The Yomiuri ShimbunIt will not be easy for the Defense Ministry to regain the public’s trust. The only way is for the ministry to fulfill its responsibility to provide a clear explanation and make every effort to prevent a recurrence of the scandal over daily activity logs of Japanese peacekeepers.
Committees in the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives have held out-of-session meetings to discuss the logs on Ground Self-Defense Force units engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
The focus of the meetings was whether then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was informed during a meeting of the ministry in February that the logs would not be disclosed. A written report released by the ministry’s Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance at the end of July vaguely concluded that “the possibility there may have been some kind of remarks [on the issue] could not be denied.”
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera expressed skepticism about witness accounts that Inada had received a report on the logs, saying, “While the opinions of people who claimed she did not receive a report have been consistent, the opinions of other people claiming the report was possibly made have changed several times.”
However, there is a long way to go before the facts of the case are brought to light. This is because Inada, who denied receiving the report and must provide details essential for getting to the bottom of the matter, did not attend the out-of-session meetings.
Doubts have been raised over why the Liberal Democratic Party refused requests to have Inada attend the meetings. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “If the Diet recognizes it as necessary, I think Ms. Inada will handle this matter with sincerity.” As the person at the center of this issue, Inada bears the responsibility of providing a full explanation at the Diet.
Build appropriate standards
The Defense Ministry side’s negative approach to questioning during the out-of-session meetings was striking.
Opposition party lawmakers demanded a detailed explanation of what was said at the February meeting, but a senior ministry official’s response consisted of nothing but answers such as, “The content [of the meeting] was as is stated in the results of the investigation.” Was it really necessary for the ministry to refuse to even clarify how many people attended the meeting?
Yuichiro Tamaki, a House of Representatives lawmaker from the Democratic Party, touched on the content of a handwritten memo that reportedly indicated that the discovery of electronic data from the logs was reported at the meeting. Tamaki asked questions about the issue and said, “This memo is credible.” The ministry merely recognized that confirming the authenticity of the memo was difficult.
Providing such rigid answers will not gain the understanding of the public.
Regarding steps to prevent a repeat of the logs scandal, Onodera said, “Awareness about the importance of information disclosure and communication within the ministry were insufficient.” He revealed countermeasures, including the establishment of “information disclosure inspectors” and the saving of daily logs of troops dispatched overseas for 10 years. The effectiveness of these steps will be put to the test.
Of all government ministries and agencies, the Defense Ministry had the highest number of complaints filed against it over decisions regarding the disclosure or nondisclosure of information. Given that this government office handles all manner of classified information relating to national security, it is natural that it has many documents that cannot be disclosed because they could negatively affect troops in carrying out their duties.
However, it is unacceptable to simply respond that each and every document must remain secret on the grounds of national security. Compiling standards for the appropriate preservation and disclosure of information — in a manner befitting an era in which administrative documents are managed as electronic data — will be a challenge.