The Defense Ministry was hit again Wednesday by another apparent data cover-up scandal involving Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, prompting opposition lawmakers to further step up their calls for her immediate resignation.
On Tuesday, it was reported that anonymous government sources had said that Inada attended a Feb. 15 meeting of top ministry and Self-Defense Force officials where a decision was made to cover up the existence of daily activity logs pertaining to SDF operations in South Sudan that were said to have been discarded.
The revelation, if true, is scandalous because Inada has repeatedly claimed in public that she knew nothing of the cover-up decision within the ministry.
The overseas operations of the SDF are a sensitive topic in Japan given the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.
The SDF’s mission in South Sudan, which concluded in May, was particularly controversial because troops there had been authorized to use their weapons under certain conditions due to the dangerous environment in which they were operating.
Facing reporters Wednesday morning, Inada denied the allegation reported by Kyodo News and the Asahi Shimbun. The latter carried on Wednesday a similar story based on anonymous government sources.
“In fact I didn’t approve a cover-up or the decision not to disclose (the logs) as reported” in the media articles, Inada told reporters.
Still, the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, held an emergency meeting Wednesday where it called on Inada to immediately step down.
Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he wanted Inada to “sincerely keep fulfilling her duties” as defense chief, rejecting the DP’s call for her resignation.
The Defense Ministry had maintained in public that Ground Self-Defense Force personnel discarded the daily logs. But last December the ministry discovered digital copies of the documents at the SDF’s Joint Staff and made public part of the records on Feb. 7, based on a request under the Information Disclosure Law.
Meanwhile, in January, another set of digital files were found within the GSDF. But at the Feb. 15 meeting, the attendants, including Inada, decided to cover up that fact, trying to avoid withdrawing its earlier public announcement, according to Kyodo News.
Then, on March 15, media reports revealed that the activities logs were in fact kept by the GSDF. On March 16 Inada told a Lower House committee that the cover-up was “not reported” to her.
Two days later, on March 17, Inada tasked an in-house investigative team with the responsibility of finding out who was behind the GSDF cover-up. The team is expected to publish its report soon.
The latest allegations of a cover-up involving Inada is likely to weigh further on the recently falling public approval rate in polls of Abe’s Cabinet.
Polls conducted earlier this month by various media outlets showed the approval rates have all fallen to hit around 30 to 40 percent, the lowest-ever levels since Abe’s Cabinet assumed power in December 2012.
A large drop in the approval rate erodes Abe’s political clout since it reduces the chances of his Liberal Democratic Party members winning re-election.
Many critics have maintained Inada is not qualified to hold the top defense position in the government, citing several gaffes attributed to her and what they say is a failure to win the trust of officials in her ministry and SDF officers.
Inada’s alleged misconduct issues are among a number of scandals involving Cabinet members that have pushed down the public approval rate of Abe’s Cabinet in recent polls.
Abe plans to carry out a Cabinet reshuffle early next month in a bid to boost his government’s image.
Inada is widely expected to be replaced in any reshuffle.