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Wednesday, May 30, 2007
CONTAINING SCANDAL DAMAGE
Ruling bloc shelves pension reform vote
By MASAMI ITO
The ruling coalition abruptly called off a vote Tuesday in the House of Representatives on a bill to abolish the scandal-tainted Social Insurance Agency in an apparent effort to minimize further public fallout after farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka's Monday suicide.
The opposition parties, which had been demanding further deliberation on the bill to reform the pension management system, declared their intention Monday to submit a no-confidence motion against health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa if the ruling parties went ahead with the scheduled plenary session vote in the Lower House.
The bill focuses on abolishing the scandal-tainted agency in 2010 and creating a new body made up of private-sector employees to take over pension management.
The Social Insurance Agency, which manages the pension system, earlier reported there are about 50 million unidentified premium payments. Without the correct data on who made the payments and how much, some people are receiving smaller pensions than they are entitled to.
Last Friday, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito rammed the reform bill through a Lower House committee, prompting outraged opposition party lawmakers to swarm the panel chairman.
On Tuesday afternoon, the ruling bloc submitted a separate bill on relief measures for victims of the Social Insurance Agency pension fiasco.
LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa told reporters the ruling bloc hopes the Diet approves the two bills as a package during the current session.
"Pensions are an important (means) of support for (elderly members of the public) and should no longer be the object of a political dispute," Nakagawa said in referring to the no-confidence motion threat.
According to Nakagawa, the relief bill focuses on one point — removing the five-year statute of limitations on pension payments that prevents people from receiving money owed to them more than five years ago.
The pension fiasco "was caused by government negligence," Nakagawa said. The agency officials "were working under an irresponsible and sloppy public service system, not doing the actual work they were supposed to be doing," he said.