The House of Councillors Budget Committee held an intense debate on June 16, effectively the final day of the current Diet session ending June 18, on plans by a school corporation run by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to establish a veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture.
At the panel, government officials including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admitted the existence of in-house documents at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry mentioning "the prime minister's will" over the approval of a veterinary school by Kake Educational Institution. Suga had initially called these documents "anonymous objectionable documents."
However, these top government officials gave far-fetched explanations when opposition parties pointed out inconsistencies between their admission of documents' existence and their earlier denials.
Most of the documents were compiled by the education ministry to record its communications with the Cabinet Office over the school proposal.
In the June 16 Diet debate, Cabinet Office Deputy Director General Yutaka Fujiwara and others denied that the office had mentioned "the prime minister's will," which is recorded in at least one of the documents. If that is so, did they mean the education ministry fabricated the story? Moreover, the Cabinet Office claims it does not have any document mentioning "the prime minister's will." This explanation is far from convincing.
The Council on National Strategic Special Zones' decision in autumn last year to allow new vet schools "only in areas where vocational universities for veterinarians and other such institutions do not already exist, in broader areas" apparently enabled only Kake to open a vet school in Ehime Prefecture. The decision-making process is one of focal points in the scandal.
The existence of an email that the Cabinet Office sent to the ministry, claiming that the phrase, "in broader areas," was added to the conditions for approving a new vet school at the instruction of Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, was also confirmed.
However, Hagiuda denied having given such instructions. Kozo Yamamoto, minister in charge of revitalizing local economies, claimed that an education ministry official on loan to the Cabinet Office sent the email and went on to say the official "sent the recommendation to the education ministry behind their supervisors' backs." The remark, which seems to hint the bureaucrat was a spy, is surprising.
Prime Minister Abe repeated his earlier comment that he had "never shown any will or given any instruction" over Kake's vet school project. Yamamoto insisted that he was the one to decide on the deregulation regarding the establishment of a new vet school. However, they failed to dispel suspicions that aides to Abe surmised his intentions and ended up distorting the fairness of government policy.
Opposition parties demanded that Kihei Maekawa, former top bureaucrat in the education ministry and the first person to publicly admit the existence of the documents, be summoned to testify before the Diet as an unsworn witness over the scandal. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party rejected the demand.
However, the Diet cannot draw a curtain on the case after only a three-hour "intense" debate, and should continue efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal. The Diet can probe the case even while the legislature is not in session.