The Yomiuri ShimbunIt must be said that an insincere response has led to confusion in the Diet and damaged public trust of the government. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be required to further explain this matter.
Tadao Yanase, a former executive secretary to the prime minister, has given unsworn testimony to both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors over the scandal swirling around school operator Kake Educational Institution. The veterinary department of Okayama University of Science, which Kake operates, opened this spring in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, as part of a national strategic special zone scheme.
Yanase has revealed that he met Kake officials three times in 2015. Last year, Yanase explained that he “had no memory of meeting” with Imabari city officials on the veterinary school issue. However, he has corrected that remark and said such officials “might have been among the attendees.”
Yanase’s position of concealing the truth about the talks with Kake officials and denying only that he met city officials was difficult to understand. His approach made light of the Diet in the extreme.
It has been pointed out there are suspicions Abe attempted to facilitate the opening of the veterinary department for Kake’s chairman, who is a longtime friend of the prime minister.
Yanase is inevitably perceived as having attempted to hide the truth out of concern for the prime minister, who would be hounded by opposition parties over the matter.
If the Prime Minister’s Office had quickly confirmed the facts and explained what had actually happened, this probably could have been resolved without it becoming a huge mess. It can be said the perfunctory handling of this matter created distrust of the government and ended up prolonging the problem.
Abe must explain anew
A written record of the meeting compiled by an Ehime prefectural official quoted Yanase as saying the veterinary school plan was “a matter related to the prime minister.”
During the questioning in the Diet, Yanase explained that he told meeting attendees that “whether to give the green light to opening new veterinary departments was a matter the prime minister said he wants to consider quickly.” Yanase emphasized he did not single out any individual school projects.
This could be taken as Yanase indicating that this was the intent of the national strategic special zone scheme in which bold deregulation would be carried out at the prime minister’s initiative. The scheme paved the way for the establishment of a new veterinary department, which had not been approved for many years.
The very core of the national strategic special zone scheme could be shaken if there are suspicions of the prime minister’s involvement in approving which operators could do business under the scheme.
No concrete evidence of the prime minister issuing instructions during the process, from designation of the special zone until the new department opened, has been found.
But given Yanase’s latest remarks, Abe must once again explain the facts regarding the establishment of the veterinary department.
The government also needs to increase the transparency of the special zone designation process.
Discussions on the Kake scandal have been going round and round in circles since last year.
Issues surrounding North Korea, Iran and the international economy are changing daily. Discussions on work style reform, ensuring fiscal soundness and social security system reform are also urgent tasks.
The Diet cannot fulfill its primary role as long as it focuses only on following up on these Kake suspicions while pending domestic and international matters are largely neglected.