Panel denies systematic ministry coverup of faulty jobs data

A panel investigating faulty labor ministry jobs data denied Wednesday there was a systematic coverup, saying top bureaucrats were not aware monthly labor surveys had been "conducted improperly" over nearly 15 years.
The conclusion reached by the investigative committee was based on a probe that followed a report released on Jan. 22, which was criticized after it was revealed that ministry officials had been involved in drafting it. The first report said there was no definitive proof of a ministry-wide coverup.
The scandal involving sampling irregularities, which came to light in January, led to the underpayment of work-related benefits to more than 20 million people and cast doubt over the accuracy of government statistics.
"We will make efforts to regain public trust and ensure a similar case does not happen again," said Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto, when he received the report from the panel's chairman Yoshio Higuchi.
The new report by the panel of statistical experts and lawyers, based on interviews with around 60 ministry officials, found multiple officials including senior members of the statistics section were responsible for the improper compilation of data.
The report also indicated there was insufficient appreciation in the ministry of the importance of public statistics.
Opposition parties have slammed the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, claiming the ministry published the faulty data to make the prime minister's "Abenomics" economic policy package appear more successful.
"The (new) report is extremely inadequate and regrettable as it puts the blame on lower-ranking officials," Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, told reporters.
In the monthly labor survey, the ministry is supposed to collect results from all businesses in the country with 500 or more employees. But in Tokyo it had only surveyed a third of the around 1,400 such businesses since 2004.
The shortage of data from major companies, which usually pay higher wages than smaller firms, meant nationwide wage figures were calculated as lower than they actually were.
In January last year, the ministry began using software to make it appear that the necessary data had been collected, leading to a sudden rise in wage figures.

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