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Labor ministry’s governance called into question over statistics handling

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe ruling and opposition parties focused on a problem of improper statistical surveys. It is hoped that a wide variety of issues are discussed at the House of Representatives Budget Committee as a place where overall national political affairs are deliberated.

Basic interpellations concerning a draft budget for fiscal 2019 have started at the Budget Committee. Yasuyuki Onishi, a former director general for statistics and information policy of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, appeared as an unsworn witness at the request of opposition parties regarding the inappropriate monthly labor surveys.

Onishi said that “I have not checked by myself” since assuming the post in July last year. He explained that he had not been aware of the problem until the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry pointed it out in December. He can only be called irresponsible as he was in a position to administer the statistics.

Inappropriate surveys had been conducted continuously since 2004, involving many people in charge. With only Onishi being grilled, the whole picture is unlikely to be elucidated.

The labor ministry’s special inspection committee will continue to probe and verify the labor statistics, while the verification of the Basic Survey on Wage Structure, about which a new problem has been revealed, will be conducted by the internal affairs ministry.

Why did the inappropriate surveys continue for years? Was there any cover-up? The government must take measures to prevent similar misconduct after making necessary arrangements and uncovering the past circumstances and backgrounds.

Questions have been raised over the labor ministry’s governance.

Onishi explained to the Budget Committee that he had reported this matter to the ministry’s top brass — the chief of the secretariat on Dec. 18, the administrative vice minister on Dec. 19 and the minister, Takumi Nemoto, on Dec. 20 — after becoming aware of it on Dec. 13.

Constructive discussion key

Nevertheless, the labor ministry released the results of labor statistical surveys on Dec. 21 without revealing the irregularities in the data. Stern criticism cannot be avoided.

Nemoto said in response: “Such a practice of mishandling [the statistics] was allowed to continue unthinkingly, and reports were not made to superiors timely. Organizational reform must be carried out.” Nemoto himself should reflect on the matter and undertake the ministry’s internal reform.

Supplemental payments in employment insurance and other services, for which the improper surveys caused underpayments, are scheduled to begin soon. It is imperative that the payments will be made steadily based on a work schedule.

It is crucial to discuss economic measures in a constructive manner.

The government has released monthly labor statistics for 2018. Real wages, which are adjusted to reflect changes in the prices of commodities, rose 0.2 percent from the previous year. It has corrected the data obtained in an inappropriate sampling survey in Tokyo.

The opposition parties argue that the real wages would have shown negative growth if some surveyed business establishments had not been replaced with new ones. They call for making public survey results based on a consistent sample of businesses.

Statistics can be viewed differently, depending on how they are obtained. It is necessary to grasp the real picture of the economy objectively and try to have lively yet calm discussions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2019)Speech



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