New allegations have surfaced against embattled Defense Minister Tomomi Inada in connection with the finding that activity logs of Japanese peacekeepers in South Sudan were retained at the ministry even though the ministry said they had been discarded.
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It was reported that Inada consulted with officials from the Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and gave the nod to withhold the fact that the logs existed.
The minister has denied having done so, but the issue remains a serious problem. The matter should be laid bare in a special inspection report to be released by the Ministry of Defense in the near future to clarify whether or not Inada was involved.
When presented with a freedom-of-information request in December last year, the Defense Ministry decided against releasing the logs of Japanese troops in South Sudan, saying that they had been discarded. The ministry later found digital copies of the logs at the SDF's Joint Staff Office, and they were released in February, but in March a cover-up at the Ground Self-Defense Force was reported, sparking an inspection.
The logs recorded a major conflict that arose in the South Sudan capital of Juba in July last year, using the term "combat." Retention of the log data was confirmed in January this year, but this fact was covered up and the data erased.
Regarding this information, which should have been released, bureaucrats at the Joint Staff Office are said to have stated, "We can't say at this late stage that it existed." It appears that inconvenient information was hidden and the evidence swept away -- a response which makes light of the spirit of freedom of information.
Now the question is, how deeply was Inada involved in the series of responses?
By right, the defense minister should have shown political leadership and disclosed the information, but if she gave a tacit nod or her approval to withholding it, then the issue goes beyond merely failing to show leadership at an important stage.
Speaking in the Diet after the existence of the logs came to light, Inada stated, "It wasn't reported to me." Suspicions could arise that this statement was false.
Inada's credibility previously took a blow over her statement denying involvement with scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which was deemed untrue. The latest development could heighten the level of distrust in the minister.
If she denies the latest suspicions, then she should clarify her own responsibility, stating how and when she learned that the data existed and how she responded.
Officials have stated they "cannot remember" any involvement, but at the time, they apparently met repeatedly to discuss the logs. It is said that officials decided there was no need to disclose the existence of the logs because the information was collected by individual SDF personnel and their records were not official documents, but it is arbitrary to draw the line at this point.
More importantly, we want to ask why the Ministry of Defense and the SDF did not actively release the information.