Driven into a corner, it appears the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has had no option but to alter its defiant stance and take a new course of action.
The ministry has finally agreed to reinvestigate internal documents that have been a major focus on plans by school corporation Kake Educational Institution to establish a new veterinary department.
The investigation, however, comes in the closing days of the current Diet session, which is set to end on June 18. This is not the kind of investigation that should take a long time. The ministry should swiftly announce the results of its probe to the public and the Diet session should be extended to devote sufficient time to the issue to shed light on the facts.
The documents indicate that the Cabinet Office pressured the education ministry to quickly open the veterinary school, mentioning the “will” of the prime minister. Initially, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga branded the records “anonymous objectionable documents,” and during an investigation into the documents last month, the education ministry concluded that it “could not confirm” their existence.
However, former Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Kihei Maekawa, subsequently testified that the documents were indeed real.
After this, Matsuno stated that the documents were of unknown origin, and that items relating to the process of political decisions would not be publicly announced.
It appears the ministry’s latest change of tune stems from concerns that the issue may damage the ruling coalition’s prospects in the upcoming Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, as current workers at the education ministry have already begun affirming the existence of the documents to news organizations.
The very fact that the ministry has decided to reinvestigate documents on its decision-making process is an admission that the explanations of Matsuno and other officials up till now were carried out in a self-serving manner.
For now, questions remain about the response the ministry will take after the investigation.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda was swift to state, “Even if the documents exist, whether they are correct or not is a separate matter.” It is also possible that the Cabinet Office will continue its denials, saying that it did not mention the kind of matters that the documents indicate. If that is the case, is the Cabinet Office saying that the education ministry fabricated the documents?
As the director of Kake Educational Institution is a friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the big issue here is whether public administration was distorted while a project working in the institution’s favor went ahead.
The government has stressed that the renewed investigation was ordered by the prime minister. If he has the awareness that this is a problem on the level of the whole administration, then why won’t the Cabinet Office investigate whether such documents remain? It’s a struggle to understand why officials do not once more question those involved.
If the education ministry does in fact admit that the documents exist, then this is no more than a starting point in shedding light on them. The issue will not be unraveled simply by unloading all of the responsibility onto the education ministry.