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Docs reveal gov't paved way for group linked to Abe to open new vet school

A timetable regarding the establishment of a new veterinary department, right, and the Cabinet Office's draft plan for regulatory reform that the Mainichi Shimbun acquired. (Mainichi)

While the education ministry hastily concluded that it could not confirm the existence of documents mentioning Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "will" in backing approval of a new veterinary department at a university operated by a school corporation whose chairman is a close friend of the prime minister, the Mainichi Shimbun has obtained documents from a ministry-related source suggesting that processes leading to the approval developed according to a schedule included in the papers.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hirokazu Matsuno suggested during a news conference after a Cabinet meeting on May 23 that the ministry would not conduct an additional probe of the documents regarding Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution's plan to open a veterinary department, saying, "We believe that the initial objective of the investigation has been accomplished unless new revelations surface."

On May 17, the main opposition Democratic Party released eight sheets of A4-sized paper, which included passages showing that the Cabinet Office urged the education ministry to approve the veterinary department's opening in April 2018. In addition to these documents, the Mainichi Shimbun has acquired from the education ministry-related source nearly 30 pieces of paper, including a timetable for possible events leading to the opening of the new vet school.

According to the source, the timetable is thought to have been created sometime around October 2016 in offering an explanation to Matsuno and others related to the matter. The expected timing for soliciting organizations wanting to open a new vet department was initially noted as December 2016 on the timetable. There was a memo attached to the timetable saying that "additional time will likely be required in selecting an organization if there is competition."

In fact, Kyoto Sangyo University at the time was going through hearings by a government working group in charge of the national strategic special economic zone -- a scheme introduced by the Abe government to ease regulations in selected areas -- to open a vet department in the Kyoto Prefecture city of Ayabe. It is believed that the education ministry notified the Cabinet Office, in charge of the special economic zone project, of a possible delay caused by competition, since only one organization was to be allowed to open a new vet department.

In November 2016, the government's special zone advisory council decided on regulatory reforms, which would allow a new vet school to open "only in an area where veterinary vocational schools do not already exist, in the broader area." A document believed to be crafted by the Cabinet Office as a draft for the reform, however, did not include the terms "only" or "broader area," meaning that in the end, rules stricter than were initially presented by the Cabinet Office were applied. The Cabinet Office says "broader area" means screening organizations not by prefecture, but on a "wider scale."

While a vet school does not exist in the Shikoku region, which includes the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari where Kake Educational Institution has planned to open the department, Osaka Prefecture University offers veterinary courses in the Osaka Prefecture city of Izumisano. The Kyoto Prefectural Government, which was working with Kyoto Sangyo University to open a new vet school, concluded that it would be difficult to get approval for the new school in the Kansai region -- where both Osaka and Kyoto prefectures are located -- if a new institution could only be allowed in a wide area with no vet schools, and their plan was shelved.

The education ministry source has told the Mainichi Shimbun that in addition to exchanges between the ministry and Cabinet Office recorded on those documents, there were times when senior education ministry officials were summoned to the prime minister's office with regard to the new vet school project.

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