TOKYO — A new veterinary school at the center of favoritism allegations leveled at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has obtained formal approval to open in western Japan, education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tuesday.
The approval given by the minister enables the school operator, run by Abe’s close friend Kotaro Kake, to launch the country’s first new veterinary department in over half a century next April in a government-designated deregulation zone, despite the scandal that at one point hurt the prime minister’s approval ratings.
Suspicions remain as to whether Abe used his influence to sway a government decision to set up the department, with opposition parties expected to intensify their offensive against the premier. Abe has flatly denied any involvement.
Hayashi explained in a press conference the project has been judged to comply with laws and rules, including standards to set up universities.
He said “I have decided to approve the project in light of (an education ministry panel’s) report,” which was announced last week and gave a green light to the project.
“I have confirmed the project is in line with the school operator’s plan that has been approved in the (monitoring) process under national strategic economic zones,” he also said.
In approving the project, the panel listed eight points of concern. For example, it called for the operator, the Kake Educational Institution, to ensure the proposed quota of 140 students, one of the largest in Japan, does not inhibit the quality of educational research.
In January, the Abe government approved Kake’s plan to construct the new department in the deregulation zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
In March, the school operator sought approval for the project from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology.
The ministry panel overseeing new university projects had planned to reach a conclusion on the issue in August but put the decision on hold after the favoritism allegation surfaced, citing problems in the school’s education program.
The government had not given consent to the opening of a new veterinary school for five decades amid concerns about a glut of veterinarians.
Despite Abe’s repeated denial of his involvement in the approval process, documents found at the education ministry have indicated that officials at the Cabinet Office, which oversees specially deregulated economic zones, pressured the ministry ahead of the government decision to allow Kake to construct the school building.
The papers contained phrases such as “what the highest level of the prime minister’s office has said” and “in line with the prime minister’s wishes.”