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Olympics Minister admits aide contacted education ministry about expanding ALT system

Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo responds to reporters' questions following a Cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office on the morning of Feb. 5, 2016. (Mainichi)

Toshiaki Endo, minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, admitted that his secretary had called an education ministry official about broadening the Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) system in schools nationwide, while Labor Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki confirmed reports that there was a meeting between a labor ministry official and a representative for an ALT staffing agency.

    During a press conference at the Cabinet Office on Feb. 4, Endo admitted that his secretary had called an official at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to promote the expansion of the ALT system.

    "Since my secretaries are constantly working with me, they obviously made calls on my behalf at important junctures to obtain information on what was going on," Endo said. He also revealed that he had exchanged ideas with an ALT staffing agency on the use of ALTs.

    Endo claimed that reports by the Mainichi Shimbun were factually incorrect, but acknowledged that he had received 9.55 million yen from the founder of the ALT staffing agency between 2010 and 2014 in the form of political donations from a private individual. Asked whether the staffing agency made requests concerning the use of ALTs, Endo said, "Rather, I was the one asking questions about how English-language education could be changed."

    Endo quoted the education ministry as telling him that a government subsidy for ALTs incorporated into the fiscal 2016 draft budget is only applicable to ALTs who are directly employed by prefectural governments, and not staffing agencies.

    The Mainichi further reported on Feb. 5 that shortly before the education ministry released a notice regarding ALTs, Endo had mediated a meeting between a labor ministry official who was involved in the notice and a representative for an ALT staffing agency. Shiozaki confirmed at a press conference following a Cabinet meeting on Feb. 5 that such a meeting had taken place.

    Endo told the press after the Cabinet meeting that his secretary introduced the staffing agency to the relevant labor ministry division that would be able to answer questions on interpretations of related laws. He added, however, "We've done nothing more than that."

    Asked whether Endo's office arranged a meeting between a labor ministry official and a representative from a staffing agency that supports Endo, Shiozaki said, "I have been told that there was a meeting." He also explained, "We have received many questions from local education boards about the operation of private ALT staffing businesses, and released a notice clarifying the government's take of related laws after discussions with the education ministry."

    Meanwhile, Endo told a press conference following the Cabinet meeting, "I believe there are many instances in which business operators inquire about the government's interpretation and position (on certain laws), to which we then respond."

    Endo's office released a statement saying that it had introduced the relevant labor ministry division to an ALT staffing agency between late 2013 and early 2014. In other words, it was not "shortly prior to" the August 2014 education ministry announcement, the statement said. Following the introduction, the agency and the labor ministry exchanged questions and answers in writing, according to the statement.

    Endo's office had heretofore not disclosed to the Mainichi Shimbun whether it had been involved in introducing labor ministry officials to the ALT staffing agency.

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