The government needs to confirm whether a secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with officials of the Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal governments as well as the Kake Educational Institution in 2015 over the school operator's plan to establish a veterinary school in the city. The Abe administration must not let the matter be settled just as "differences in views."
Prime Minister Abe repeated in a House of Representatives Budge Committee session on April 11 that "the national government is in no position to comment" on an Ehime Prefectural Government memo regarding the Kake institution's plan to open a veterinary school in Imabari.
The memo reportedly stated that officials of the prefectural and municipal governments as well as the Kake institution visited the prime minister's office on April 2, 2015, and quoted Tadao Yanase, then secretary to the prime minister, as telling them that Kake's veterinary school plan was "a matter concerning the prime minister."
Yanase, who currently serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, has released a comment saying that the meeting never took place "as far as I remember." Prime Minister Abe told the Diet meeting that he trusts Yanase's comment.
In general, documents are widely viewed as more admissible as evidence than testimony provided by a witness based on what they remember. Therefore, as long as the Abe administration claims that the meeting recorded in the prefectural government memo never took place, the central government should present evidence to support its claim.
In this particular case, there are suspicions that the government gave the Kake Educational Institution favorable treatment because the head of the school corporation is a close friend of the prime minister. Another key point in the case is whether the meeting actually took place two months before the Imabari Municipal Government applied for designation of the city as a national strategy special zone to pave the way for the establishment of a new veterinary school in the city.
Former Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato has stated that the prefectural government had tried for many years to have the Kake institution open a new veterinary school in Imabari. The prime minister has since proactively cited the former governor's comment and used it to criticize media outlets that raised suspicions that the prime minister was involved in the favoritism scandal. Isn't it rather opportunistic for Prime Minister Abe to now decline to comment on the memo as it could be disadvantageous to him?
During the April 11 Diet meeting, Prime Minister Abe often delivered lengthy speeches about what he was never asked in an apparent bid to evade squarely answering questions from opposition parties. For example, when he was asked did the prefectural government memo or Yanase lie about the meeting, the prime minister switched the focus of argument to the national government's management of official documents.
The prime minister's statements in which he attempted to leave the question of the authenticity of the prefectural government's memo unanswered and dodge questions from legislators is far from convincing.
An endless and fruitless "he-said-she-said" argument over the scandal has been going on for nearly a year. If a similar situation persists with regard to the Ehime Prefectural Government memo, then it would only contribute to the public's distrust in politics.
Ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai said he was "sick and tired" of the situation. A sense of crisis is spreading throughout the Diet including the ruling bloc. The Diet should summon Yanase and the Kake institution head to testify as sworn witnesses in an effort to get to the bottom of the scandal.