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Trade ministry instruction not to leave minutes of meetings damages public trust in gov't

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is seen in this August 2014 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- An internal document created in March this year by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, advising workers not to produce minutes of meetings, deals a massive blow to the trustworthiness of public documents.

The document, a copy of which was obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, was drafted in response to revisions of government guidelines on the management of public documents. The rules were changed in response to a series of favoritism scandals linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and government bureaucrats, although Abe vehemently denies his involvement in those cases. Records left by those officials played a major role in outing questionable actions in connection with the scandals.

In the case of the Kake Educational Institution's plan to open a veterinary college in western Japan, Prime Minister Abe allegedly supported the project because his close friend was behind it. He denied his involvement, but an education ministry memorandum found in May last year stated that a senior Cabinet Office official said the early opening of the school was "the prime minister's intention."

Another favoritism scandal involved school operator Moritomo Gakuen's purchase of a state land lot at a substantially discounted price. Records found at the Finance Ministry said the operator's chairman, Yasunori Kagoike, demanded a discount citing the name of Prime Minister Abe's wife Akie and others. Kagoike now faces trial for allegedly receiving public subsidies through a fraudulent application.

These two issues would not have come to light had records of meetings been kept vague as instructed in the latest METI document, because it would have been impossible to determine who said what based on the public records.

Prime Minister Abe told a House of Councillors Budget Committee session in March that the government guidelines on public documents had been revised and efforts were being made to improve the quality of public document management.

However, the reality is far from what Abe described, and the administration appears to be heading toward turning itself into an impenetrable black box.

(Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto, City News Department)

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