Diet set to OK consumer agency
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Proposed legislation to establish a consumer affairs agency to address concerns among the public about food and product safety and other issues looks set to pass the Diet in the current session.
Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) had submitted its own proposals for the entity that was first envisioned by former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, but decided to go along with the government bill after it was revised to include a number of the opposition party's ideas, officials said.
The ruling coalition and opposition parties are expected to reach a formal agreement on the revisions early in the coming week, sources said. That would allow for passage of the bill in the Lower House within days.
Once the legislation passes the Diet, the consumer affairs agency could be established before the end of the year.
Yoshito Sengoku, a head director of the Lower House special committee looking into consumer issues, has been negotiating with his ruling coalition counterparts on the wording of the bill.
He told reporters Thursday that Minshuto executives had offered a political compromise so that negotiations would continue with an eye toward passing the bill before the end of the current Diet session in June.
Under the current government proposal, the consumer affairs agency would gather complaints received by local consumer centers and analyze the information. The agency would be able to issue administrative directives to companies found to be egregious violators as well as recommend to other central government ministries that they take measures to help consumers.
Given widespread public anxiety about a spate of recent food scares and mislabeling scandals, getting the agency up and running probably can't come soon enough.
One Minshuto proposal that is being considered for inclusion in the revised bill is its insistence that an independent consumer policy committee be established that would have equal footing as the consumer affairs agency.
The committee would have the authority to obligate government ministries that receive recommendations from the committee to file reports as well as to conduct its own investigations into companies and order them to submit documents on whatever cases come to the attention of its officials.
The revised bill will also include part of a Minshuto proposal to strengthen the powers of local consumer centers.
On Thursday, Minshuto submitted a proposal that included upgrading those centers into administrative agencies, setting minimum standards for the number of people employed at such centers and for their benefits and having the central government shoulder the personnel expenses which are now paid by local governments.
Ruling coalition officials who reviewed the Minshuto proposal said they were open to compromise. Further discussions are expected among the directors of the Lower House special committee on Monday.
Minshuto executives, including Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama and Kenji Yamaoka, Diet Affairs Committee chairman, had called for a compromise because of the coming Lower House election.
Executives of Minshuto, which is embroiled in a scandal over illegal fund-raising, wanted to avoid appearing too passive on consumer issues to voters by opposing the government proposal and failing to pass its own counterproposal into law.
The previous Fukuda Cabinet approved a proposal to establish the consumer affairs agency last September.(IHT/Asahi: April 11,2009)