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No records remain of PM's meetings with top gov't officials over 1-yr period

TOKYO -- The prime minister's office stated that it has no records of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's meetings with top ministry and agency officials over a one-year-plus period ending this past January, and discards briefing materials for such meetings within a year.

The prime minister's office made the claims in response to a freedom of information request by the Mainichi Shimbun.

"Ministries and agencies in charge of specific policy measures should manage such records as part of their own responsibility," said a figure in the prime minister's office.

The national government drew up new guidelines for managing official documents in December 2017. The move followed instances of document doctoring and concealment related to government favoritism scandals involving two school operators, Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution. Specifically, the guidelines obligate all government ministries and agencies, including the prime minister's office, to compile documents recording meetings that influence policy measures.

Under the Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs, the Mainichi asked the prime minister's office to disclose briefing documents received by the prime minister or his secretaries during such meetings, as well as minutes and other records of meetings that took place between December 2017 and the end of January this year.

Over that period, the prime minister had approximately 1,000 meetings, according to the daily records of the prime minister's activities published in the Mainichi Shimbun. However, the director-general of the Cabinet Affairs Office, who is responsible for managing documents at the prime minister's office, responded that no records exist for these meetings. It remains unclear whether minutes of these meetings were ever compiled.

However, the official acknowledged that the prime minister's office had set the retention period of meeting briefing materials at less than one year, and discards them shortly after the meetings. Any official document whose retention period is set at below one year can be discarded at any time without a National Archives of Japan screening.

"The prime minister's office receives only copies of such materials, and the originals are kept at the ministries and agencies concerned," an official at the Cabinet Affairs Office explained.

The Mainichi asked all 12 ministries and agencies to disclose minutes of 16 meetings, which the newspaper deemed particularly important, as well as briefing documents distributed at these gatherings. All of the government organizations concerned denied that they had minutes, and said that briefing materials do not exist for six of the 16 meetings.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry responded that it cannot answer questions about the topics of meetings between the prime minister, the internal affairs minister and other officials in December 2018 for lack of records. The Justice Ministry also responded that it cannot confirm what was discussed during a meeting between Prime Minister Abe and the ministry's top bureaucrat in the same month, saying there are no records.

Explanatory materials used in the remaining 10 of the 16 meetings have been retained. The documents disclosed to the Mainichi show that the meetings were held to discuss government ministries' and agencies' padding the number of disabled people in their employ, preparations for top government officials' overseas trips, and other issues.

As to the reasons why meeting minutes were not compiled, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Foreign Ministry said the meetings concerned topics that would not influence policy.

A number of high-ranking ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Mainichi that the prime minister's office never allows note-takers to attend meetings for fear of information leaks.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Oba, Special Reports Group, and Atsushi Matsumoto and Tomohiro Katahira, City News Department)

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