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Editorial: Integrate gov't statistics bodies into single, independent organization

Illicit activities associated with government statistics are emerging one after another, and efforts to correct these problems by relevant ministries are lacking.

Statistics form part of the foundation of a modern country. Their collection methods in Japan, however, have been wrong for many years with no serious efforts to find and correct the violations. This is a serious situation.

In the case of the Monthly Labor Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the first of the statistics found with problems, the collection method was changed without necessary permission, and was adjusted secretly after about 15 years.

Yasuyuki Onishi, former director-general in charge of statistics policy at the labor ministry, told the House of Representatives Budget Committee that he first learned of the problem on Dec. 13, 2018. Upon hearing this remark, one has no choice but to think that irresponsibility is prevalent in the ministry.

Behind this illicit act lies the government's attitude of making light of statistics. The number of central government bureaucrats in charge of statistics halved to around 1,900 during the past decade, as run-of-the-mill jobs have been easier to ax.

The government designates 56 surveys as "fundamental statics" that provide vital information for policymaking. However, these pieces of data are collected by nine government ministries and agencies, such as the Vital Statistics demographic survey by the health ministry, the Census of Manufactures by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Labor Force Survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Moreover, many of the senior officials in charge of managing such statistical surveys are not experts on the subject, and their oversight is not necessarily effective.

The internal affairs ministry's Statistics Commission is supposed to check if those polls are conducted properly, but it is obvious that the panel was not functioning properly. For just one organization of a single ministry to watch over multiple ministries and agencies is no easy task.

Many leading countries see compiling statistics as a fundamental mission. In Britain, the Office for National Statistics, which reports to the parliament, produces most of the main statistics. This arrangement was made based on discussions about the independence of statistical organizations from the administrative branch, which date back to around 2000. In the United States, as many as 9,000 officials are involved in the making of the main surveys alone.

In response to the labor data scandals, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would implement "comprehensive countermeasures." What is needed is not just finding out why the wrongdoing occurred, but also reviewing the weight given to statistics. The government should consider integrating statistics making missions into a single independent agency to be monitored by a third-party organization. Getting rid of divided statistics production would be effective in making the process more efficient through the introduction of innovative data collection and analysis methods.

Japan made fatal mistakes during World War II by making light of objective numbers. The government should give more serious consideration to warnings about illicit statistics.

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