Suspiciously, councilwoman was removed from meeting just before introducing governmental reform proposal.

During a session of the Kumamoto city council on September 28, the legislators in attendance vocally expressed shock and anger when their colleague, 43-year-old councilwoman Yuka Ogata, approached the podium to give a speech while she had a cough drop in her mouth. Ogata began to explain that she had been suffering from a cold and was using the medicine in hopes of lessening the amount of distracting coughing she might do while in the assembly hall, but was quickly shouted down as the scheduled discussion was suspended and a special disciplinary meeting was held.

The council then took eight hours to debate how to punish Ogata, eventually deciding by unanimous vote (excepting Ogata’s, naturally) to have her removed from the assembly hall, after which the remaining council members resumed voting on budgetary and administrative proposals.

That sort of disproportionate reaction would be deplorable enough in the private sector, but it’s especially bold for a group of civil servants, especially since there were news cameras running when assembly chairman Shinya Kutuski stopped Ogata on her way to the podium and, in a condescending tone of voice, asked “Do you have something in your mouth?” as shown in the video below.

While the other members of the council felt justified in their response, many people in Japan have found their actions exasperating, and none more so than a Kumamoto City citizens group called the Kumamoto Municipal Self-Government Improvement Society. The group is angry about the council’s treatment of Ogata not just on the grounds of basic courtesy and common sense, but also because Ogata was approaching the podium to introduce a proposal for a city council-related governmental reform that the Kumamoto Municipal Self-Government Improvement Society was calling for.

That timing casts further suspicion on whether the other council members sincerely felt that Ogata’s sucking on a cough drop constituted a failure to “respect the dignity of the council” (the official reason given for her reprimand and removal), or if their lozenge lamentations were simply a convenient way to brush aside the voices of a group of constituents they had no interest in listening or adhering to.

On October 1, the Kumamoto Municipal Self-Government Improvement Society held a press conference, saying “There is no legal justification for punishing a councilwoman for using a cough drop to suppress her coughing, and we find the council’s actions to be unacceptable.” They also called for the council to make amends, demanding “The session should be reopened, and the interrupted procedure for the councilwoman to introduce the reform, and have it voted on, carried out.”

The group also visited the offices of the city council secretariat, where it delivered a written version of their statement, addressed to Shinya Kutuski. It’s unclear if any of them were purposefully sucking on cough drops during their visit.

Source: NHK News Web via Jin, Asahi Shimbun Digital via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso