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Editorial: Inconsistencies plague PM Abe's statements on vet school scandal

At a lecture Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave following revelations that the government had given permission to an educational corporation headed by a close friend of Abe's to set up a veterinary school in a "a national strategy special zone," the prime minister said, "We will approve the establishment of two, three schools, as long as they are motivated."

Abe also said, "We will swiftly spread this movement nationwide."

The prime minister made these statements amid allegations that the government had pressured the education ministry to fast-track Kake Educational Institution's vet school project. But Abe's statements contradict each other and are hardly convincing.

Firstly, Abe's logic is at odds with the national strategy special zone system that he himself created. Special zones typically involve reforming regulations in limited areas, and expanding the reforms nationwide only after the effects and problems of deregulation have been verified. Basic policy on such zones that was given Cabinet approval stipulates that reforms are to be spread across the country based on assessments of achievements in national strategy special zones.

However, the Kake Educational Institution's veterinary school has not even been founded yet. If the prime minister is going to give permission willy-nilly across Japan, what is the point of having national strategy special zones? Previously, Abe had called the institution of these special zones as a "drill" that will break through regulatory barriers, or so-called "bedrock regulations."

Moreover, the moves that Abe has now hastily proposed have the possibility of overstepping the government's criteria for setting up projects in special zones. In establishing a university veterinary department, the Cabinet decided on four conditions that must be met, including giving consideration to the life sciences and the state of demand for veterinarians.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries takes a reserved stance when it comes to demand for veterinary doctors. If the government were to encourage and approve the founding of more new veterinary schools, operators could have trouble meeting the four conditions.

The greatest inconsistency Abe has displayed amid this scandal is that he is now saying he himself can take the initiative to build new projects -- as if he's holding an almighty "drill" against "bedrock regulations" in his hand -- when just a little while ago, during this year's ordinary session of the Diet that ended on June 18, he had emphasized that the national strategy special zone system "is such that the prime minister cannot interfere with it."

What is truly at stake in the Kake scandal is not that only one educational corporation was given the green-light to operate in a special zone, but the questionable process through which that permission was given.

And yet, Abe has tried to make it appear as if the problem is the number of schools, saying in his lecture, "We limited just one school to the special zone, and that lukewarm compromise caused doubts in the minds of the public." That's a straw man argument.

At a press conference held after the ordinary session of the Diet ended, Prime Minister Abe vowed to "fulfill his accountability to the public by explaining (the Kake case)." But if he wants to make any claims that differ from what he has said thus far, he should do so in the Diet.

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