A government agency to promote consumer rights, a pet idea of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, is likely to be established this fall at the earliest. The Lower House’s plenary session on Friday unanimously passed related bills, products of compromise between the ruling and opposition parties. The bills envisage establishing not only a Consumer Agency but also a Consumer Committee, a watchdog of consumer affairs-related administration. The ruling bloc had originally proposed establishing the committee as a subordinate organization of the agency. The Democratic Party of Japan, the leading opposition party, dropped its proposal of establishing a Consumer Rights Board as an independent organ outside the Cabinet when the other opposition parties moved to accept a revision of the ruling bloc’s bills. As a result of the compromise, the committee will be established on an equal footing with the agency, and both entities will be external organs of the Cabinet Office.

The bills were immediately sent to the Upper House for early enactment. It is hoped that the establishment of the agency will prompt a change in the basic stance of the government — from the producer-first principle to the consumer-first principle.

The committee will be empowered to advise the prime minister to take particular actions and to demand that government ministries and agencies disclose necessary information. But it will not have power to carry out on-the-spot inspection of enterprises. The prime minister will be able to issue orders or recommendations in connection with problems when no law exists to handle them, for example in cases such as “konnyaku” jelly choking deaths.

The agency will have about 200 personnel and have sole jurisdiction or joint jurisdiction with other ministries and agencies over labeling, transactions, safety, prices, and so forth. The government should strengthen nationwide networks, including human resources, to collect relevant information so that the agency will take effective measures promptly. It will be imperative for the government to eliminate the turf mentality that exists among bureaucrats. It must also improve relief measures for consumers who have suffered physical or financial damage through products or services.

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