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4 local gov'ts using 3rd-party panels to decide on public document disposal: survey

This photo shows documents belonging to the city of Sagamihara that were saved from disposal and placed into permanent storage after a third-panel recommendation to take such action. The left file is the record of a survey into asbestos use, while the right file includes information about people who returned from former Manchuria and other overseas locations under Japanese control before the end of World War II. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Four local governments, including the Kumamoto Prefectural Government in southern Japan, are using third-party panels to decide on whether to discard public documents, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

Up to about 4,300 documents, including important papers such as the results of a survey into the safety of local residents, were spared of disposal by those panels' decisions.

Experts say that this arrangement can be a role model for the proper storage of public documents at a time the central government faces criticism for discarding important records.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 21 prefectural and municipal governments had ordinances concerning the management of public documents as of October last year.

The Mainichi Shimbun asked the 21 local governments if they have third-party panels advising on whether to dispose of government papers. Kumamoto Prefecture, the city of Sapporo in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, and the cities of Sagamihara and Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo, replied that they use such third-party panels. Professors and lawyers sitting on those panels among others are checking documents before their destruction.

In the case of Sagamihara, the panel, formed in 2012, has examined 32,664 documents that were stored for three years or more, and decided that 441 of them should be kept permanently, and the city government complied with the recommendation.

Those papers placed into permanent storage include records of an investigation into the use of cancer-causing asbestos at 395 facilities owned by the city in 2005. The probe confirmed that the substance was used in construction materials at 12 locations of nine facilities, including an elementary school. The asbestos was removed by fiscal 2008.

Sagamihara had decided that the records would be stored for 10 years, but the panel recommended they be placed into unlimited storage because they were important records that concern the health and safety of local residents. The documents have been moved to the city's archives, and will be open to the public from fiscal 2020.

In Kumamoto Prefecture, its third-party panel checks on documents that are kept for one year or longer. The committee went through 222,394 documents from fiscal 2012 through 2017, and decided that the storage periods of 3,711 papers should be extended.

In Sapporo, 28 out of 34,232 documents examined by its panel since fiscal 2013 were moved to files for indefinite storage. Fujisawa's third-party committee rendered 111 of 36,302 dossiers it has examined since fiscal 2017 to permanent storage.

Professor Kazuhiro Hayakawa of Toyo University, a specialist on administrative laws, said one of the reasons central government bureaucrats face criticism for discarding public documents is the lack of oversight by third-party organizations. "The efforts by those local governments can be useful in reviewing the current methods for document storage," he said.

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Goto, City News Department)

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