THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
October 10, 2020 at 15:40 JST
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga responds to a question during a group interview on Oct. 9. (Tsubasa Setoguchi)
Embattled Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he never saw the full list of scholars recommended for membership to the Science Council of Japan, further clouding a growing scandal over his refusal to appoint six academics to the august body.
Suga made the comment during a group interview with media representatives Oct. 9 that raised more questions than were answered.
The main point of interest was Suga’s rejection of six scholars for membership in what many people view as retaliation for their political views that put them at odds with his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
Questions were only taken from reporters from three media organizations--The Asahi Shimbun, The Mainichi Shimbun and the Jiji Press news agency--while other members of the press club covering the Cabinet sat and listened to the responses.
Suga was asked about the process behind the decision to appoint only 99 of the 105 scholars recommended by the Science Council.
Suga explained that he approved the new members on Sept. 28 and said, “I only saw the list of recommended members shortly before.”
He said the list he confirmed only had 99 names on it and that he never saw the original list of 105 names submitted by the Science Council.
Suga said he had no idea who was involved in removing the six scholars from the list that finally reached him.
When asked why the six were not appointed, Suga went back to wording he and other government officials have used over the past few days by referring to the need for “a comprehensive perspective while looking at the big picture” to explain the decision-making.
“In other words, (members) should be active while taking a well-balanced and wide-ranging perspective,” he added. “I decided on all members while keeping in mind that they should be individuals who have the understanding of the general public.”
Suga flatly rejected assertions that the personal views and beliefs of the six scholars had anything to do with them being rejected.
The six scholars who were rejected had expressed opposition to various policy measures taken when Abe was prime minister.
Suga also said that the matter of new members to the Science Council was not a topic that Abe touched upon when handing over the reins of government and explaining what issues still needed handling by the incoming administration.
He again explained that he made his decision after pondering whether it was appropriate to simply follow past precedent and automatically approve the list of recommended members submitted by the Science Council.
Suga was also asked about calls from within the government to review the very existence of the Science Council.
“I would welcome such a move if it meant the Science Council would progress in a good direction,” Suga said. “While I have no intention of giving instructions for such a review, it might be a topic that is taken up during discussions on administrative reform.”
The Science Council is asking Suga to immediately appoint the six who were left off, but the prime minister said he had no intention of changing the decision.
However, he said he was willing to meet with Takaaki Kajita, the current Science Council president who is the 2015 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics and heads the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo.
Suga was also asked about instructions given to guides at a recently opened memorial museum to the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to not criticize the central government or Tokyo Electric Power Co. during their talks.
The objective of the museum is to pass on to visitors the lessons learned from the nuclear disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The guides were chosen from people who lived through the nuclear disaster or completed a training course.
“It will be extremely important for those who experienced the natural disaster to speak frankly about what they went through,” Suga said.
The Science Council was established in 1949 on the basis of the lessons learned from bitter experiences in the prewar period when science was used for the war effort. Its missions include making policy proposals concerning science, promoting cooperation among Japanese and foreign scientists and enlightening the public on scientific issues.
Although it is an organization set up within the government, the council is defined as a special institution that operates independently.
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