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Editorial: Japan PM Suga slow to make decisions again as press secretary finally resigns

On March 1, Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada resigned amid reports she was treated to a dinner worth more than 70,000 yen (about $655) by broadcasting firm Tohokushinsha Film Corp. -- the company that employs Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's eldest son.

    There is no other way of putting it: the decision came far too late. Prime Minister Suga bears a heavy responsibility for neglecting the issue until now.

    Yamada has reportedly been hospitalized due to ill health, and is said to have offered her resignation, saying that she could not continue to fulfill her role as public relations secretary.

    But the reality is that she was forced to quit and take responsibility for her actions after public opinion against her did not subside.

    This isn't just about receiving treatment for sums vastly exceeding what can be acceptable for anyone with common sense. It cannot be ignored that, initially, Yamada explained that she had "no memory" of the dinner in question. When the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications compiled its report on the same meeting, she switched to acknowledging and apologizing for it, but still after that she repeatedly gave vague answers on the details when questioned in the Diet.

    The Cabinet public relations secretary is responsible for explaining the government's policies to the people. Her present conduct will lead to a loss of trust in the government as a whole.

    At the same time, the prime minister indicated that he intended to have Yamada retain her position, saying, "I have expectations for her as a woman who is public relations secretary." This response is also incomprehensible.

    Prime Minister Suga has reportedly come to place his faith in Yamada since his time as minister for internal affairs and communications. Following her resignation, he has only expressed regret over her leaving. When asked about his own responsibility over her appointment, he avoids the question.

    Did he really think they would be able to get through this without changing course? If that is the case, his sense is completely off.

    As it was with coronavirus prevention measures, the response this time has come after the horse has bolted. Distrust and dissatisfaction with the prime minister have likely spread even further.

    Last week, Suga did not hold a press conference following the decision to lift the state of emergency declaration in some prefectures. Suspicions that this was done to hide Yamada, who would have presided over the conference, are not going away.

    Furthermore, in remarks Suga gave to a group of journalists -- done in place of the press conference -- the prime minister irritably cut off a question, saying, "Aren't these just all the same kinds of questions?" It seems he is losing his composure.

    The suspicions at the heart of the dinner meetings with the communications ministry, that Tohokushinsha may have received some kind of preferential treatment in the broadcasting business, remain unresolved.

    With Yamada in the hospital, her summoning to the National Diet has been shelved. But once she has recovered, she should give a thorough explanation to the Diet. By not running away or attempting to mislead, it would be a first step for the Suga administration to regain trust.

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