National / Politics

Japan's accounting watchdog warns secrecy law may hamper state account audit

Kyodo

During the run-up to the implementation of the controversial state secrets law in 2013, the Board of Audit warned that the legislation could obstruct its auditing of government offices, the board said Tuesday.

The Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets was enacted in December 2013 amid fears that people’s constitutional right to know could be undermined in the name of national security.

Three months earlier, the accounting watchdog conveyed its concern to the Cabinet Secretariat that ministries and other government offices might refuse to submit documents categorized as “specially designated secrets,” making its task of fully auditing government accounts difficult.

The Constitution says the final accounts of government expenditures and revenues shall be audited annually by the BOA.

But the secrecy law allows government offices to refuse to present secret documents if they are deemed at “risk of causing severe damage to Japan’s national security.”

The board’s written warning came after it saw the original draft of the bill the government planned to submit to the Diet.

The Cabinet Secretariat later responded that the BOA “will be provided” with documents designated as special secrets if it holds talks with the government organ concerned.

The board further urged the secretariat to “add a new provision” in the secrecy bill to ensure that special secret documents would also be provided.

In October 2013, senior officials of the two sides agreed that the government should issue a notice to instruct its offices to cooperate with the auditors, in lieu of adding such a provision in the bill.

Such a notice has yet to be issued, the BOA said Tuesday.

“We have yet to see any situation that we feared might occur, but we will continue to ask the Cabinet Secretariat to issue the notice soon,” a board official said.

An official in the Cabinet Secretariat said it believes the current situation does not violate the Constitution and that it will issue the notice “at an appropriate time while seeing how the law is managed.”

The law, which imposes strict penalties on anyone who leaks state secrets, was enacted as part of a series of national security reforms by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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