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By a unanimous vote, the Upper House of the Diet has enacted bills to create a government agency to promote consumers’ rights. A consumer agency is likely to be established by this fall at the earliest. The agency should strive to realize the ideal of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who in April 2008 proposed its establishment by calling for a change in the government’s stance — from the producer-first principle to the consumer-first principle.

The new agency, to be manned by about 200 officials, will comprise two major components: one for directly handling problems that damage the health and interests of consumers, and the other for issuing demands to other government ministries and agencies to take appropriate action.

The function of the first component will include instructing enterprises, monitoring product labels, controlling fraudulent business methods and dealing with problems that existing laws cannot handle, such as deaths from choking on konnyaku jelly.

To ensure the agency’s smooth operation, consumer life centers across the nation, which will serve as the agency’s eyes and ears, must be strengthened. The Cabinet Office’s November 2008 survey shows that 98 percent of workers at these centers are irregular workers. The contract period is just one year for 90 percent of them and the annual income is less than ¥2 million for 70 percent of them. The government needs to increase their numbers, stabilize their status, raise their salaries and adequately train them.

Officials who work for the new agency are to be recruited from other government ministries and agencies. If they are sent to the agency for just a temporary stint, however, they are likely to keep their loyalty to the organization they have come from and may not be able to make strong demands to that organization. Therefore, they should become permanent workers of the new agency, with ties to previous organizations completely severed.

It will be impossible to expect perfection from the outset. The government and the Diet should take corrective measures as soon as problems crop up in the agency’s operation.

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