Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has been moving quickly to eliminate “negative legacies,” such as those carried over from the years when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in office.
Kishida is apparently trying to remove, as far as possible, any sources of concern to avoid being grilled by opposition parties at next year’s regular session of parliament.
At a news conference last week, as part of those efforts, Kishida announced a decision to discard cloth face masks the state had secured to cope with a shortage of the protective gear early in the coronavirus pandemic — including “Abenomasks,” which were procured under the Abe administration. The decision was made in light of the huge costs of keeping in storage the numerous Abenomasks that remain in stock.
“I have issued instructions for distributing cloth masks (from stock) to people who need them, and discarding (all remaining masks) by the end of fiscal 2021,” he said at the beginning of the news conference.
But Kishida’s strategy runs the risk of angering Abe, who leads the biggest faction in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Since spring 2020, when Japan was hit by a shortage of face masks amid the pandemic, the administration of then Prime Minister Abe purchased about 290 million cloth masks for distribution to all of the nation’s residents.
But as the supply problem was later resolved, many of the masks remained in storage. As of the end of March this year, as many as 82.72 million masks had been piled up in warehouses, and in fiscal 2020 storage fees amounted to about ¥600 million.
The opposition, which blasted the government over the mask issue during the extraordinary Diet session earlier this month, had been planning to continue grilling the ruling parties at the upcoming regular session.
While government agencies and ministries were working to come up with ideas on effective ways to use the masks, such as sending them to developing countries hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, Kishida led the move to get rid of them, according to a government source, who quoted the prime minister as saying, “Let’s discard them quickly.”
Kishida also took action over the Finance Ministry’s tampering of public records on the sale of a state-owned plot of land at a deep discount to school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
Regarding a lawsuit filed by the widow of an employee at the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau who committed suicide after allegedly being ordered to tamper with documents relating to the land sale, the ministry informed Kishida on Dec. 14 of a plan for the state to admit its responsibility and pay damages to the plaintiff over the suicide, bringing the legal matter to a close.
The day after the prime minister approved the plan, the ministry accepted the plaintiff’s claim for damages. As a result, the lawsuit came to an end, although an opportunity to get to the truth surrounding the ministry employee’s suicide through the courts was lost.
In another matter, Abe, who served as prime minister for nearly eight years until September 2020, came under fire for inviting to annual cherry blossom-viewing parties a number of people related to a group of his supporters.
At a meeting of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives on Dec. 14, Kishida said: “There is a great deal that should be regretted. My Cabinet has no plan to hold such a party.”
Kishida took office in early October and replaced former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Abe and held the leadership post for about a year.
Some in the LDP believe Abe must be unhappy about Kishida’s moves to eliminate the negative legacies.
According to a source, when Kishida informed Abe over the phone of his decision to discard the cloth masks, before announcing the matter, the only reply the former prime minister made was “Is that so?”
On Thursday, Kishida visited Abe at his office in the building for Lower House members with a gift of smoked oysters in oil.
Upon returning to the prime minister’s office, Kishida told reporters that the visit was for the purpose of a “year-end greeting,” adding, “We didn’t have complicated talks. There is no need to worry.” Oysters are a specialty of Hiroshima Prefecture, where Kishida’s Lower House constituency is located.
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