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Outsider influenced labor ministry panel's conclusion on stats method

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare made way for a questionable change in the data collection method of the Monthly Labor Survey, which is now at the center of an irregular statistics scandal, following an external suggestion in 2015 from a figure believed to be an executive secretary to the prime minister.

A panel tasked with making improvements to the Monthly Labor Survey was preparing to report that no changes to the survey method should be made, but the ministry asked that this stance be given "interim" treatment, allowing room for further discussion.

Opposition parties say the possibility that Motoya Nakae, then executive secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was involved has grown stronger. Nakae now heads the Customs and Tariff Bureau of the Ministry of Finance.

The change related to the selection of target companies in the survey. Initially, target companies in the 30-499 number of employee range were completely replaced every few years, but the data collection method was changed to adopt a partial replacement of survey targets in January 2018. Suggestions have arisen that the change skewed the results, leading to allegations from opposition parties of window-dressing of "Abenomics," an economic policy mix promoted by Abe.

On Feb. 22, the labor ministry submitted to the House of Representatives Budget Committee copies of several emails that an assistant division head at the time sent to Masahiro Abe, the chairman of a panel charged with making improvements to the Monthly Labor Survey, in 2015.

In one email dated Sept. 14, it was stated that "when coordinating with a related person not belonging to the panel, the opinion arose that that the sampling method of replacing all subjects should (instead) be performed through partial replacement." Labor minister Takumi Nemoto has admitted in the Diet that the "related person outside the panel" was Nakae.

In its fifth meeting in August 2015, the expert panel had in fact already reached the conclusion that the full replacement of the target companies was appropriate. However, the assistant division head requested that this conclusion be given "interim" treatment for further deliberation. Following this, the panel in its sixth meeting on Sept. 16 agreed that the full replacement sampling method would be put to further consideration.

Takeshi Anezaki, who at the time was head of the labor ministry's Statistics and Information Department, told the lower house Budget Committee on Feb. 22 that he met Nakae early in the afternoon on Sept. 14, 2015. Panel chairman Abe received an email relating to the survey method that day at around 4 p.m. Because of this, an executive of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) says there is a possibility that an amendment of the survey methods was initiated after the meeting. Anezaki, however, says that he gave instructions for the survey method to be amended before the meeting.

In another email dated Sept. 4, it was reported to the panel chairman that the situation had reached the stage in which an explanation was being provided to "a person associated with the prime minister's office."

During a meeting of the lower house Budget Committee on Feb. 18, Prime Minister Abe said that he had received an explanation from his executive secretary on the survey results for June 2015 on Sept. 3 that year, but denied having issued any instructions to the labor ministry.

At the same time, the Sept. 4 email indicates that the labor ministry had conveyed what was going on in the panel to the prime minister's office.

CDP policy chief Seiji Osaka commented, "The labor ministry says it did not file a report, but there is a high possibility an exchange was going on with a figure connected with the prime minister's office."

Yet another email dated Sept. 8 focused on whether to include in a draft report the fact that a partial replacement method had been adopted in the Monthly Labor Survey for "category 2" businesses employing between five and 29 workers. This email told the panel chairman, "We won't go out of our way to state that (a partial replacement method has been adopted for small companies), as we might be told that that method could be used for category 1 businesses (with over 30 workers)." This was apparently the position adopted by Anezaki. From this exchange, it is evident at the time that the panel was not envisaging any change to its conclusion that the full replacement sampling method should continue.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)

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