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Editorial: Probe needed on docs stating 'prime minister's will' in school project

Documents that mention the "will" of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in connection with plans by Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution to set up a veterinary department in one of the government's national strategic special economic zones have been disclosed. It seems questions are being raised over how this fits in with the government's previous explanations.

One aim of national strategic special economic zones is to vitalize the local economy with a major easing of regulations.

The documents found at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology cover information passed on by the Cabinet Office in relation to the educational institution's plans. Regarding the early establishment of such a facility, they state, "This is what the highest level of the prime minister's office is saying," and, "We have heard that this is the will of the prime minister."

The government decided in November last year to set up a new veterinary department. It resolved to allow only one school to open a department, and when it sought applications in January this year, Kake Educational Institution, which hoped to set up a school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari, was the only one to apply. The land for the school is being provided by the Imabari Municipal Government free of charge.

The educational institution is now pressing ahead with plans to open the department in April next year, and an education ministry council is considering granting permission.

Opposition parties have argued in the Diet that Kake Educational Institution is receiving favors. But Abe has denied having been consulted at all or applying any pressure regarding the plans.

The recently uncovered documents are said to deal with exchanges between the Cabinet Office and the education ministry. Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno has said he will conduct an investigation into them. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, meanwhile, has denied that there were any instructions from the prime minister on the issue.

The government should confirm the existence of the documents. It should then investigate how they came to be created and make its findings public. The nucleus of the issue is what kind of exchange took place between the Cabinet Office, the prime minister's office and the education ministry.

According to the documents, the education ministry has expressed the view that it will be difficult to open the new department at an early date based on the educational institution's state of preparation.

Did Abe's "will" come about amid such a situation, where Kake Educational Institution was hurrying to set up a new department?

Even if the Cabinet Office's move to assist the institution was not made at the instruction of the prime minister, it could raise suspicions that the office was working to gauge the prime minister's will, based on his relationship with the director of Kake Educational Institution -- a friend of his. Therefore, a solid explanation is needed.

In a separate scandal involving Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen, the involvement of Abe's wife Akie forms the central issue. The government agency documents uncovered this time, referring to the "will of the prime minister," further deepen the level of incomprehensibility over the situation.

Shedding light on the facts surrounding the process of government policy decisions is a top priority.

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