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Editorial: Does Defense Ministry truly grasp importance of GSDF activity logs?

  • April 5, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 7:48 p.m.
  • English Press

The Defense Ministry’s sloppy management of documents and its overly tardy handling of this issue have improved not one jot. The entire ministry must seriously reflect on these shortcomings.


The ministry has announced that daily logs from Ground Self-Defense Force units dispatched to Iraq have been found.


These files reportedly were discovered after the Joint Staff Office ordered all GSDF bureaus and departments to submit documents and other materials, as a measure to prevent a recurrence of the scandal involving similar reports from the GSDF on a U.N. peacekeeping operation in South Sudan.


Then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s statement in the Diet that the Iraq logs “no longer existed” has turned out to be incorrect. It is reasonable that current Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera apologized, saying, “We’re very sorry we could not respond appropriately.”


The logs were stored at the GSDF’s Ground Research and Development Command for analyzing overseas dispatches (now called the “Training Evaluation Research and Development Command”) and also at the Medical Department where doctors and other personnel work. These logs had been separately titled “various materials for education and training operations” and “international reconstruction support operations.”


The names differed because different bureaus and departments had been entrusted to manage the logs. The failure to store the logs in a systematic manner appears to be evidence that their importance was not properly recognized.


The logs cover 408 days overall of the GSDF mission to Iraq from January 2004 to September 2006. They total about 14,000 pages. The files are thought to contain details about GSDF personnel’s daily activities and the security situation in the area. They are a valuable source of information for any future GSDF dispatches.


Sharing information vital


In the South Sudan PKO logs incident, the ministry decided internally it would not disclose the files, and some data also was discarded. Inada resigned to take responsibility for the scandal.


This time, although it has been confirmed that any data was not discarded, among other things, the fact remains that materials the minister initially insisted did not exist actually did.


The handling of the ministry after the logs had been discovered is more problematic. It was believed that the logs’ existence was confirmed in January this year and reported to Onodera in late March, but it has recently been learned that the files’ existence had actually been confirmed in March 2017. It is said that this fact was not disclosed at the time to Inada.


Conveying an important fact immediately to the ministry’s top official surely is the response required of an organization. The failure to relay information within the organization is a serious state of affairs.


Onodera has launched an investigation team to examine this matter. Some observers have suggested that antagonism between the GSDF and its civilian officers might have led to the delay in reporting the discovery of the South Sudan PKO logs. The investigation team must exhaustively examine precisely what happened this time.


Based on lessons learned from the PKO logs scandal, the ministry plans to extend the length of time such daily reports are kept from “less than one year” to 10 years. The logs will then be stored at the National Archives of Japan.


The ministry needs to make arrangements to enable information to be shared across its bureaus and departments.


There has been a string of cases involving inappropriate document management within the government. Strictly managing public documents is an issue that needs to be addressed without delay.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 5, 2018)

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