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Abe says he learned of wage data scandal on Dec. 28, 8 days after labor minister

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks in a plenary session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 30, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Jan. 30 that he first received a report from his secretary about the labor data scandal on Dec. 28 last year, during testimony before a Diet House of Representative plenary session.

Abe said he instructed related parties to "thoroughly examine the case" at the time. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said he was informed on the same day.

The date is eight days after Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto said he was informed of the scandal on Dec. 20, 2018. Opposition parties are poised to press the administration over why it took more than a week for the information to reach the prime minister.

Abe told the lower house question and answer session held in response to his policy speech on Jan. 28 that he would do his best to prevent a recurrence of the scandal. He added that he would also accelerate the payment of overdue work-related benefit payments caused by the statistics problem.

The prime minister explained that he had instructed relevant government ministries and agencies to review the impact of the data corruption in the Monthly Labor Survey of wages and working hours, and intents to let them make the results public. Abe said it has been "confirmed that (the data problem) does not affect the gross domestic product."

Meanwhile, also during the session, Abe renewed his willingness to write the presence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) into the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, one of his long-term goals. "Clarifying the mission of SDF personnel, who are putting their lives on the line for the people of Japan, in the text (of the Constitution) is related to the foundation of national defense," he argued.

As for his avoidance of referring to South Korea in his Jan. 28 policy speech, Abe said it is "not appropriate to start a shouting match." The two countries have been at odds over a number of issues, including the compensation of Korean laborers forced to work at Japanese factories during the war, as well as a South Korean destroyer allegedly locking fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane.

Abe emphasized that it is "extremely regrettable that a series of developments denying the premise (of the bilateral relationship) that Japan and South Korea have worked to establish is underway." The premier added that he will "strongly demand" that Seoul take "appropriate measures" concerning those issues.

The prime minister also addressed his controversial remark that the government moved coral reefs for conservation from areas undergoing land reclamation for a U.S. base relocation in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. Abe said that senior officials at the Ministry of Defense had explained to him that the reefs on the southern side of the construction area had been transplanted.

He made the original remark during a television program aired on public broadcaster NHK on Jan. 6. The area in question is off the coast of the Henoko district of the city of Nago, where U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, currently in the city of Ginowan, is being relocated based on a 1996 agreement between Tokyo and Washington.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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