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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Pension scandal hits New Komeito

Leader Kanzaki, 12 others nailed


Staff writer

New Komeito sent further shock waves through the ruling bloc and the government Wednesday by announcing that 13 of its lawmakers, including party leader Takenori Kanzaki, had failed to pay obligatory pension premiums.

News photo
New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki holds up a Social Insurance Agency record showing past payments of mandatory pension premiums at a news conference at the Diet.

Two other executives of the ruling bloc member -- Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba and policy affairs chief Kazuo Kitagawa -- failed to pay into the ailing system for a certain period, the party said.

"We have caused great distrust (of politicians) among the public," Kanzaki said at a news conference. "We cannot make any excuses."

New Komeito reprimanded Kanzaki and Fuyushiba while issuing warnings to Kitagawa and six others.

The party dismissed three House of Councilors members from their party posts because their nonpayment period ranged from nine years and nine months to 15 years and 11 months.

One of the 13 was not punished because he only failed to pay for two months.

Naoto Kan, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the nation's main opposition force, was forced to resign Monday for failing to pay his pension contributions. Yasuo Fukuda stepped down last week as chief Cabinet secretary for similar reasons.

Katsuya Okada, DPJ secretary general, said the top three executives of New Komeito should all resign to take responsibility.

On Monday, Kanzaki called Kan's resignation "inevitable." Kan lost the public's trust, he said.

"New Komeito was severely critical of Mr. Kan," he said. "I think it is only natural that they consider replacement of their executives."

Kanzaki did not pay premiums for six months in 1986, while Fuyushiba failed to pay for eight months between 1986 and 1987. Kitagawa did not pay for eight months between 1993 and 1994.

Kanzaki had said he confirmed that he paid all necessary pension premiums by asking the Social Insurance Agency.

But on Wednesday, Kanzaki said he double-checked with the local office of the agency and found shortcomings.

"As the party that most strongly advocates pension reform, we're deeply ashamed of ourselves," he said.

Kanzaki said the document he received from the agency only showed the period of his membership in the basic pension system and the number of months he had paid premiums, but did not show the months he didn't pay.

The announcement by New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, comes amid a growing scandal over lawmakers and Cabinet ministers failing to pay into the national pension system.

While the revelation is considered a heavy blow to the ruling bloc, the three New Komeito executives said they have no intention of resigning.

The news is particularly shocking for the ruling bloc because New Komeito had proposed the basic draft of government-sponsored pension reform bills, which were passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives and sent to the Upper House.

Deliberation on the bills started Wednesday in the Upper House.

Kanzaki denied speculation that the party delayed announcing the payment failure until the bills passed through the Lower House, a key development in a bill's enactment.

"Failure to pay premiums and pension reform are separate things," Kanzaki claimed.

According to Kanzaki, the three party executives all failed to pay due to simple mistakes or clerical errors. Kanzaki said he failed to pay for eight months from April 1986, when it became mandatory for Diet members to join the basic pension system.

In a separate news conference, Fuyushiba stressed that the ruling parties are still determined to push for enactment of the pension reform bills by the end of the current Diet session in June.

Fuyushiba said the enactment of the bills is essential to regain public trust in the pension system by promising certain levels of benefits.

The bills would raise premiums every year until 2017, while gradually reducing benefits to 50 percent of annual income of a model household of corporate employees.

Kanzaki said New Komeito would push pension reforms further via a nonpartisan forum with the DPJ. But Fuyushiba said his party would never accept DPJ proposals such as introducing a system to fund pensions with taxes and integrating the three existing pension schemes for self-employed workers, corporate workers and public servants.

Hashimoto also at it

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto failed to pay into the national pension program for 25 months, his office has said.

This makes Hashimoto the second former prime minister to have failed to pay pension premiums, following Tsutomu Hata of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Hashimoto, 66, failed to make pension payments between April and October 1987, while he was transport minister, and between April 1990 and September 1991, when he was finance minister, an official from his office said.



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