• Kyodo, Jiji

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Two former chiefs of a government advisory body on Friday criticized Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for blocking six scholars from joining the body and demanded that he disclose the reasons for his decision.

Suga is under fire for not approving the six, who have been critical of his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s policies, from among 105 nominees to the Science Council of Japan.

“I can only say it is wrong. He can’t fulfill his responsibility as prime minister without giving the reasons for rejecting them,” said Seigo Hirowatari, who headed the council in 2011, at a hearing held by opposition lawmakers.

“If (the prime minister) rejected the appointment of nominees by applying different selection standards from the council’s criteria, it would be a violation of the law governing the organization,” another former president, Takashi Onishi, also told the session at the Diet.

Onishi served as chief of the council between 2011 and 2017. The organization is under the jurisdiction of the prime minister but is operated independently from the state.

The council, established in 1949, represents the nation’s science community and covers the fields of social science, humanities and natural and life sciences. Its duties include providing policy recommendations to the government.

Since the current system of member appointments, based on a recommendation by the council, was adopted in 2004, no nominee had been denied until Suga turned down the six earlier this month.

The rejected scholars are known for being critical of Abe’s policies, including his push to reinterpret the pacifist Constitution. Suga has not provided any reasons that they were unfit to sit on the council.

At the hearing session, the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, among others, asked the two former chiefs about the process in 2016 to select candidates to fill vacancies on the council.

Onishi said the Prime Minister’s Office at that time sought the council’s explanations about the candidates during the selection process.

Hirowatari has also told some media that the Prime Minister’s Office was reluctant to appoint some candidates in 2016.

The opposition bloc claims the office at that time “interfered with the personnel affairs” of the council, which changes half of its 210 members every three years.

Meanwhile, administrative and regulatory reform minister Taro Kono said Friday the government will carry out reform measures at the secretariat of the Science Council of Japan.

The government is expected to review by year-end the size of budget funds allocated to the council’s secretariat in the Cabinet Office and the number of its staff. But the government is unlikely to change the council’s membership.

Kono said the government has received a request from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to check the council to see whether administrative reform measures are necessary for it.

The government is slated to examine how many staff the secretariat needs for the council’s activities, Kono said.

“The review will target the secretariat staff, not the council’s members,” Kono said.

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