A panel investigating faulty jobs data denied Wednesday that there had been a systematic cover-up at the labor ministry, saying top bureaucrats had been unaware monthly labor surveys were “conducted improperly” for almost 15 years.
The conclusion reached by the investigative committee was based on a probe that followed a report released on Jan. 22, which was criticized after it was revealed that ministry officials had been involved in its drafting. The first report had said there was no definitive proof of a ministry-wide cover-up.
The scandal, which came to light in January, involved sampling irregularities and led to the underpayment of work-related benefits to more than 20 million people, as well as casting doubt over the accuracy of government statistics.
“We will make efforts to regain public trust and ensure a similar case does not happen again,” said Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto as he received the report from the panel’s chairman Yoshio Higuchi. Higuchi is also the president of the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training — a think tank affiliated with the ministry.
The new report by the panel of statistical experts and lawyers was based on interviews with around 60 ministry officials, and found that multiple officials including senior members of the statistics section were responsible for the improper compilation of data.
The report also indicated that there had been insufficient appreciation within the ministry of the importance of public statistics.
Opposition parties have slammed the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, claiming the ministry published the faulty data to make the prime minister’s “Abenomics” economic policy package appear more successful than it actually was.
“The (new) report is extremely inadequate and regrettable as it puts the blame on lower-ranking officials,” said Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, to reporters.
The monthly labor survey serves as a key indicator of the country’s employment conditions, covering over 30,000 business establishments across the country. The data is used to calculate unemployment benefits.
In the survey, the ministry is supposed to collect results from all businesses in the country with 500 or more employees. But in Tokyo it had only surveyed a third of around 1,400 such businesses since 2004.
The shortage of data from major companies, which usually pay higher wages than smaller firms, meant nationwide wage figures were calculated as lower than they actually were.
In January last year the ministry began using software to make it appear that the necessary data had been collected, leading to a sudden rise in wage figures.