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Friday, June 8, 2007
Blame game on pensions begins
By MASAMI ITO
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito attempted Thursday to shift blame for the pension data fiasco onto former opposition leader Naoto Kan, who was health minister at the time the government decided to computerize the records.
Kan, a senior member of the Democratic Party of Japan, was health minister in 1996 when the computerization plan was approved. But his 1997 successor was Junichiro Koizumi, who would go on to become prime minister and head of the LDP.
It is still unclear exactly which ministry entities and bureaucrats were responsible for hammering out and signing the flawed computer plan.
The problem began in 1997, when the government established a new pension record system that gave each person paying into the program a single identification number, instead of multiple numbers. The Social Insurance Agency, which manages the pension system, then compiled the data into the new system.
In April, however — a full decade later — it was revealed that identifying data on 50 million pension payments could not be verified, meaning some retirees are getting smaller payments than they are entitled to.
Beginning with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, top leaders of the ruling bloc began pointing their fingers at Kan — stressing that as health minister he was the one who decided to introduce the system — while conveniently leaving Koizumi out of the picture, attempting to pin the fiasco on Kan.
Earlier this month, the LDP began to distribute a policy leaflet with Kan's name printed multiple times in red ink, indirectly blaming him for the fiasco.
But criticism began erupting not only from the opposition parties, but from within the ruling bloc itself, with several lawmakers saying that singling out Kan was tantamount to shifting the blame.
On Tuesday, LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa defended the leaflet at a news conference by saying it stated "only the facts." It is unclear, however, if there were any obvious omissions because few details have emerged about the scandal.
Last week, Kan issued a statement slamming the ruling bloc for trying to put the blame on him.
"I cannot help but say that the way the ruling parties are trying to level the blame is just too pitiful, even considering the seriousness of the situation," Kan said.
According to media reports, the LDP will stop distributing the Kan flyers and come up with a new one that omits his name.
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