More questions about the ministry’s poor quality data collection
The Department of Infrastructure appears to have learned little from a scandal over its longstanding practice of botched statistics collection that has rendered gross domestic product (GDP) and other important economic data irrelevant.
In January, an inquiry committee confirmed that construction industry contract figures had been wrong for decades. The scandal ensnared 10 senior ministerial bureaucrats who faced disciplinary action, including pay cuts.
One of these senior officials ended up playing a key role in the secretariat set up to help a panel of experts responsible for correcting the statistics to better reflect reality.
The bureaucrat was brought in due to time constraints to help the panel and the fact that no one else had the same level of expertise, according to a ministry source.
The panel was created in January. It released a report on May 13 that said double counting of construction contracts meant the published figure for fiscal 2020 was inflated by 3.6 trillion yen ($28 billion), or about 4.8% of the total.
According to sources, the high-ranking bureaucrat in question was among five infrastructure ministry officials, including infrastructure minister Tetsuo Saito, who met with the expert panel in January for their first meeting.
The bureaucrat played a pivotal role among dozens of ministry bureaucrats tasked with assisting the panel and in frequent contact with panel members.
The January report revealed that the bureaucrat took over the construction contracts section in August 2020 and continued the practice of double counting practiced by his predecessors. The report also says the bureaucrat avoided providing a clear explanation when the Audit Committee considered the effects of shoddy statistics collection practices.
After April 2021, when the double counting ended, the bureaucrat did nothing to correct the years of double counting conducted before the change.
As a result, the bureaucrat received a 10% pay cut for a month.
A separate report released by the Department of Infrastructure this month says the bureaucrat failed to correct another statistical error regarding construction contracts.
Shuya Nomura, a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo who has served on several government panels, said the secretariats set up to support these panels had the potential to wield enormous influence over the final conclusions.
“As one of the people involved in the original problem, (the bureaucrat) might have been motivated to minimize the effects,” Nomura said.
He added that a third party was needed in the unavoidable cases where someone involved in the original problem was needed to find a solution.
(This article was written by Yoichiro Kodera and Yoshitaka Ito, a senior writer.)