 2016 obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun through a freedom of information request, the file was about "Lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake." This information is not included in the registry searchable online.

Under the April 2012 directive issued by the Cabinet Office, government ministries and agencies are required to name documents related to the 2011 quake in ways describing their contents when they file their names with the e-Gov registry. The rule was intended to help the public find documents they are looking for.

A Cabinet Office official said it is "problematic" that file names or related remarks do not indicate the documents are about the earthquake. A Defense Ministry official explained that the department made efforts to get its officials familiarized with the Cabinet Office directive, although the official failed to answer the reason why some files had names against the rule. Another ministry official in charge of document management suggested that it might have been the case that officials either did not know or forgot about the directive as they were not fully informed.

Yukiko Miki, chairperson of the nonprofit organization Access-Info Clearing House Japan, indicated concern about the non-descriptive naming of files related to the 2011 earthquake. "Government file names searchable online should describe their contents because it is highly likely that earthquake victims would search for records in those documents, or that the general public would use such documents to check on how taxpayer funds are spent on reconstruction projects," Miki said. She urged the government to do a full inspection on file naming practices as situations similar to those involving the Defense Ministry documents could be found at other government agencies.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Oba and Tomohiro Katahira, City News Department)

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