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the Freedom of Information Act. in Japan

Poland and Japan in similar time adopted the Freedom of Information Act. Japan is well known as a country which use American and European legal constructions but they also adjust that to their Asian specificity. Let’s look how it works in Japan. For this reason we interviewed with Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan.

-How many people request disclosure?

There is no data on individual requesters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is in charge of the Information Disclosure Act is obliged to publish annual reports that include the number of requests. The following figure shows the number of requests for all administrative organs from 2001 to 2014, excluding the Independent Administrative Corporation.

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Figure1

– How many cases go to court? Do NGOs take an active part in lawsuits?

Around 10-20 new cases go to court every year as shown in Figure2. I assume that half of those cases were filed by NGOs or individuals actively engaged in civil society. It’s not easy for an NGO to bring a case to court for a number of reasons. In Japan lawsuits are very time consuming and costly. Another problem is the shortage of lawyers adept in law relating to the disclosure of information. As Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan, we have filed 7 cases.

Administrative appeals, by contrast, are very common. The Information Disclosure and Personal Information Protection Review Board reviews appeals against administrative organs’ decisions and publishes recommendations. Please see Figure3.

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Figure2 Number of lawsuit newly filed

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Figure3 Number of administrative appeal and recommendation

-Do journalists have a special mode of access to public information?

Japan has no special system or programme incorporated into the Information Disclosure Act that would give journalists access to public information. However, there exists the Press Club system, which is organised by mass media outlets and operates within each ministry and agency. Additionally, some journalists can access public information much more easily than the public.

-Do agreements concluded by public institutions go public – are they published on the internet or any other media?

Public procurement information is open to the public and published on the internet. Procurement information on bidding or proposals of procurement of goods, services and constructions are provided on the website below:
https://www.chotatujoho.go.jp/va/com/ShikakuTop.html
When a contract between a public institution and a contractor is concluded,
the name of the contractor, the amount of money for the contract, and the name of
outsourcing businesses are also open to the public on the above-mentioned website.
Information on entrustment of investigations is published on each public
institution’s website. In addition, the Ministry of Finance provides the following portal site:
http://www.mof.go.jp/budget/topics/portalsite.htm
*English version is available.
When we want to have more detailed information about a contract such as
the contract document itself, its specification or its report of accomplishment, we submit
an information disclosure request to the public institution in question.

–  Are the ministers’ calendars of meetings accessible to the public? If yes, are they available on the internet?

In general, the ministers’ calendars are not open to the public and are not available on the internet. I think it is necessary to make a request to the ministry and I assume that it could be disclosed partially. Sometimes official meetings information such as the date, the agenda, the materials and the summary of the meeting are available on the internet but only if the meeting is arranged officially.

What is unique though is that the Prime Minister’s daily calendar is published in the Japanese newspapers each day with one day delay. It is a tradition that goes back many years and continues till today. Most newspapers have a column of this kind, the so-called “Prime Minister’s movements”.

– Is it possible to access public sector employees’ e-mail correspondence?

E-mail correspondence within the public sector and between public sector entities and private individuals can be requested by the public in the form of an information disclosure request. Whether the request is successful and e-mail correspondence disclosed depends on the content of the e-mails in question.

– Are political parties subject to the obligation of public information disclosure? If so, are they willing to fulfil it?

No, political parties are not legally bound to disclose information except for information on political funds.

– What kind of public information do people and NGOs usually look for?

It depends on what kind of topic they are interested in. Our experience in supporting NGOs, journalists and individuals when they make a request proves that each topic is different. In general, after the 2011 nuclear plant accident, many NGOs and journalists have made requests regarding that subject. Also, when the cabinet intends to enact some controversial policy or law, NGOs and journalist make requests regarding the legislative drafting process. So it really depends on the issue.

– Is it possible in Japan to access information about civil servants’ salaries?

Basic salaries and allowances of national government officials are
determined by the following regulation:
http://www.jinji.go.jp/kankoku/h17/pdf/h18.4houkyuhyou.pdf

Basic salaries and allowances of local government officials are, on the other hand, regulated
by the local government’s ordinance.
In the context of information disclosure, information on the rank of a civil servant
is generally withheld except for top ranking officials. Hence we cannot
know what exact salaries of particular employees are.

– Is it possible to request disclosure anonymously?

No. But a requester is not required to show their ID when they request information disclosure. It is sufficient to reveal the name, a reachable address and a phone number (when a requester makes a request via an online system, their e-mail address is also necessary). When someone needs to stay anonymous, they need to ask someone else to submit their request. Sometimes we support people who need to remain anonymous such as whistleblowers.

– How many public institutions provide people with information online?

In Japan, a website entitled e-Gov Japan is provided. There is a guideline,
which is agreed on by every ministry, agency and executive body. It
sets general standards of website contents, a kind of voluntary
information dissemination. e-Gov Japan includes basic information on
public institutions, a law database, a public comment information
database, a file searching system of public documents and more. The website
is operated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which is
in charge of the Information Disclosure Act, too.

http://www.e-gov.go.jp/
– What kinds of fees or charges are required in the information disclosure process? Is making a request costly? How often do administrative organs reduce the fee?

In Japan there are two kinds of fees. One of them is a fee pertaining to the disclosure request itself, the other is a copy and inspection fee. The cost is always an issue. The government decided to reduce the copy fee in 2005. In general, the cost is not a big problem for journalists and business companies but it is a considerable issue for NGOs and individuals. In 2011 the cabinet submitted an information disclosure amendment bill. I was part of the drafting process in the government. The bill included the elimination of the disclosure request fee and the introduction of a copy fee waiver. But it didn’t pass.

In Japan’s current system, a fee waiver is only permitted when the requester receives public welfare assistance or is in jail.

 

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