TOKYO -- The Japanese government appears to have overstated its employees with disabilities by possibly more than 1,000, with a growing number of ministries and regional bodies admitting to issues that may go back decades.
Suspicions have emerged that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance, among others, may have reported employees as disabled without checking for official proof, such as disability certificates, as required by guidelines from the Ministry of Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. This follows similar allegations last week surrounding the land and agriculture ministries. Businesses and public-sector bodies are legally required to have disabled people make up a certain percentage of their staffs.
The numbers for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications were inflated, according to Minister Seiko Noda, who said the official handling the reporting there had told her that the same thing went on at just about every ministry.
Opposition lawmakers questioned representatives from 13 ministries and agencies, including the labor ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Office, about the issue at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday and demanded a thorough investigation. All said they are looking into the matter, noting that the labor ministry had asked them in June to re-examine their data.
Some suspect that the inflation may have gone on since the quotas were first introduced in 1976. "The verification process needs to include the people involved, not just suit the needs of" the government, said Katsunori Fujii, head of the Japan Council on Disability, who attended the hearing.
"This could be considered systematic tampering," Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, told reporters Tuesday. "The ministries and agencies may have shared their padding methods."
Nor was the criticism limited to the opposition. "There's not enough consideration for those with disabilities," said Wataru Takeshita, who chairs the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's General Council.
The quota for national and regional government bodies stands at 2.5%, higher than the 2.2% requirement for the private sector. People with disabilities accounted for 2.5% of employees in the central government as a whole as of June 1, 2017, labor ministry data shows.
National administrative bodies employed about 6,800 disabled people, making up roughly 2.5% of the total workforce. Of these, 1,442 were employed at the labor ministry itself, 890 at the land ministry and 802 at Justice.
All told, about 1,000 central government employees may have been inaccurately reported as disabled. Ministry representatives have said that the irregularities owe to the lack of verification and that little actual tampering took place.
The problem has also cropped up at the regional level. All of Japan's 47 prefectures reported meeting their quotas last June, but Ehime and Yamagata prefectures have admitted to padding, and Saitama, Shizuoka, Nagasaki and Saga prefectures acknowledged the possibility on Tuesday.
Private-sector employers must pay a 50,000 yen ($453) fine for each person they miss their quotas by, but no such penalty exists for the public sector. Opposition lawmakers have decried this double standard.
With trust in the system shaken, the government will likely need to bring in a third party to get to the bottom of the situation. After a predecessor to the Japan Organization of Occupational Health and Safety, which is overseen by the labor ministry, was found to have inflated its disabled-employment data in 2014, the issue was investigated by an independent committee that found evidence of organizational involvement.