Koizumi warns ministers following gaffe by Sugiura

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi already has some words of caution for his new Cabinet — they must be careful what they say.

During Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting, the second since the reshuffle the day before, Koizumi urged all ministers to watch what they say and avoid slips of the tongue, which have been a problem for many past administrations.

“The prime minister told each minister to be conscious of (his or her responsibility) as a minister when speaking both in their home districts and other places,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said during his daily news conference.

According to Abe, Koizumi spoke of the matter in general terms and did not elaborate.

But Koizumi may have been thinking of new Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura.

Earlier in the day, Sugiura, a former practicing lawyer, was forced to withdraw a remark he had made only an hour earlier. At his first news conference he said he would not sign execution orders.

Sugiura said he would not sign an execution document due to “matters of my heart, religion and philosophy.”

He later issued a statement withdrawing his remarks, saying they did not refer to his duties as justice minister.

The question of whether a justice minister will sign execution orders is always the focus of public attention after a new Cabinet is formed.

Newly appointed ministers often get into hot water at their first news conference as they tend to express their personal beliefs before being told by bureaucrats what policies they are expected to follow.