Photo/Illutration The manual distributed to prefectural government officials in 2019, right, regarding the compiling of monthly construction contract figures no longer contains the section on double counting found in the 2018 version on the left. (Tetsuro Takehana)

Infrastructure ministry officials sent an email instead of an official notice to instruct prefectural government officials to stop falsifying data on construction contracts used for economic statistics.

The email was often overlooked or deleted, according to local officials, and the “double counting” of construction contracts continued for a few more months.

Ministry officials themselves had given clear instructions to prefectural government officials in charge of compiling the monthly construction contract figures to never report a zero for a company that may have been late in submitting its report.

Instead of zero, the prefectural officials used the average of the companies that did submit reports.

When the company in question later submitted a report containing the missing figures, the previous statistics were not adjusted, leading to a double counting of the actual construction contract numbers.

The Board of Audit in November 2019 pointed out problems with the statistic gathering method, and infrastructure ministry officials decided to inform the prefectural government officials in charge.

On Jan. 8, 2020, an email of about 10 lines was the only instruction sent out to the prefectural government officials.

Some local officials said they could not remember what the email said while others had already deleted the email, leaving no trace of the infrastructure ministry instructions.

Other prefectural government officials said if a formal document had been distributed, it would have been filed away and referenced by other officials handling the statistics.

“It would be a major problem if the infrastructure ministry handled an important matter only by email and without confirming if all prefectural governments were following the instructions,” a local official in a prefecture in eastern Japan said. “This could lead to a loss of trust among the companies that submit the monthly reports.”

In the extraordinary Diet session convened in December, infrastructure ministry officials said officials continued to rewrite the reports between January 2020 and March 2021 after the instructions were emailed to prefectural government officials. They added that proper compiling of construction contracts had been conducted and those figures were used to revise past statistics.

As a result, government officials said there was no effect on the supplementary budget that was being deliberated in the extraordinary Diet session.

But because not all prefectural governments complied with the January 2020 instruction, there is the high possibility that the revised statistics might still have been inaccurate.

The construction contract figures are defined as “fundamental statistics” and are used to calculate other important data, such as gross domestic product.


According to several prefectural government officials, infrastructure ministry officials held an explanatory meeting in January after reports surfaced about the inappropriate compiling of construction contract figures.

At that meeting, the ministry officials said they would conduct an investigation into the rewriting of the statistics after January 2020.

A ministry evaluation committee is conducting its own investigation into the statistics gathering and a report is expected this month.

The annual meetings to explain to prefectural government officials about how to compile the construction contract figures may also have been less than thorough.

Even before the Board of Audit notification, ministry officials had deleted material from the manual distributed in spring 2019 to explain how to compile the statistics.

In the manual until the previous year, instructions were included on how to calculate the figure when a company submitted reports for a number of months at one time.

Although the section on rewriting the figures was deleted, infrastructure ministry officials at the explanatory meeting in 2019 did not specifically instruct prefectural government officials to stop the practice.

The deletion may indicate ministry officials realized their statistic gathering method was inappropriate.

However, that runs counter to the earlier explanation about not realizing there had been anything wrong when all ministries handling fundamental statistics were asked to review their methods after incorrect methods were found used in compiling labor statistics in late 2018.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yoshitaka Ito, Shuhei Shibata, Yuki Okado and Naoki Urano.)