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Editorial: Ruling bloc should agree to summon scandal-hit school operator head to testify

The ruling coalition has refused to summon Yasunori Kagoike, head of the scandal-hit school corporation Moritomo Gakuen, and other related persons to testify before the Diet as unsworn witnesses over the organization's acquisition of a state-owned land lot at a price far below the appraised value of the property, despite opposition parties' demands to do so. The coalition comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, however, has failed to provide a convincing explanation as to why the bloc cannot summon those concerned with the case.

    Some LDP legislators have insisted that the Diet no longer needs to summon Kagoike and others involved because the corporation has withdrawn its application to open an elementary school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, and Kagoike has stepped down as head of the organization, but the curtains cannot be drawn on the case.

    LDP's Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Wataru Takeshita called for caution about summoning private citizens to testify before the Diet. However, there have been numerous cases in the past in which private citizens were summoned to testify in the legislature even as sworn witnesses, who could have been punished if they had provided false testimony.

    Moreover, the latest case involves the sale of state-owned land, which is a public asset, at a price far below its appraised value. If the Diet is to take no action to get to the bottom of the case, the legislative branch could be criticized for neglecting its responsibility.

    During Diet deliberations, the Finance Ministry reiterated that it went through appropriate procedures for selling the land to Moritomo Gakuen. At the same time, the ministry has explained that its records of negotiations between the ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau and the organization have been discarded because the negotiations "were appropriate and there were no problems with them."

    It is impossible for the government to convince the public with such an explanation. Therefore, it is necessary to question those involved. However, the LDP has refused to agree to summon even civil servants, including local finance bureau officials who were involved in the negotiations, despite demands by the opposition.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, "Caution should be exercised in summoning individuals as unsworn witnesses over cases that are not illegal." Still, questions remain as to whether corporation officials had asked any politician to use their influence to facilitate the land deal. Numerous questions regarding the case are being raised one after another, including the fact that Moritomo Gakuen submitted contracts for construction work stating different costs to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Osaka Prefectural Government and Kansai Airports, which operates Kansai International Airport and Osaka International Airport.

    Some LDP legislators argue that if illegality was suspected, investigations into these cases should be left to law enforcement authorities, but in the past many witnesses refused to comment on cases that were already under investigation.

    It is the responsibility of the Diet as the legislative branch of the government to probe the legitimacy of matters related to government.

    Takeshita contended that it is unreasonable for the Diet to hold debate on scandals simply because they have been reported by television or weekly magazines. If he really believes this, it means he does not understand the seriousness of the latest case.

    Kagoike abruptly withdrew Moritomo Gakuen's application to open an elementary school, but his assertions about his decision were one-sided. It is now more necessary than before to summon Kagoike to testify before the Diet, but there appear to be growing concerns within the LDP about what Kagoike would reveal in such a testimony.

    This may be the exact reason why the LDP is reluctant to summon Kagoike to provide testimony to the legislature. The LDP and Komeito should simply agree to call Kagoike and others to testify in the Diet if they have no guilty conscience.

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