Can Abe restore trust in his govt? The Japan News

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) answers questions during a budget dommittee meeting in the Upper House at parliament in Tokyo on July 25, 2017, as he and other relevant ministers were expected to face more questioning over issues over a suspect
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) answers questions during a budget dommittee meeting in the Upper House at parliament in Tokyo on July 25, 2017, as he and other relevant ministers were expected to face more questioning over issues over a suspected scandal.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on 26 June, the paper urges the Prime Minister and his team to make full disclosure in the favouritism scandal.

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - To restore trust in the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it is indispensable for the Prime Minister and members of his Cabinet to actively continue offering careful explanations in response to various doubts.

During deliberations held at the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives while the Diet is out of session, the Prime Minister reiterated his denial of any involvement in the planned establishment of a veterinary science department by the Kake Educational Institution.

Mr Abe told the committee that he had not received "any approach or request" from the head of the school corporation, who is a friend of his, saying: "I never give instructions about any specific cases."

He also offered words of repentance, saying: "It is reasonable that (the Kake case) should be viewed by the public with suspicion, given that a friend of mine is involved in it. This perspective was lacking in my replies (previously given to questions about the matter)."

Regarding a fall in the approval rating for his Cabinet, Mr Abe said: "It seems to partly reflect the criticisms made about the stance I took in responding to questions."

In the past, the Prime Minister was conspicuously unbending in opposing criticisms levelled by opposition parties, as shown by his description of the accusations as "impression manipulation".

At the latest deliberations, however, he remained humble from start to finish.

The focus of the problem is whether any favourable treatment was given to the Kake school corporation in connection with its plan to found a new faculty of veterinary medicine under the national strategic special zone scheme.

Although multiple figures summoned as witnesses replied to questions at the committee, no unmistakable facts indicative of illegal administrative procedures tied to the case were brought to light.

Mr Kihei Maekawa, a former administrative vice education minister, reiterated that he had been urged by Mr Hiroto Izumi, a special adviser to the Prime Minister, to take prompt action in September last year.

"The Prime Minister cannot say this from my own lips, so I'll say it on his behalf," Mr Maekawa quoted Mr Izumi as telling him.

Mr Izumi denied making this remark and said he had urged Mr Maekawa to "act with a sense of speed" regarding overall regulatory reforms.

Mr Izumi also said he was not aware of a friendship between the Prime Minister and the Kake chief until March this year. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister said he learnt in January about an application filed by the school corporation for the establishment of a new faculty.

The remarks made by the Prime Minister and others are viewed by some as unnatural. If their remarks are true, however, the accusation that special treatment was given to the Prime Minister's friend does not seem to be valid.

It is understandable for Mr Izumi and other staff at the Prime Minister's Office to urge each ministry and agency to expedite regulatory reforms. In doing so, there must be extreme care and attention so that such demands will not be taken as efforts to treat certain regions and business operators unfairly and preferentially.

Questions can be raised about the fact that government officials continue to frequently give such replies as "We have no such record" and "I have no such recollection."

They include Mr Tadao Yanase, vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, who previously served as a secretary to the Prime Minister.

"I do not remember," he repeatedly said in connection with a meeting with officials from the Imabari city government in Ehime Prefecture, which campaigned to bring in Kake's planned veterinary science department. It is essential to further examine records on persons entering the Prime Minister's Office and offer convincing explanations.

"I want to seriously think about what can be done to clear up the doubts held by the public," the Prime Minister said.

It is no easy task to prove that no favourable treatment was provided.

The entire administration has no choice but to offer in-depth explanations at every turn.