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Editorial: Diet must keep check on gov't's administrative branch over labor data scandal

Diet deliberations on the labor statistics scandal are currently underway in the House of Representatives Budget Committee, and opposition parties are demanding that relevant officials be called in for questioning. We expect the legislature to show its true value as a check on the administrative branch of government.

What is difficult to understand is that the ruling camp is reluctant to respond to the opposition's demand to have a senior labor ministry official attend the panel as an unsworn witness.

The trustworthiness of government statistics must not come into question, as state policies are based on the data. And yet, problems have been found in 24 of the government's 56 key statistics.

Of these 24, the problems with the labor ministry's Monthly Labor Survey of wages and working hours and the Basic Survey on Wage Structure were particularly bad in that the correct methods for data collection in those surveys were not followed. Why, for so many years, was valuable data on the state of labor among citizens treated so poorly?

With the Monthly Labor Survey of wages and working hours, for example, labor ministry officials in charge of the problem data began correcting the figures in secrecy last year. As a result, the rate of wage increases grew. Was the move a way to hide past irregularities, or was it an effort to window-dress wage statistics?

Unless the truth is revealed, there is no way of preventing a recurrence. But even after the irregularities were found within the labor ministry, bureaucrats took their time reporting them to Labor, Health and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto. With the Basic Survey on Wage Structure, ministry officials were aware that surveys that were meant to be conducted through researcher visits to survey subjects were instead conducted by mail, but failed to report the fact in an extensive review carried out by the government.

If the administrative branch of the government is unable to clear up doubts, the Diet must step in. It is only natural that the labor ministry official who was in charge of the surveys in question be summoned to the Diet as a witness.

Yasuyuki Onishi, former director-general in charge of statistics policy at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, is a key figure in the scandal involving the ministry's Monthly Labor Survey of wages and working hours. Onishi is suspected of knowing if organizational efforts were made at the ministry to hide the scandal. He was removed from his post on Feb. 1 over his suspected involvement in yet another scandal over the ministry's wage survey.

But the ruling coalition is against having the bureaucrat questioned in the Diet, citing the fact that he is no longer the director-general in charge of statistics policy. Making such an excuse only reinforces suspicions that the government and the ruling camp conspired and dismissed the official so that he would not be forced to stand before the committee.

The Monthly Labor Survey scandal, in which an incorrect data collection method caused tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits, was investigated by a special inspection committee set up by the ministry.

The panel was headed by Yoshio Higuchi, director of the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training, a public body supervised by the labor ministry. The ruling camp accepted the questioning of Higuchi at the budget committee meeting, but only in his role as institute chief and not head of the panel, meaning he would not answer questions relating to the panel. What is the ruling bloc going to such lengths to hide?

Last year's ordinary Diet session was rocked by favoritism allegations involving the government and two school operators, Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution. Much time was spent on a tug-of-war over who should be questioned between the opposition and ruling camps. After much ado, the falsification of public Finance Ministry documents made in connection with those cases still remains unresolved.

The labor statistics case is yet another significant case in which bureaucrats changed the rules without authorization. Party affiliation should not be an issue in pursuing this. Is the ruling party going to repeat the same mistakes they made last year?

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