Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was supposed to explain the recent resignations of two Cabinet ministers over political scandals at the House of Representatives Budget Committee as he was responsible for appointing them. It was the first opportunity for the prime minister to provide an explanation over the matters to the Diet.
Weekly magazines and other media outlets had reported on money scandals involving the two politicians — former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara and former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai. Attention was focused on how the prime minister would explain his responsibility for appointing the legislators to key Cabinet posts despite these alleged scandals.
However, Abe simply repeated that he would fulfill his responsibility for appointing the two politicians by moving ahead with policy measures under their successors, while saying, “I’m keenly aware of my responsibility.” He thus failed to explain why he named Sugawara and Kawai to his Cabinet.
Prime Minister Abe picked Sugawara and Kawai to these important posts when he reshuffled his Cabinet in September. The reorganization was ridiculed as an “inventory clearance,” meaning that the shakeup was aimed at making way to appoint legislators who had long been on the waiting list for Cabinet posts. Critics have pointed out that the prime minister picked those close to himself and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rather than placing the right person in the right post.
Such suspicions only deepen as Abe simply repeats that he appointed a suitable person to each of the posts.
Sugawara and Kawai were suspected of involvement in election-related scandals, but stepped down without providing an explanation to the legislature. If Prime Minister Abe truly feels a sense of responsibility for appointing Sugawara and Kawai, then he should demand that the two explain their scandals before the Diet.
However, the prime minister only said, “Each individual legislator should fulfill their accountability regardless of whether they belong to the ruling or opposition camp,” and declined to even answer whether he questioned the two former ministers over their scandals.
Whenever a scandal involving a member of Abe’s Cabinet surfaces, the prime minister evades addressing the core of the issue and obscures where responsibility lies. Such an attitude has resulted in the resignations of 10 members of Abe’s Cabinet since he returned to power in 2012.
The prime minister’s accountability was also called into question when the education ministry recently decided to postpone the introduction of private English tests, originally scheduled for the 2020 academic year, as part of university entrance examinations.
Successive education ministers that Abe appointed attempted to push through the introduction of such tests even though it was pointed out that the test-taking scheme would create economic and regional disparities depending on applicants’ family incomes and where they live.
However, the prime minister failed to provide a convincing explanation of the postponement. One cannot help but wonder whether the Abe government is serious about the concerns of university applicants.
Abe has only repeated education minister Koichi Hagiuda’s explanation that the introduction of private English tests has been postponed because preparations were insufficient. The prime minister deserves criticism that he is attempting to divert people’s attention from the key point of the issue. Hagiuda says the ministry will spend the next year reviewing the introduction of private tests. However, the ministry cannot go ahead with the introduction of private English tests without thoroughly verifying the process through which the ministry decided to introduce such exams.
About one month is left before the end of the ongoing extraordinary Diet session. The House of Councillors Budget Committee will open a session on Nov. 8. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Abe has yet to fulfill his accountability for these outstanding matters.