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Japan PM office created no records of meetings between Abe, gov't agency execs

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at his office in Tokyo in this March 12, 2019 file photo. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- The prime minister's office has created no records of meetings between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and senior officials of government ministries and agencies held at the office, making it impossible to retroactively verify his instructions and other remarks made during those meetings, it has been learned.

The revelation comes after the Mainichi Shimbun reported earlier that the prime minister's office discarded all briefing materials that were prepared by ministries and agencies and used in such meetings immediately after the talks were over. It had, however, previously remained unknown whether the office had ever created records of those meetings.

An official with the prime minister's office explains that the lack of production of documents of meetings between Abe and senior government officials held at the office was because such records "are supposed to be made by the government bodies involved."

However, it came to light through a freedom of information request filed by the Mainichi that even the Cabinet Secretariat, which is tasked with countermeasures against natural disasters and terrorist attacks and other key policy measures under the leadership of the prime minister, has not made records of such meetings.

A commentary on the government's guidelines on public documents states that records must be created about briefings provided to the decision-maker of cases. This raises the possibility that the Cabinet Secretariat's response runs counter to the guidelines.

The public documents guidelines were updated in 2017 in the wake of the favoritism scandal regarding the establishment of a veterinary school in a national strategic special zone by Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution, headed by Prime Minister Abe's close friend, and other problems. In the vet school scandal, the absence of related meeting records at government bodies came under the spotlight. The guidelines require government ministries and agencies to keep records of meetings that would affect policy measures and project plans.

While both parties participating in meetings are able to create records, a representative of the Cabinet Affairs Office, which is in charge of managing documents at the prime minister's office, complained, "If we are to keep records of all meetings, we would be forced to spend our energy only on that."

The Mainichi filed an information disclosure request for the records of meetings between Prime Minister Abe and senior Cabinet Secretariat officials over the roughly one-year period following the revision to the public records guidelines. While the Cabinet Secretariat did disclose briefing materials used in a total of 47 meetings -- including those on the acceptance of more foreign workers, the July 2018 torrential rains that hit western Japan and deadly Typhoon Jebi in the fall of that year, the agency said it has records of none of those meetings.

Of the 47 meetings, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga referred to a meeting that took place on Sept. 5, 2018, during a press conference and said Prime Minister Abe was briefed by the deputy chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management and others about the situation at Kansai International Airport where passengers were stranded by Typhoon Jebi. "The prime minister gave instructions to the effect that the ministries and agencies concerned should collaborate in resolving the isolation of passengers and early resumption of airport operations."

When asked why no records of those prime ministerial instructions had been created, a Cabinet Secretariat official responded, "We were in the midst of responding to the disaster, and the prime minister's instructions were concise and clear." With regard to the lack of records on other meetings, the official explained, "It was because the prime minister approved the matters he was briefed about with no questions."

When contacted by the Mainichi, one high-ranking government official confided, "The prime minister's office does not allow note-takers to be present at meetings out of fears for possible leakages of information," while another testified, "If we produce records, they become subject to freedom of information requests, raising the possibility that the exchanges made during the meetings will be made public. We cannot cause trouble to the prime minister."

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

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