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Abe ensures Diet panel that gov't is thoroughly probing labor stats problem

Shinjiro Koizumi, head of the party's Health, Labor and Welfare Division, asks questions about the labor ministry's statistics irregularities during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 4 that the government is thoroughly probing labor statistics irregularities.

"We're conducting a probe into the matter from the viewpoint of preventing a recurrence and improving the quality of government statistics," Abe said.

He was responding to questions by Ichiro Miyashita of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during deliberations on the second supplementary budget draft for fiscal 2018, which began on Feb. 4. The prime minister and all Cabinet members attended the session.

Shinjiro Koizumi of the LDP pointed to the need to immediately "clarify how to pay additional benefits" to make up for the amount of unpaid work-related benefits such as unemployment insurance payments and workers' compensation due to the statistical irregularities.

In response, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto said, "We're working to make additional payments as early as possible. We'll release the current schedule and disclose its details on the ministry's website."

Koizumi, head of the party's Health, Labor and Welfare Division, has been criticizing the labor ministry over its response to the scandal. The LDP had Koizumi ask questions at the budget panel in a bid to take advantage of his sharp tongue to shift blame for the labor statistics scandal away from the Abe administration to the ministry.

At a board meeting of the committee earlier in the day, the opposition camp demanded that Yoshio Higuchi, head of the ministry's special inspection commission, and Yasuyuki Onishi, former director-general in charge of statistics policy, be summoned to the Diet to testify over the scandal. However, the governing bloc refused to comply.

With regard to questions raised over the labor ministry's special inspection panel's neutrality, Nemoto said, "I regret having excessively emphasized the independence of the commission."

As for the Dec. 21, 2018 release of the final figures of the Monthly Labor Survey based on inaccurate statistics the day after Nemoto was informed of the scandal, Eiji Habu, deputy vice minister for policy coordination at the ministry, said he was unaware of the schedule for releasing the report.

The labor ministry's Monthly Labor Survey was found to have been based partly on an illicit data collection method that caused tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits affecting tens of millions of people.

The ruling coalition is aiming to make sure the supplementary budget draft clears the lower chamber on Feb. 5.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)

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