After Disasters, Japan FOI Reformers Wait Patiently

22 September 2011

By Lawrence Repeta

Repeta is a professor at Meiji University, Tokyo, and a contributing editor

When the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took power in a historic landslide election in August, 2009, there were high expectations that party leaders would adopt a series of reforms that would mark a significant change from the Japan long ruled by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as noted in an earlier post.

Two years later, we see that the DPJ had been preoccupied with internal political squabbles and managing thorny issues surrounding U.S. military bases in Japan.  Political leaders made little headway in this quagmire.  Then on March 11, Japan suffered its worst disaster since a World War came to a conclusion in 1945.

The combined natural and nuclear disasters – earthquake and tsunami followed by nuclear meltdown and massive radiation release – have left the country reeling and totally focused on providing relief to hundreds of thousands of people rendered homeless and on the effort to bring three nuclear reactors under control and to reconsider the role of nuclear power in Japan’s energy future.

Where’s Joho Kokai?

So what happened to Japan’s “information disclosure” (joho kokai) revision bill? 

Improvement of the information disclosure system has been a cardinal policy of the DPJ for many years.  While in opposition, the party submitted a revision bill to the national parliament in 2005.  Taking power four years later, one might have thought they could have dusted this off and pushed it through.

The party chose a different tack.

The DPJ Cabinet of Ichiro Hatoyama created the new post of “Administrative Revitalization Minister,” charged with the broad agenda of “government revitalization” centered on four primary themes:  “cut waste, de-regulate, open the government, and get the people involved.”

The task of revising the information disclosure law was folded into this agenda.  An “Administrative Transparency Study Team” was appointed.

After months of study, the team delivered a detailed final report on Aug. 24, 2010 with recommendations for revision.  With this study in hand, the Cabinet prepared a revision bill which it was poised to announce on March 15.  The great earthquake struck four days before the scheduled announcement. Crisis management pushed all other tasks aside.

On April 22, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan approved an information disclosure bill and submitted this to parliament.  And there it has languished on a legislative siding, quietly awaiting further action.

The endless political squabbles continued and Prime Minister Kan announced his resignation on Aug. 26  Parliament elected Yoshihiko Noda to replace him on Aug. 30.  Noda is Japan’s third DPJ Prime Minister since the party took power two years ago.

There have been no reported statements regarding the fate of the information disclosure revision bill since the Noda Cabinet took office.

Japan’s open government activists are a very patient lot.  They believe that as long as the DPJ remains in power, there is good reason to hope that positive reforms will be made to expand access to government information in Japan.

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