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Saturday, April 18, 2009
Consumer bills clear Lower House
New agency would be tasked with responding to public complaints, food scandals
The House of Representatives passed bills Friday to create a consumer affairs agency after both ruling and opposition forces reached a compromise.
The bills were immediately sent to the Upper House, where they are expected to be approved during the current Diet session, clearing the way for the agency's launch this year.
"I hope the agency will be established as soon as possible in the current year," Seiko Noda, minister in charge of consumer affairs, told reporters Thursday.
Prime Minister Taro Aso has also been a vocal backer of the agency.
"Since the Meiji Era, government policy has focused on developing producers," Aso told the Lower House's special consumer committee Thursday. "On the other hand, the idea of the consumer affairs agency is totally the opposite. It would be operated and would be standing on the consumers' side. . . . I think this would be a breakthrough to change the existing government structure."
Currently, consumer-related problems and claims are handled by various ministries and agencies depending on the nature of the case. But without a clear body responsible for such issues, consumers often find themselves bouncing between ministries as they seek to rectify their problems.
Consequently, the new agency, which would have about 200 officials, is expected to handle all consumer-related issues.
The bills also empower the agency to act to protect the rights and benefits of consumers. Along with the agency, a committee would be set up with the authority to admonish the prime minister and order reports from ministers.
Fewer than 10 people selected from the private sector would sit on the committee, according to the bills.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, pushed strongly for a committee with genuine power after submitting a counterproposal to the Diet to create an ombudsmanlike organization instead of a consumer affairs agency.
Rather than forming a new agency attached to the Cabinet Office, the DPJ proposed an independent body with relatively robust authority.
From the beginning of the 10-hour session, both the opposition and the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc expressed willingness to make compromises on revising the bills.
Former DPJ policy research committee chief Yukio Edano said that under the current circumstances the revised bills were close to perfect.
The idea for the agency originated under former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who abruptly resigned last September. The bills were submitted that month in the wake of a string of consumer-related scandals.