Administrative Inspection Bureau (AIB) of the Management and Coordination Agency (MCA) is the equivalent of ombudsman institutions in other countries of Asia. It is an independent organisation of the Prime Minister’s Office and is headed by a Minister of State (member of Cabinet). Its functions are administrative inspection and administrative counselling and are carried out by 1,200 staff. They together provide an effective system of administrative supervision and relief, ensuring that public administration is conducted in a democratic, effective, efficient, and fair manner, protecting the rights and interests of the citizens, and thereby securing the trust of 120 million people of Japan in their government.
Japan has a parliamentary system of government. The government is held accountable to the public through the Diet. The Courts and the independent Board of Audit are other systems to ensure administrative accountability.
The administrative inspection and the administrative counselling are the functions within the executive branch of the government to hold the administrative organs accountable to the public.
The Management and Coordination Agency Establishment Law provides that one of its functions is “to inspect the operation of administrative organ, and make recommendations if deemed necessary” (Art. 4, Cl. 12).
For the purpose of performing the function, the above law gives Director-General of the MCA necessary authority including those of; (i) demanding the head of administrative organs submission of materials and explanations (Art. 5, para 2); and (ii) making on-site investigation of the operation of administrative organs (Art. 5, para. 4). The authority is internally delegated to the heads of AIB field offices.
The objective of administrative inspection by MCA is to maintain the effectiveness of government operation, to prevent unlawful or improper practices and damages to the national treasury, and to maintain official discipline.
Based on the analysis and evaluation of the facts found and evidences collected by the 600 of the AIB headquarters and field offices, the Director-General of MCA makes recommendations for improvement to other ministers. The ministers concerned are required to report to the MCA Director General on the measures taken pursuant to the recommendations. The Director General may also report to the Prime Minister his opinion requesting that a direction be issued to the ministers concerned to improve matters under their jurisdictions.
It has contributed to the elimination of misuse of funds and other corrupt practices, introduction and reform of polices and procedures, and improvement of government operations, all in keeping with the demands of the times.
The administrative counselling was started around 1955. In 1961, the system of administrative counsellors was introduced also as an operational arrangement for the purpose of broadening the system’s base and enhancing the accessibility to the people of administrative counselling service. In 1966, the Administrative Counsellors Law was enacted to give the activities of the administrative counsellors a solid statutory base. The system dramatically improved the people’s access to the administrative counselling system both in geographic and psychological terms.
The Administrative Counselling is an activity in which the AIB field offices and the administrative counsellors throughout the country receive citizen’s complaints about the actions of the governments agencies and act to bring the matters to a satisfactory conclusion through mediation.
The Administrative Counsellors Law provides that the Director General of the MCA may commission “a person who enjoys a social confidence and is possessed of a deep understanding and ardour for improvement in administrative operations” for the work of: (i) receiving people’s complaints, giving necessary advices, and informing the MCA (AIB) field offices) and the administrative organs concerned of the complaints; and (ii) responding to the inquiries by the administrative organs concerned and informing the complainants of the results of review by the administrative organs concerned (Art. 2, para 1). Today there are over 5,000 of them and people can find at least one of them in the area of municipalities they live in. In many cases, satisfactory solutions are obtained by simply forwarding the complaints to the agencies concerned. Many cases are actually resolved by the administrative counsellors studying the background and getting in touch with the government agencies concerned and the latter reviewing the case.
Complaints can be filed free of charge either by phone, by letter, or by visit. There is no restriction on the subject of complaint except that cases falling into a number of categories including those pending in courts will not be eligible for mediation.
In the national government, the ministries and agencies operate counselling units of their own.
The work of most ombudsman institutions in other countries appears to entail the elements of administrative supervision and administrative relief. As it happened, the AIB in Japan came to embody these very elements in its work as a consequence of unique historic development that gave it the functions of administrative inspection and administrative counselling independent of the development of ombudsman institutions in other parts of the world.