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Ex-education ministry official clashes with PM's office over docs on school plans

Former Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Kihei Maekawa, left, comments on the issues surrounding Kake Educational Institution, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 25, 2017. (Mainichi)

A former top education ministry bureaucrat has clashed with the prime minister's office over documents suggesting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's "will" played a part in a ministry decision to approve a new university veterinary department for an educational institution run by a close friend of Abe.

Former Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Kihei Maekawa maintained in a news conference on May 25 that the documents, which emerged on May 17, are genuine, while the prime minister's office is not attempting to confirm their existence.

The director of Okayama-based Kake Educational Institution is a friend of Abe's and opposition parties allege that special consideration for Abe's "will" warped the course of government administration in the vet school's approval.

In his May 25 news conference, Maekawa told reporters, "These were documents that were shared when I was there (in the education ministry). They definitely existed."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga moved to cast doubt on the credibility of the documents as early as May 17, calling them "anonymous objectionable documents." As if to back this up, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno announced two days later that the ministry couldn't confirm the documents existed.

This newspaper has criticized the ministry's probe as extremely inadequate. The ministry simply held a hearing with seven people including senior officials of the education ministry's Higher Education Bureau, which is in charge of universities, to ask them whether they had created or shared eight documents presented in the Diet by the opposition Democratic Party (DP), and examined a shared computer folder in the ministry's Technical Education Division, which governs veterinary schools. This probe effectively ended in half a day.

The ministry, however, did not check the individual computers of workers. The opposition parties have requested a renewed investigation, calling the first probe "insufficient." In response to these calls, Matsuno stated, "The shared folder was checked, and in questioning besides that, we received replies saying that the documents weren't there. We put everything into the probe." On the prospect of an investigation into documents besides the eight that the opposition presented, Matsuno said, "It is not necessary to investigate documents of unclear origin."

Maekawa maintained he received a document titled "Cabinet Office's response to the minister's items for confirmation" from the Technical Education Division on Oct. 17 last year. He said that a worker in the division wrote down what had been passed on from Cabinet Office director-general Yutaka Fujiwara, who was in charge of national strategic special economic zones, regarding Kake Educational Institution's plans. The document stated that the ministry had heard that it was the "prime minister's will." Fujiwara, however, said, "I never said that in the capacity of the Cabinet Office." Maekawa responded, "I believe the documents are 100 percent reliable."

Additionally, Maekawa said he assumed that the statement "This is what the highest level of the prime minister's office is saying," contained in a separate document, referred to the prime minister or the chief Cabinet secretary.

Meanwhile, the former vice minister also criticized how administrative affairs are carried out. In 1984 the then Ministry of Education decided that it would not allow new veterinary departments to be set up or allow the number of program places to be expanded, to prevent Japan from producing too many veterinarians. A prerequisite for setting up a new department is that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which has administrative jurisdiction over veterinarian qualifications, has shown there is demand. However, there is no evidence to date showing the agriculture ministry was actively involved in discussion regarding the deregulated national strategic special economic zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, where Kake Educational Institution planned to set up the new vet school.

"Deregulation was carried out with an extremely weak foundation. The fair and impartial state of administration was warped," Maekawa said.

Regarding the fact that the government has continued to deny the existence of the education ministry documents, Akira Koike of the opposition Japanese Communist Party (JCP) stated, "It's outrageous. It's basically saying don't discuss anything the government hasn't officially announced. The government doesn't bring out any information, so we earnestly collect it, and then the government calls it an 'anonymous objectionable document' and refuses to deal with it. It can't be helped if people describe Japan as a dictatorship."

DP leader Renho commented, "Was the prime minister's will put to work? Was special consideration given? Were the decisions fair and equal? Until we know that, we can't move forward."

On May 26, Kazunori Yamanoi, Diet affairs chief of the DP, met with his LDP counterpart Wataru Takeshita, and requested that Maekawa be summoned to the Diet as a sworn witness to testify on the documents -- a move he said was supported by the DP, the JCP, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. Takeshita, however, indicated that the LDP would refuse, saying, "It's not necessary. It has no relation to the essence of politics."

The LDP has attempted to quickly bring the curtain down on the issue. In a May 25 news conference, Suga reiterated the position that the education ministry had conducted a survey and didn't find anything. He also denied anew that Abe had any involvement in the educational institution's plans to set up a new veterinary department.

Suga attacked Maekawa as a person who had "clung to his position" -- an apparent attempt to discredit the former vice minister. When asked about the possibility of a renewed investigation, Suga simply said, "The education ministry will deal with it appropriately."

One official at the Cabinet Office denied the content of the documents, but added, "It's only natural for the Cabinet Office to converse with the education ministry over national strategic special economic zones, which aim to break though bedrock regulations. In its words and tone at that time, there probably was some dissatisfaction with the education ministry."

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