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Calls from within the government for a revision of the Administrative Complaint Investigation Law — under which citizens can file complaints with administrative bodies or call for an investigation of their actions — deserve serious attention.

Under the law, citizens can file a complaint or call for an investigation within 60 days of becoming aware of administrative actions that affect them. The procedure is easier than filing a lawsuit and is free and, according to the internal affairs ministry, citizens in fiscal 2008 inititated more than 21,000 cases against the central government and more than 25,000 cases against local governments. Seventy-one percent of complaints were about national tax matters, while calls for investigation were most often (44 percent) about matters related to social insurance.

Earlier this year, national strategy minister Yoshito Sengoku, who at the time was also administrative reform minister, called for revisions to the law. Internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi signaled a desire to start a task force with Mr. Sengoku.

The current system is fundamentally flawed. Complaints must be filed with the administrative body that took the action in question. Calls for investigations are usually filed with the supervising body of the body concerned. Given these conditions, it is highly likely that the system will result in very few administrative actions being reversed or revised. Citizens with first-hand experience of the system have been highly critical of administrative bodies’ reluctance to admit mistakes.

The former administration of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito proposed that citizens’ complaints be pursued by public servants not involved in the matter in question, and that a neutral body be set up to deal with citizens’ requests for investigations.

The Hatoyama administration, in consultation with citizens’ groups, should revisit those ideas, and take a serious look at other ways to revise the law so that its apparent intent — to ensure transparency of government — can be realized.

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