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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Key ministers admit ducking pension fees

Fukuda, Takenaka join Kan on list

Staff writer

Four more Cabinet ministers, including Chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, and opposition leader Naoto Kan said Wednesday they failed to pay mandatory premiums for the basic pension system.

News photo
Yasuo Fukuda

Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Toshimitsu Motegi, minister in charge of the information industry and issues related to Okinawa and Hokkaido, also admitted they had not paid.

Last week, three Cabinet ministers -- trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa, home affairs minister Taro Aso and Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba -- said they had not paid the obligatory premiums.

The revelations dealt another blow to the government and government-sponsored pension reform bills being deliberated in the Diet.

Seven of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's 17 Cabinet members have admitted that they didn't make the compulsory payments.

Yukio Edano, policy chief of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, announced separately the same day that DPJ leader Kan failed to pay the premiums for the National Pension System while serving as health and welfare minister between January and October 1996.

Kan and the DPJ had demanded the resignation of the first three Cabinet ministers found to have avoided making the payments.

"I told (Kan) that he should quit (as DPJ president) if he can't explain clearly the situation," Edano told a news conference Wednesday evening.

Fukuda did not pay between February 1990 and September 1992, and again between August and December 1995. Tanigaki did not pay for a total 17 months between 1988 and 1990, Takenaka failed to pay between April 2001 and March this year, and Motegi did not pay premiums between October 1999 and June 2000, and between October 2002 and March 2004.

Tanigaki said, "I misunderstood the system."

Tanigaki, who as head of the Finance Ministry, represents a core pillar of pension reform debates.

Most of the seven Cabinet ministers failed to properly register themselves when they became Diet members or were appointed to a Cabinet post.

The public pension system consist of three separate pensions encompassing self-employed workers, public servants and corporate employees. Diet members must pay into the scheme for self-employed people, regardless of whether they are a Cabinet member.

Fukuda had said his record of premium payments should be kept secret because it is private information.

His comment immediately drew criticism because the ruling parties had tried to push through Lower House committee government-sponsored bills that would raise premiums every year until 2017, when the premiums would be 18.3 percent, compared with the current 13.85 percent of corporate workers' annual income. Benefits would meanwhile be gradually reduced.

During Wednesday's hastily arranged news conference, Fukuda admitted that the four Cabinet members were all aware Monday of their failure to pay the premiums but had delayed making the announcement so that it would not affect the expected passage of the pension reform bills by the committee.

The other ministers held separate news conferences to explain their misdeeds.

Diet members are covered by an advantageous pension system for lawmakers, 70 percent of which is funded with taxpayers' money.

Corporate employees have no way to escape the mandatory payments because their premiums are deducted directly from their salary. But up to 40 percent of self-employed workers have failed to pay in recent years.

In the past few days, the government's stance toward disclosure was a political tug-of-war between the ruling and opposition blocs.

"I think (the disclosure issue) has been treated as if it was a bargaining chip" in ruling-opposition political battles at the Diet, Fukuda told a regular news conference Wednesday.

On Friday, welfare minister Chikara Sakaguchi promised to provide the Diet with the payment records of the 17 Cabinet members on Monday.

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The Japan Times

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