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The Asahi Shimbun/2017/6/19 14:10

Diet should stay on top of Kake scandal even during recess

Sharp differences have emerged between the responses of the education ministry and the Cabinet Office to key questions related to the political scandal concerning the Kake Educational Institution’s plan to open a veterinary medicine faculty in a National Strategic Special Zone.
The two organizations have drawn mutually contradictory conclusions from their separate investigations into allegations related to the education ministry’s internal documents, which cast greater interest in the scandal. The documents indicate that the ministry came under political pressure to quickly approve the faculty plan of the institution, which is headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
While the education ministry has admitted the existence of such documents, Kozo Yamamoto, minister for regional revitalization, has said the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of the special zone program, has no reason to believe that its official applied pressure on the education ministry by referring to the “intent of the prime minister” or saying, "This is something passed on from the highest levels of the prime minister's office."
These phrases are included in the “original” document.
The Cabinet Office’s inquiry has concluded that the phrases such as the “intent of the prime minister” probably reflect the “strong language” sometimes used by the office’s officials.
This is a pathetically flimsy explanation.
Even if a Cabinet Office official presses the point with strong language, it is hard to imagine that an education ministry official paraphrases what was said as the “intent of the prime minister.”
Referring to this expression, Kihei Maekawa, a former administrative vice education minister, who first came forward to speak about the documents, said, “I would be lying if I said that (the education ministry) did not feel pressure.”
This is not the kind of expression that a government official would write down when taking notes of what someone is saying even though the person doesn’t actually use those exact words.
An e-mail found in the education ministry’s reinvestigation into the documents, which was sent to the ministry from the Cabinet Office, shows changes were made in the conditions for the opening of a veterinary medicine faculty in the National Strategic Special Zone at the suggestion of Koichi Hagiuda, a deputy chief Cabinet secretary and a close political ally of Abe.
The changes effectively closed the door on a university that would have competed with the Kake Educational Institution for approval of a planned veterinary medicine faculty.
Speaking about this e-mail at an Upper House Budget Committee session, Yamamoto said the Cabinet Office official who sent the e-mail had been temporarily transferred to the office from the education ministry.
“This e-mail seems to indicate that the official secretly provided advice (concerning the matter) to someone in the education ministry, which he belonged to,” said Yamamoto.
Yamamoto may have been trying to downplay the credibility of the e-mail’s content.
But the e-mail contains certain convincing details, saying, for instance, the source of the information about Hagiuda’s instruction was Yutaka Fujiwara, a high-ranking Cabinet Office official who met with education ministry officials to discuss the process for allowing a new veterinary medicine faculty.
Yamamoto also brushed aside this e-mail as unimportant at a news conference.
“It was written based on stories circulating within the section without confirming the information,” he said.
But his explanation is hard to believe.
How was it possible that the name of Hagiuda, who has denied making any instruction concerning the decision on the matter, surfaced in stories circulating within the Cabinet Office?
Surprisingly, Masahiko Komura, vice president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, criticized the opposition parties’ inquiry into the scandal as being driven by “a nasty, unfounded suspicion.”
It is an important mission of the opposition parties to raise questions about the Cabinet’s policies and positions.
The efforts to clear up the truth have barely begun. The Diet can hold deliberations even while it is not in session.
It is vital for the Diet to summon Maekawa, who has pledged to testify at the Diet over the matter if asked, to question him directly.
Abe has refused to take the initiative to have Maekawa speak before the Diet, saying the decision is up to the Diet.
But the core question is whether Abe and Hagiuda, a close Abe aide who serves as a visiting professor emeritus at a university operated by Kake, were involved in the decision to approve the institution’s faculty plan.
Abe should realize his grave responsibility to answer all questions related to the matter until the public becomes convinced of the truth.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 17




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