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Labor ministry reveals 53.7 billion yen in benefits shortfalls, promises payment

Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Takumi Nemoto bows in apology at a news conference held in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Jan. 11, 2019. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revealed it has failed to pay a total of some 53.7 billion yen (about $495.7 million) in benefits to an estimated 20 million people since 2004.

The payment shortfalls were apparently due to the introduction that year of inappropriate data collection methods for part of the ministry's monthly jobs statistics reports, which are used to calculate benefit amounts.

"It is extremely regrettable that this problem occurred in (ministry) statistics, which form the foundation of policymaking and academic research," labor minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters at a post-Cabinet meeting news conference on Jan. 11. "I apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing people trouble."

According to individuals close to the ministry, unemployment insurance payment shortfalls totaled some 28 billion yen, affecting around 19 million people over the 15-year period from 2004. Compensation payments for temporary work absences were short by a total of around 24.15 billion yen, impacting approximately 720,000 recipients, and around 10,000 people were shortchanged on seamen's insurance payments to a total of some 1.6 billion yen. Shortfalls averaged about 1,400 yen per person for unemployment insurance recipients, 90,000 yen for pensioners, 150,000 yen for seamen's insurance beneficiaries, and 300 yen per month for each temporary work absence compensation recipient.

The labor ministry stated it will disburse the unpaid amounts to the proper beneficiaries. Recipients with addresses still on-record will receive letters, while the ministry will post notices on its homepage and other locations to inform those who have moved that they may be entitled additional payments. Recipients who received more money than they were supposed to will not be asked to pay the extra amount back.

The problems with the jobs statistics were apparently discovered in December last year when Kiyohiko Nishimura, chairman of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Statistics Commission, pointed out that some of the figures looked unnatural.

Labor ministry rules state that all companies with 500 or more employees must be subject to the jobs stats survey. However, as for the survey for Tokyo, the ministry included only about 500 of the 1,400 or so firms of this size in the figures from 2004. The official in charge apparently knew from 2004 on that the survey group was not being fully covered. The ministry said it is investigating the circumstances that led to the inappropriate practices.

Nemoto indicated that those involved in the benefit payment errors would be punished once an investigation had been concluded. However, "at this point, I don't believe there was any organizational attempt to cover up the problem," the minister added.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters on Jan. 11 that it was "highly likely" that the unpaid benefits would require the Cabinet to revisit the fiscal 2019 budget draft it approved in late December last year. "We will move ahead with our inquiries with an eye to adding the required amount to the fiscal 2019 budget," he said.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Kazuki Mogami, City News Department)

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