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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Abe admits knowing pension problem last year


Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed Friday that he was aware of problems with the nation's pension premium payments by late last year, long before the government acted at the end of May.

Revelations that the Social Insurance Agency mishandled 50 million pension premium records has not only outraged the public but also put Abe in a difficult spot ahead of the July 29 House of Councilors election.

"I realized there were problems with the pension records between the end of last year and early this year," Abe told a group of journalists.

Abe said it was only in February that the SIA briefed him for the first time on the extent of the problem — that it had mishandled 50 million cases.

Asked why he did not publicize the problem and take immediate steps to resolve it, Abe explained that he thought it was necessary for the government to determine the nature of the problem before acting. Abe said he instructed the health ministry to investigate the matter following the February report.

On Friday, the health ministry, which oversees the SIA, released Abe's comments in response to a written question submitted by Lower House independent lawmaker Kenji Eda asking when Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki became aware of the pension record problem. Both replied they became aware of the problem late last year.

But it wasn't until late May that Abe announced measures to cope with the problem, including the SIA's intention to finish cross-checking the data from the 50 million cases within a year.

As early as 1997, the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan reportedly received complaints from pensioners who noticed that some of their payment records were incorrect.

Apparently trying to shift the blame to past governments, Abe said that in 1997, when a universal pension ID number system was introduced, the government may have shelved solutions to the problem amid tons of clerical work.

The pension fiasco has already eroded Abe's public support ahead of the July Upper House poll.

Asked if he would step down if the ruling coalition loses its majority, he replied: "I am responsible for the results of all elections, not just this coming Upper House election."



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