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Editorial: Fresh Kake probe a test of willingness to get to the truth

  • June 10, 2017
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:35 p.m.
  • English Press

The government’s decision, in the face of mounting pressure, to order a fresh investigation into documents at the center of a political scandal over the approval of a new veterinary medicine faculty came far too late.

 

Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said June 9 that his ministry will conduct a new inquiry into the existence of the documents which indicate political pressure was applied on the ministry to approve the new faculty plan submitted by the Kake Educational Institution, whose head is a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. One of the documents quotes officials of the Cabinet Office as saying that swift approval of the faculty is the “intent of the prime minister.”

 

More than three weeks have passed since The Asahi Shimbun first reported on the existence of the documents. The Abe administration’s responses to the revelations amounted to nothing but trifling with the public.

 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga dismissed the documents as dubious anonymous writing, while the education ministry tried to secure a swift end to the matter by claiming, after a short investigation, the existence of the documents had not been confirmed.

 

Kihei Maekawa, a former administrative vice education minister, and others familiar with the matter have said the documents were widely shared within the ministry. In addition, a copy of an e-mail supporting this testimony was presented at the Diet. Despite all this, the administration kept refusing to face the allegations head-on by insisting there was no need to take the documents seriously on grounds it is not known where they originated.

 

Did the administration suddenly change its stance because it realized it could no longer deflect growing public criticism?

What is outrageous is that Matsuno said Abe instructed him to “swiftly implement a thorough investigation.”

 

Besides scoffing at the documents as dubious in nature, the prime minister’s office persistently cast a slur on Maekawa’s character, creating an atmosphere that can intimidate bureaucrats into silence.

 

As the public outcry over the matter refused to die down, Suga tried to shift the blame onto the ministry, saying it made the decision not to mount a fresh investigation.

 

This attitude has prompted suspicions that the new investigation may be aimed at identifying the officials who leaked the information.

 

Despite the prime minister’s order of “a thorough investigation,” the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of the National Strategic Special Zones program, under which the institution’s faculty plan was approved, will not be covered. This raises serious doubt about the effectiveness of the new inquiry because the Cabinet Office is said to have conveyed the “the intent of the prime minister” to the ministry.

 

The special zones program was launched under Abe’s policy initiative. What the public wants to know is whether Abe’s personal wishes and relationships influenced the decision to approve the faculty plan in any way.

 

The administration as a whole is accountable for ensuring that such administrative decisions are made in a fair and impartial manner. It is, therefore, vital to look into the Cabinet Office’s alleged involvement in the matter.

 

In conducting the probe, the ministry should, needless to say, seek the cooperation of everybody involved, including Maekawa.

 

There are some other requirements concerning the inquiry.

 

First, outside experts need to be involved to ensure the reliability of the probe.

 

In such cases, the investigation should ideally be carried out by a team composed entirely of independent experts.

Even if that is difficult, the vigilant eye of the outsider is essential for an effective investigation.

 

While Matsuno is not eager about the idea, it is simply a commonsense approach.

 

Secondly, the inquiry should start as quickly as possible.

 

Although the probe should not be done in a rough-and-ready manner, it should be remembered that the end of the current Diet session is approaching.

 

The ministry should not be allowed to waste any more time in carrying out the probe.

 

As soon as the investigation is completed with its outcomes ready to be announced, the Diet should hold a session to hear and discuss the results with the attendance of the prime minister and others involved.

 

An extension of the session should be considered for that purpose, if necessary.

 

The probe will test the administration’s commitment to clear up the truth of the matter.

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