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Editorial: Abe administration must stop trying to control bureaucracy's information

One of the reasons for the devastating loss of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election is believed to be the Abe administration's excessive attempts at keeping a tight lid on information among the bureaucracy.

    The Abe administration has refused to admit the existence of documents that include information that is disadvantageous to it. When such documents have been dug up, the administration has accused the contents of being false. Additionally, it threatens to invoke the legal obligation to protect confidentiality in covering up anything inconvenient.

    If the prime minister is truly "reflecting upon" the LDP's devastating loss, he must rectify the warped relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. The first opportunity for this is the probe set to take place -- even though the Diet is not in session -- on July 10 regarding the Kake Educational Institution favoritism scandal.

    A document suggesting Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda urged senior education ministry officials to rush procedures to allow Kake to found a veterinary school was exposed. Subsequently, Hagiuda released a comment saying he was extremely upset, and that he had received an apology from the education ministry for the inaccurate document, placing all the blame on bureaucrats.

    Public servants serve the entire public, and are in a position different from that of politicians. It wouldn't be unusual for a document produced by bureaucrats not to be in line with the wishes of politicians. It's selfish for a politician to one-sidedly attack bureaucrats for information that paints the former in an unflattering light.

    In a disgraceful episode prior to the release of Hagiuda's indignant statement, State Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hiroyuki Yoshiie made an apparent bid to intimidate the staff of his own ministry. When asked in the Diet whether the education ministry bureaucrat who reported the existence of a document saying it was "the will of the prime minister" to promptly green-light the Kake vet school was considered a whistleblower, Yoshiie suggested that the bureaucrat may have violated the National Public Service Act's confidentiality requirements.

    The whistleblower system, which stipulates the processes through which one can report an organization's illicit actions, and violation of confidentiality requirements, are two completely different things. To bring them up together demonstrates that the administration is trying to set up a straw-man argument.

    The conditions constituting a violation of confidentiality obligations -- subject to criminal punishment -- are strict. According to precedents set by the Supreme Court, an action is considered a criminal violation of confidentiality requirements only in cases in which secret information that merits a high level of protection is leaked. Discussions about national strategic special zones do not fall under this level of confidentiality.

    The Whistleblower Protection Act, meanwhile, limits reportable information to 460 legal violations, including those that are subject to criminal punishment. Even then, the spirit of the law interprets "reportable information" by whistleblowers as covering a wider range of information. What's being brought into question here is the Abe administration's level of sensitivity toward the drafting of public documents and whistleblowing, as well as other actions and issues that widely affect the public good.

    As the head of the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs, Hagiuda is involved in the personnel shuffle that is set to take place this summer. It would be unacceptable for him to abuse his power to distort government administration.

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