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Politics

Japan ministries inappropriately included 3,700 people to meet disabled quota

Retired and dead people counted as employees in scramble to comply with rules

Japanese ministries and government agencies are concentrated in the Kasumigaseki district in Tokyo. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese ministries and agencies "arbitrarily interpreted" guidelines for employing disabled people and counted people who are retired or even dead in their numbers in an attempt to meet legal quotas, an investigative panel said Monday.

The committee of lawyers and other experts tasked with looking into the data padding concluded that such "sloppy handling" had existed for decades in some cases.

The government said the percentage of people with disabilities in national office workforces as of June last year was actually 1.17 percent, instead of its previously announced 2.50 percent.

Japanese law requires public institutions to meet the quota of 2.5 percent, while that is set at 2.2 percent for the private sector.

The investigative panel said in its report that the situation is "extremely serious" after recognizing 3,700 people at 28 of the 33 national administrative entities it surveyed were inappropriately included in the total workforce.

The misconduct has overshadowed Japan's aim to achieve a more inclusive society. Separately, the labor ministry announced that local municipalities last year inflated the number of disabled people employed by more than 3,800.

The government bodies failed to check disability certificates or other information on 3,426 of them, and counted 91 people who have retired, including three who are dead, according to the report.

"There is no excuse," said Gan Matsui, a former superintending prosecutor at the Fukuoka High Public Prosecutors Office who headed the panel, at a press conference.

The panel found the National Tax Agency's overstatement was most serious, inappropriately counting 1,103 people, followed by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry with 629, which included 74 people who have already retired.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Environment Ministry acknowledged people with limited eyesight based on their uncorrected vision rather than corrected vision, according to the report.

Most entities were unable to answer when the falsifying began, although the Finance Ministry said it started around 1960 or later.

The panel said the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in charge of promoting employment of the disabled neglected to fully understand the situation for many years.

"We will give serious attention to the probe results," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, adding that the government will work to prevent such malpractices and achieve the legal quotas properly.

While all surveyed entities denied intentionally employing people inappropriately, the panel said it can assume they had intended to overstate the numbers "to meet the legal rates."

The labor ministry requires government agencies and private companies to report employment rates of the disabled as of June 1 every year.

"The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and every administrative entity has been given harsh reviews," labor minister Takumi Nemoto said. "We will give serious thought to this situation."

On Monday, the government said it plans to employ by the end of fiscal 2019 a total of 4,073 people with disabilities at public institutions that have failed to meet their quotas.

It also announced preventive measures, including keeping a list of disabled employees at each public institution and copies of their disability certificates and other necessary documents.

A law promoting the employment of the disabled requires central and local governments and private companies to hire, in principle, people with physical or mental disability certificates, as well as those with intellectual disabilities.

If a company with more than 100 employees fails to meet the target, a fine of up to 50,000 yen per employee shortfall per month is charged and in some cases its name is disclosed, while such a rule is not applied to government bodies.

In June, the labor ministry began investigating ministries and agencies over data padding allegations dating back to 1976 after receiving several inquiries about how to calculate the employment rates of disabled people.

The government announced in August that its investigation confirmed 27 national administrative entities had inflated the number of disabled employees by 3,460.

The number was revised upward with the latest probe, as the initial figure counted two short-time workers as one person.

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