The June 18 end to the current Diet session is fast approaching, but we are still no closer to understanding what went on with the government approval process for a veterinary school proposed by Kake Educational Institution, a private school operator headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We have to wonder if the government and ruling parties are trying to run out the clock.
On June 5, opposition party members questioned Abe over the Kake affair at both the House of Representatives Audit and Oversight of Administration Committee and the House of Councillors Budget Committee. However, the prime minister's responses were half-hearted and unrevealing from start to finish.
The big question in this affair is whether the fact that Kake Educational Institution Chairman Kotaro Kake is an Abe confidant unduly influenced government administrative decisions on the approval of the school operator's application to open the vet department at its university in the national strategy special economic zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. Documents thought to be from inside the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology suggest that it is the "will" of the prime minister that the Kake application move forward. The ministry, however, says it can't confirm the documents' existence, and refuses to reinvestigate.
Former education Vice Minister Kihei Maekawa has stated that the documents were from the ministry department responsible for examining the application and that they are genuine. Maekawa has also revealed that a senior Abe adviser put direct pressure on him to hurry up the process. Moreover, it has recently emerged that an email, with attached documents saying, "This is what the top level of the prime minister's office is saying," was circulated among ministry officials.
And despite all this, the government does nothing, explains nothing.
If the documents are in fact internal education ministry papers, the fact of their existence would not prove Abe had been involved in the Kake application process. It is certainly possible that bureaucrats in the PM's office and other agencies used Abe's name on their own to move the approval forward. Abe himself has insisted he never asserted his will in the process. If that is true, then shouldn't the government just confirm whether the documents are genuine and an investigation into whether the machinery of government was corrupted be conducted?
Furthermore, even if Abe was involved in the Kake application approval, it can't be said that would be entirely inappropriate. After all, development and use of the national strategy special economic zones like the one where the Kake vet school would be located are directed by the prime minister.
However, Abe has dodged direct answers to questions on the Kake affair and tried to shift the focus of the discussion, declaring that "the real substance of the task (in the special zones) is how to open holes in bedrock regulation." When the opposition pushes back against this tactic, he evades again, saying, "I can't respond to your questions because of jeering." Doubts about this conduct are inevitable.
Ex-Vice Minister Maekawa has called his former ministry "a deer caught in headlights," and raised the possibility that it could be under orders from the PM's office to deny the Kake documents exist. Meanwhile, when an opposition Democratic Party lawmaker read out to the Diet the list of those who received the email with the documents attached, Higher Education Bureau Director General Yutaka Tokiwa replied, "There are employees with the same first and last names." The painfully awkward response earned Tokiwa a bitter laugh from the opposition seats.
The continued refusal of the ruling parties to call Maekawa to the Diet as a sworn witness is also confounding. If this continues, we cannot possibly say that the Diet is fulfilling its duties.