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Editorial: Abe must change attitude to clear up gov't scandals caused by cover-ups

The government has got bogged down in a quagmire as new facts relating to favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, and the cover-up of daily logs from Self-Defense Force troops deployed to Iraq, among other scandals, have surfaced one after another.

It was confirmed on April 13 that a document turned up at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry recording that a secretary to the prime minister told Ehime Prefectural Government and Kake officials in April 2015 that the school corporation's plan to establish a veterinary school in the prefecture was "a matter concerning the prime minister."

The government's responses to the series of scandals have been slow and inadequate, showing that the administration's governance is in critical situation.

This is because the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to deny all the facts that are unfavorable to the administration without even conducting investigations. The Abe government is now being forced to pay the price for these practices.

For example, Prime Minister Abe demanded opposition parties and others show proof over their suspicions that the prime minister's office was involved in the establishment of Kake's veterinary school in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. However, after the Ehime Prefecture document, which could be important evidence, turned up, the prime minister then told the Diet that "the national government is in no position to comment" on the matter.

Under the circumstances, it is impossible to get to the bottom of the scandal. The government's inability to confirm facts, which are indispensable for discussions, highlights defects in its administrative functions.

The government's response to the Moritomo Gakuen case began with the prime minister's flat denial of his wife Akie and others' involvement in the matter. However, the government has failed to clear her of suspicions that she was involved in the matter. Doubts remain that the Finance Ministry may have doctored relevant documents in order to keep their contents consistent with the prime minister's statements on the case.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry's handling of Nomura Real Estate Development Co.'s illegal adoption of the discretionary labor system for employees was also problematic. News organizations reported that the death of an employee at the company from overwork had been recognized as a work-related accident before the ministry's Tokyo Labor Bureau warned the company for illegally applying the discretionary labor system to employees. However, the ministry had not acknowledged this fact for some time. This is apparently because the ministry showed political consideration as the admission of this fact could adversely affect the prospects for enacting the government-sponsored work-style reform bill.

Under the Abe administration, the prime minister's office has wielded huge influence on ministries and agencies by controlling the appointments of high-ranking bureaucrats. As a result, the warped relationship between politicians and bureaucrats, in which bureaucrats flatter the prime minister and other top government officials, has become more serious. There are even signs that bureaucrats are beginning to overstep their authority and join hands with politicians, as is symbolized by the fact that a secretary to the prime minister jeered at an opposition party legislator who was asking questions in a Diet session.

The legislature has no choice but to concentrate on getting to the bottom of the series of scandals. It is only natural that even some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have started saying that the government has accountability for all these cases. To rise above the quagmire, the prime minister must fundamentally change his attitude.

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