That national and local government organizations have been inflating the number of people on their payrolls with disabilities — to meet legally mandated quotas by “arbitrarily interpreting” the guideline on hiring such people under the law to promote employment of disabled workers — is simply inexcusable. An investigative panel probing the malpractice said it could find no evidence that the organizations intentionally cheated to get around the requirements, but the way they padded their numbers indicate that the government bodies — which are supposed to set the example for increasing employment of people with disabilities — lacked any awareness of what the law aims to achieve.

The law for promoting employment of people with disabilities, which dates back to 1960 in its original form, requires employers in both the public and private sectors to hire people with physical, intellectual or mental disabilities to account for a certain portion of their workforce — with the mandatory ratio raised to 2.5 percent for government organizations and 2.2 percent for private sector companies since April. Companies that fail to meet the mandatory ratio will be fined, while no such penalties are imposed on public sector bodies. The law aims to create a society that ensures work opportunities for everyone irrespective of disabilities.

The government earlier said its ministries and agencies employed roughly 6,800 people with disabilities, or nearly 2.5 percent of the total. Then in August, it turned out that about half of these workers did not meet the labor ministry guideline on people to be covered by the program, such as possessing a disability certificate or relevant medical diagnosis. A report released last week by a third-party panel commissioned to probe the matter said 28 of the 33 central government organizations “inappropriately” included around 3,700 people in their head counts of workers with disabilities. Similarly, local governments across the country incorrectly listed some 3,800 workers as having disabilities.

According to the panel, the organizations hired some 3,400 people without checking whether they have a disability certificate because officials did not “properly understand” the rule requiring such a procedure. The panel said this took place because the ministries and agencies “arbitrarily interpreted” the definition of people with disabilities under the labor ministry guideline, such as counting among them workers with limited eyesight based on their uncorrected vision. The organizations together listed 91 workers who had retired, including three who were dead, among their disabled staff because they reused past data without verifying whether those people were still on their payroll. The panel also criticized the labor ministry, despite its responsibility to oversee implementation of the policy, for not being serious enough about checking the compliance of other government organizations.

The panel said it could not conclude that any of the government organizations had intentionally cheated — because all the ministries and agencies denied doing so — and attributed the practice to “sloppy handling” of the matter. At the same time, the panel said it suspected that the organizations padded their numbers in order to meet the legally mandated quotas.

Whether the officials intentionally tried to circumvent the rules or were just being sloppy, it seems clear the government organizations were not serious enough to make good on the purpose of the law to promote employment of people with disabilities. As the organizations padded their numbers with staff who apparently do not qualify for the program, some people with disabilities were deprived of the employment opportunities they were entitled to under the law.

The law is designed to create job opportunities for people with disabilities so they can give full play to their abilities at work. The problem exposed in the public sector organizations puts the credibility of the government’s policy in doubt. It should not set back the efforts by private sector firms, though still insufficient, to increase their hiring of people with disabilities. While the number of people with disabilities working at private sector firms hit a record 496,000 last year, only half the companies with the legal obligation to employ those people have so far cleared the minimum rate.

The government reportedly plans to hire roughly 4,000 more people with disabilities by the end of next year so its organizations will meet the quota. But temporary measures to make up for the shameful lapse in government behavior — if indeed such a plan is feasible amid the tight competition with the private sector — will not be enough. What’s more important will be steady efforts to develop a work environment in both the public and private sectors in which all people irrespective of disabilities will be able to realize their potential.

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