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Pref. panel advised Moritomo Gakuen get OK to build school despite not meeting criteria

OSAKA -- A prefectural private school panel recommended in 2015 that an application by scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen for permission to establish an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture be approved, even though the school failed to meet screening criteria, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The revelations could call the validity of the screening process into question.

In October 2014, Moritomo Gakuen submitted an application to the Osaka Prefectural Government requesting permission to open an elementary school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. After consulting with the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau in Osaka, the prefectural government referred the application to the Osaka Prefectural Private School Council for screening on the assumption that Moritomo Gakuen would acquire the leasehold for government-owned land in Toyonaka for the new school.

The council was unable to reach a final decision on the application at a regular meeting on Dec. 18 of that year. At an ad-hoc meeting on Jan. 27, 2015, the panel recommended that the prefectural government green-light the establishment of the elementary school, but under a number of conditions. On Feb. 10, the Kinki Local Finance Bureau's deliberative panel on government assets concluded that it would be appropriate for the Toyonaka lot to be leased to the school operator. In May 2015, a fixed-term land lease contract was signed between the government and Moritomo Gakuen.

It is necessary to satisfy one of the following screening criteria to gain permission to establish a new private elementary or junior high school in Osaka Prefecture: 1) the school operator owns the land, 2) the school operator has a leasehold of 20 years or more, or 3) the school operator has obtained the leasehold for land owned by either the national or local government.

None of these criteria had been met at the time the Osaka private school council recommended that Moritomo Gakuen's application to open the elementary school be approved.

According to the Osaka Prefectural Government and the Ministry of Finance, numerous meetings were held between the two over the timing of the private school council's decision. The former emphasized that, in accordance with screening criteria, a land lease is a condition that comes with a positive verdict, whereas the ministry argued that a positive verdict is a prerequisite for a land lease contract. The prefectural government then reportedly referred the application to the prefectural private school council before the land lease contract was signed.

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