Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for a growing scandal over labor ministry statistics, which he admitted had damaged public trust in the government's "safety net."

Abe addressed the issue in his policy speech at the start of the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 28 following near-daily new revelations.

It emerged in early January that unauthorized statistical methods were used for years to compile average monthly wage levels of workers. Those statistics were used to calculate amounts paid out to workers for unemployment and worker's compensation benefits, with the result that 20.15 million beneficiaries were shortchanged by about 60 billion yen ($549 million).

"We will do everything possible to pay out the balance owing as quickly as possible by using simple procedures," Abe declared.

Opposition parties have pledged to make as much political mileage as they can from the scandal in light of a crop of revelations about sloppy work and an even sloppier investigation into the dodgy methods.

The labor ministry vowed to reassess how the statistics are gathered after the neutrality of a special inspection committee was called into question over the involvement of a high-ranking ministry official in the inquiry.

Moreover, a check of other fundamental statistics by government officials found problems with 22 statistics, or about 40 percent of the most important ones used for setting government policy.

Abe said his administration would conduct a thorough evaluation in order to restore trust in government statistics.

The last thing the Abe administration wants is a delay in Diet deliberations due to opposition questioning over the scandal.

Unified local elections are scheduled for April, and an Upper House election is due to be held in summer.

To ensure that Diet proceedings are fairly smooth, the government has decided to submit only 58 bills in the current session, which is scheduled to wind up on June 26.

In his policy speech, Abe also touched upon the planned increase in October of the consumption tax rate to 10 percent from the current eight percent.

He said the increase was necessary for a "stable revenue source" to construct a social security system that extends over all generations.

Recent controversy over defense and other matters with South Korea led Abe to cut back on references to the Asian neighbor in comparison to last year's speech in which he said he wanted to deepen the cooperative relationship into a future-oriented one befitting a new age.

This time he only mentioned the need to cooperate with Seoul in dealing with North Korea.

He also said he would accelerate the pace of negotiations with Russia to conclude a peace treaty based on the 1956 Joint Declaration.

Abe also took a step back from last year's speech regarding constitutional revision. Last year, Abe called on the various political parties to submit their specific proposals to the Diet.

This year, he only expressed hope that discussions among the various parties would deepen in the constitutional commissions of the two chambers of the Diet without mentioning particular articles he wanted amended or a timing for such revisions.