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Cabinet Office OK'd vet school project despite concerns project wasn't necessary

The Cabinet Office went ahead with a plan by a school corporation run by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to establish a veterinary school in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, despite concerns that the school may not attract enough students, a document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun suggests.

At the time, another university was also aiming to set up a veterinary department in a different area.

Opposition parties are criticizing the Cabinet Office for joining hands with the Imabari Municipal Government in going ahead with relevant procedures on the premise that Kake Educational Institution will open a veterinary department in April 2018 in Imabari, which was later designated as part of a national strategic special economic zone. In areas designated by the central government as such, regulations are relaxed to spur economic growth.

For many years, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry had not approved the establishment of any new veterinary school in order to prevent a surplus in veterinarians and ensure the quality of veterinary services. However, the Council on National Strategic Special Zones decided on Nov. 9, 2016 to relax the regulation to open the way for the establishment of a new veterinary department in areas where such schools do not exist.

An Imabari Municipal Assembly document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun shows that four assembly members met with Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy chief of the Cabinet Office's section for the revitalization of local economies, and other officials in the Diet Building on Feb. 9 last year over the Kake school project.

At the meeting, one of the Cabinet Office officials apparently expressed concern that the city's financial conditions could worsen in the future because it would commit funds to supporting the new school and that the school might not attract enough students due to the declining population, according to the document.

However, Mayor Ryoji Kan told a municipal assembly plenary session on March 8 last year that he would be glad if the veterinary school as part of Kake group's Okayama University of Science could be opened in Imabari in April 2018 at the earliest. Furthermore, a document distributed to assembly members present at a consultative meeting on the issue on April 21 last year also states that the school "is planned to open" in April 2018 at the earliest.

Moreover, a municipal government document that has been released under the city's freedom of information ordinance demonstrates that a section chief in charge of the project at the municipal government and others had visited the prime minister's office and the Cabinet Office in Tokyo over the matter on April 2, 2015. At the time, the national government had not designated Imabari as part of a national strategic special economic zone.

Yuko Mori, an opposition Liberal Party member of the House of Councillors, grilled the national government during a session of the chamber's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee on June 8 over the meetings.

In response, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said, "We were unable to confirm the facts because no records were kept."

Fujiwara also told the session, "We haven't been able to confirm whether Cabinet Office officials, including myself, had actually met with city officials."

Dissatisfied with the replies, Mori criticized the government's stance saying, "Do you think your explanations can convince the public that Kake Educational Institution was selected (to open a new veterinary school) in a fair manner?"

Kyoto Sangyo University was also aiming to open a veterinary department in Kyoto Prefecture. However, the Kyoto Prefectural Government and the university abandoned the plan after the Cabinet Office announced on Nov. 18, 2016 that one of the conditions for approving the establishment of a new veterinary department is that the school can open in April 2018. The prefectural government and the university deemed that they would not have enough time to meet that deadline.

Kozo Yamamoto, minister in charge of local economic revitalization who also oversees national strategic special economic zones, denied in the Diet that the government had informed either the Imabari municipal or Kyoto prefectural governments of the time any new vet school should open before the official announcement.

In a related development, the central government intends to announce the outcome of a re-investigation it will conduct on education ministry in-house documents relating to the Kake institution's vet school project by the end of this week.

Moreover, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said the ministry will examine the shared folders at four divisions, including the Office for Administrative Reform in charge of national strategic special economic zones, in its fresh investigation. In the previous in-house probe, the ministry examined the shared folder at its Technical Education Division.

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