On April 25, a government panel proposed ways to improve the management of government documents after it had reflected on a deplorable omission on the part of the government — the failure to take minutes from a series of meetings held to cope with the 3/11 quake and tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The government must faithfully implement the panel’s proposal. More important, Cabinet ministers and government bureaucrats must translate into action the legal principle of managing official documents. A law that went into force in April 2011 says that official documents are intellectual resources that are the common property of the people and support the foundations of healthy democracy, and that the government has the duty of explaining the contents of official documents to current and future citizens.
After the 3/11 disasters, the government set up 15 entities, including the emergency headquarters to cope with the disasters and the headquarters to cope with the nuclear disaster, both headed by the prime minister. But officials failed to take minutes of the meetings for 10 of the 15 entities. In some cases, there weren’t even meeting summaries.
In its proposal, the panel divided government meetings into two categories — meetings for making decisions and meetings for sharing information between different ministries and agencies. For the first category, detailed minutes with the names of those who made statements as well as the statements themselves must be taken. For the second category, records must tell of the progress of government actions and points agreed on by attendants.
The minutes and records must be made within three months. With the approval of Cabinet ministers, a Cabinet minister in charge of management of official documents will declare a certain disaster or an emergency as a “historic emergency situation” to strengthen the awareness of the need to keep minutes of meetings.
The panel also called for immediately digitizing documents at the National Archives to prepare for a big earthquake that may hit the Tokyo area. The government should immediately revise the law by incorporating the panel’s proposals. It should also consider designating officials to be in charge of keeping the records of statements expressed in government meetings as well as electronically record important meetings.
It has surfaced that the government failed to take minutes of meetings of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and three Cabinet ministers in which they decided in favor of restarting the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant. The government should disclose the minutes as soon as possible.