The Foreign Ministry could improve its handling of public relations matters by reinforcing the role of senior officials in charge of dealing with the media, an advisory panel said Thursday.

The Foreign Ministry’s press secretary should play a part in the decision-making process to be better able to respond to inquiries about ministerial policies, according to Orix Corp. Chairman Yoshihiko Miyauchi, who heads the panel of outside experts charged with reforming the ministry.

The press secretary or a similar official should hold a daily news briefing, according to the panel.

The chief Cabinet secretary, who serves as the government’s top spokesman, holds a briefing twice a day, Miyauchi noted.

At present, the press secretary holds news conferences on a weekly basis and the foreign minister holds a news conference twice a week.

The so-called panel for change, which met for the ninth time at the ministry’s Iikura guesthouse in Tokyo, agreed it is necessary to clarify the type of documents that can be classified as confidential, thereby preventing officials from making classifications of this kind willy-nilly.

Panelists recommended setting a 20-year time limit on how long the use of the ministry’s secret funds can be kept confidential, pointing out that greater transparency is required in the ministry’s policymaking process, according to Miyauchi.

In its final report, to be prepared by the end of July, the panel agreed to include recommendations on crisis management and how to reinforce policy-planning methods, in addition to the 10 topics that Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi asked the panel to address.

The 10 original topics include eliminating improper outside pressure on the ministry, ensuring the effective use of budgets, eradicating the elitist mentality within the ministry and reorganizing the personnel system to make it fairer and more competitive.

The panel has been tasked with formulating specific ideas and drawing up timelines for improving the ministry’s functions. The Foreign Ministry has been plagued by a series of scandals, including embezzlement of public funds by ministry officials and improper ties with lawmakers.

The panel includes members from the private sector, the media and academia, as well as former diplomats.

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