Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has accepted questioning in a special probe that she herself ordered into the alleged cover-up of logs kept by Japanese peacekeepers in South Sudan.
After the ministry said the logs had been disposed of, it emerged that log data had actually been preserved by the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), but the data was then discarded without a public announcement. Inada faced questioning over her alleged involvement in hiding this fact.
The latest probe is treated as a special matter handled by the minister of defense. It is conducted by the Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance, a special organization under direct control of the minister.
It is an unusual state of affairs for suspicions to fall on the defense minister overseeing a probe. Is it possible to say that the neutrality and credibility of the probe will be ensured?
The logs in question are said to have been found in January this year, after the Ministry of Defense initially decided not to release them following a freedom of information request.
In February, the Ministry of Defense released logs that were discovered at the Joint Staff, separate from those at the GSDF, while containing the same information, but the fact that logs were stored at the GSDF was kept secret. After this, the ministry decided not to release the logs. The GSDF apparently maintains that it reported this to Inada and obtained her consent. Inada, however, denied that she gave her consent, saying she did not receive a report, and stressed, "If I had received a report I naturally would have ordered a public release."
However, even if the issue were not reported to Inada, it would mean that she did not learn about the cover-up, said to have been led by bureaucrats, until mid-March, when the storage of the data surfaced in news reports.
The GSDF submitted a report to the Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance saying that it reported the issue to Inada, but this was not reflected in a draft inspection report, a fact the GSDF was apparently unhappy about.
In is impermissible for the Self-Defense Forces, an organization that uses force, to deviate from civilian control. The latest problem is a grave issue if it occurred against a backdrop of organized defense of the GSDF.
In any case, the source of confusion lies with Inada, who is losing the ability to lead due to her offhand statements.
It inconceivable that Inada is qualified to lead an inspection when she herself has become subject to it. The probe should be placed in the hands of an external body to ensure its fairness. If that is not possible, Inada should clarify her future course of action. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also bears a heavy responsibility for appointing her.