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Japan gov't has docs on process of omitting 6 scholars but won't release them

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga raises his hand to answer questions posed by Renho, acting leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, during a House of Councillors budget committee session on Nov. 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato on Nov. 5 revealed that the Cabinet Office has retained documents recording the process of how the government decided to eliminate six scholars from a list of 105 candidates to become new members of the Science Council of Japan.

    The revelation came during a House of Councillors budget committee session amid talks over Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's refusal to appoint the six scholars to the science council despite the body's recommendations. Opposition parties demanded that the government submit the documents to the Diet, but Kato declined the request, saying they "are records concerning personnel affairs."

    The top government spokesman acknowledged the presence of the documents after Renho, acting leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said, "Is there any official document relating to the process of eliminating the six scholars?" Kato replied, "The Cabinet Office manages records on exchanges between Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita and the office over the process leading up to the appointments (to the science council)."

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, looks down at papers before answering questions posed by Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan acting leader Renho during a House of Councillors budget committee session on Nov. 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

    Prime Minister Suga explained that he had conveyed his "concerns" over science council appointments to Sugita and others after he took office on Sept. 16. According to Suga, Sugita then consulted with him around Sept. 22 or 23, about eliminating the six scholars and appointing 99 scholars to the council. The Cabinet Office proposed this plan on Sept. 24 and the prime minister finalized the decision on Sept. 28.

    While Renho requested that the series of public documents be released, Kato refused to comply, saying, "The disclosure could cause disruption to fair and smooth personnel affairs in the future."

    It has now come to light that Prime Minister Suga consulted with Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sugita ahead of Suga's controversial rejection of the six scholars, and that the Cabinet Office retains documents regarding Sugita's consultations with the office. Renho asked once again that Sugita be summoned to the Diet as an unsworn witness, saying, "Mr. Sugita is the key figure."

    Regarding his rejection of the appointments, Prime Minister Suga pointed to the background leading to his decision, saying, "This time around, there was no coordination (with the science council) prior to its nomination (of new members), and as a result, some of the nominees ended up not being appointed." Suga suggested that the science council was responsible for the rejection of the appointments because it did not provide the prime minister's office in advance with a list of nominees in excess of the 105 seats to be replaced, like it did in 2014 and 2017.

    With regard to the council having vacancies now due to the omission, Suga said, "There were times in the past when the council was short of members." He also suggested that the lack of a full membership was not in violation of the Act on Science Council of Japan, which sets the capacity for the academic body.

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kaite and Tadashi Sano, Political News Department)

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