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Japanese prof sues for gov't disclosure of 'Abenomask' contract negotiation details

Cloth masks that were distributed by the government to all households in Japan are seen here in a file photo taken in Osaka's Kita Ward on Sept. 27, 2020. (Mainichi/Akira Hattori)

OSAKA -- A university professor filed a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court on Feb. 22 alleging that the Japanese government's failure to disclose documents outlining contract negotiations with the suppliers of masks distributed to all households in Japan as a coronavirus countermeasure was illegal, and demanding that the government disclose the process.

    Hiroshi Kamiwaki of Kobe Gakuin University in Hyogo Prefecture brought the suit against the Japanese government.

    The cloth mask program, popularly known as "Abenomask," was led by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under the initiative, washable cloth masks were distributed to all households in Japan between the spring and early summer of 2020. They were supplied not through competitive bidding but through negotiated contracts, and in 2020, Kamiwaki sought the documents recording the details of negotiations between the government and the suppliers from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

    Between July and September that year, the government released written contracts and price estimates, but not documents detailing the negotiation processes, saying that the two ministries did not have such paperwork.

    Kamiwaki's complaint states that because the Abenomask program required a significant outlay of taxpayers' money, the government has a responsibility to explain the negotiation process to the public. The Public Records and Archives Management Act requires the creation of documents that allow for the verification of decision-making processes, and so the complaint argues that "it is impossible that such documents do not exist."

    In September 2020, Kamiwaki filed a separate lawsuit seeking the disclosure of the price per mask and the total order volume, which had been redacted in the contracts and other documents released to the professor.

    (Japanese original by Takumi Fujikawa, Osaka City News Department)

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