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Lack of rules on ministers' retention of docs sparks concerns

Yoichi Masuzoe is seen during his time as minister of health, labor and welfare, in this file photo taken on Dec. 4, 2007. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Maruyama)

TOKYO -- Japan's government ministries and agencies have no rules on how to handle public documents when ministers step down, with some past ministers taking the documents with them or destroying them, a survey by the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, documents presented to the minister are automatically deleted from the server after half a year. Experts say this makes it difficult to evaluate ministers' policymaking decisions, and that rules on the preservation of documents are needed.

In its survey, the Mainichi Shimbun focused on documents such as explanatory materials that ministers receive from officials. It asked 14 central government agencies headed by ministers whether they had established rules on the preservation of such documents when the minister steps down, or if there were any rules on taking such documents outside the ministry.

All of the ministries and agencies responded that the originals of the documents were stored by the departments that created them, and said that there were no rules on how ministers handled them, although the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded that ministers were asked to refrain from taking such documents outside the ministry.

Separately, four former ministers approached by the Mainichi Shimbun disclosed how they handled such documents. Yoichi Masuzoe, who served as minister of health, labor and welfare for roughly two years from 2007 said that he took documents that were catalogued under various themes back to his home, which he also used as an office, when he stepped down as minister.

"There were no rules on their preservation, and I thought that if I left them in the hands of bureaucrats, inconvenient documents would be disposed of," Masuzoe explained.

Shigeru Ishiba, who served as defense minister, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and minister in charge or regional revitalization from 2007 to 2016, responded, "I left the handling of documents up to administrative offices and secretaries, and when I stepped down, I left all of them with the offices."

Hirofumi Nakasone, who was minister of foreign affairs from 2008 to 2009 said that he "returned all of them (documents)," while Yoshihiro Katayama, who was minister of internal affairs and communications from 2010 to 2011, responded, "What I did remained as established systems, so I disposed of the materials when I stepped down."

Meanwhile, in line with the development of information technology, new methods of document administration have started to appear. Since Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Hiroshige Seko assumed his position in August 2016, documents prepared as explanations have been shown to the minister on a dedicated tablet computer. The data is automatically deleted after six months, which means that the minister can't take any records from the ministry when stepping down, officials say.

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

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