Photo/IllutrationThe Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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The labor ministry spent about 8 billion yen ($71.4 million) for a high-powered computer server that has been used in only 0.08 percent of the estimated maximum number of cases it was expected to handle.

The intermediate server, introduced by the Employment Security Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in July 2017, also requires annual maintenance costs of about 1 billion yen. The ministry has earmarked those expenses in its budgets for fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2019.

The gross overestimation of the number of labor-related social security cases and the paltry usage rate were revealed through data worked out by the bureau in response to requests from opposition parties.

In designing the server, the bureau assumed that it would be used in up to 3.08 million cases a month and spent 8 billion yen over three years to ensure that capacity.

But until January 2019, the server was needed for only 2,580 cases a month on average, or 0.08 percent of the assumed maximum number.

The server was introduced to promote information sharing among government organizations and between the central and local governments through the My Number identification system for residents. It eases administrative work because related documents do not need to be submitted.

The server connects the My Number system with businesses of Hello Work job placement offices.

Through the server, for example, Hello Work offices can ask local governments about whether people on leaves of absence from their jobs who have applied for employment insurance benefits actually meet the conditions for payments.

Through requests on the server to Hello Work offices about people receiving unemployment benefits, local governments can confirm the incomes of welfare recipients.

Usage of the server peaked in September 2018 with 3,551 cases, or a usage rate of 0.12 percent of the estimated maximum.

The server can handle up to about 88,000 cases an hour. But even at its hourly peak, the number of usage cases did not reach 600.

“We were unable to accurately estimate (the number of usage cases) because it was the first time for us to do so,” an official of the Employment Security Bureau said. “If the server of the Pension Bureau is operated, the number of usage cases will increase to some degree.”

The ministry has introduced similar servers at other bureaus, such as the Pension Bureau and the Health Insurance Bureau.

However, the use of the Pension Bureau server was postponed partly because of a leak of information in 2015 at the Japan Pension Service.

The Pension Bureau started running its server on an experimental basis on April 15.

The Employment Security Bureau’s server is expected to be used until fiscal 2021. In fiscal 2022, it is scheduled to be renewed, requiring additional introduction costs.

“The gap between the actual number of usage cases and the assumed one is too big,” said Masaki Hoshino, a lawyer who used to be a high-ranking official of the Board of Audit. “The ministry should have checked whether the initial estimate was appropriate and should have implemented regular reviews of the work. Checks conducted by a third party are necessary.”

(This article was written by Eiji Zakoda and Kohei Tomida.)