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Japan: The Disappearing Pension Accounts

As the ruling party of the government of the second largest economic superpower of the world, faced with an upcoming election and already suffering record-low approval ratings, what do you do when it is uncovered that more than fifty million public pension accounts, in a country with a national population of 130 million people, have mysteriously become “unidentifiable”? What if, further, despite claims to the contrary, it emerges that your party was aware of the problem as far back as four decades ago, but did nothing about it?

If you are the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), you do what any 5-year-old would do: you point the finger at the next guy. Except in this case, you do it in a big way.

Originally dug up by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the pension fund fiasco, as it has been called, first appeared in the news a few weeks ago, but has significantly picked up steam over the past ten days as people desperately crowded consultation booths last weekend to check if their account information had been lost. Responding to this situation, the LDP earlier this month initiated a campaign involving the distribution of flyers laying the blame for the fiasco on former DPJ leader Kan Naoto, who was Health Minister in 1996, at the time when a plan to computerize account records was approved. (The LDP has since said that they will produce a new leaflet which does not explicitly mention Kan's name; in the current version, Kan's name appears multiple times in red ink.)

Flyer issued by LDP

The problems in the public pension fund system originally stem from the fact that, prior to 1997, individuals often held multiple pension numbers, one for each of the three major pension programs; in 1997, these were unified under a single identification number, resulting — it is claimed — in the lost account numbers. It is important to note that these over 50 million ownerless pension fund accounts almost certainly do not belong to relatively well-off salarymen, nor do they likely belong to government officials. Rather, as blogger shisaku points out,

The retirement money that may be out of reach due to the needless multiplication of account numbers belong to those of persons employed in the non-lifetime employment sector, or persons who changed jobs and employers often–i.e., the persons MOST IN NEED of the government's special attention and care.

Japanese bloggers have predictably reacted in large numbers to the pension fund fiasco. What follows is one among many: a detailed entry on the topic posted by blogger luxemburg at A Tree at Ease on June 5th which attracted multiple trackbacks and comments. The post is titled “A ‘Beautiful Country': A country in which pension accounts are swept away beautifully” (「美しい国」とは払った年金がきれいになくなる国のこと), and begins:

自民党が「年金基礎番号導入を決定したときの厚生大臣は菅直人」と主張しているという話はあったが、まさか本当にビラを10万枚刷るとは思わなかった。

Although there has been a lot of talk about how the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been stressing that “the Minister of Health and Welfare when the decision was made to introduce basic pension numbers was Kan Naoto”, I never thought that they would actually print 100,000 flyers.

 オツムは大丈夫なのか、自民党。これで菅直人が悪かったことにできると本気で思っているのか。年金基礎番号導入はデータの統合のためにむしろ必要なものであり、これは下手すれば”ほめ言葉”である。そして、もし問題にするとすれば、実際の入力過程ということになるが、その時代は小泉厚生大臣だったというオチまでついている。

Have the LDP members lost their minds? Do they seriously think that they can pretend that Kan Naoto is the one to be blamed for everything? In fact, introducing basic pension numbers to unify data is a necessary thing, and in this sense to say that he did this is a “compliment”. If you want to put this action into question, then ultimately the blame lies with Koizumi, who was Health Minister at the time at which the process of inputting data took place.

 これがネガティブキャンペーンにすらならないことが判断できない低レベル、これが日本の政権与党のレベルである。
ただ、そもそもがこういう問題ではない。紙の記録の時代に、ずさんに管理が行われ、照合も行われないまま何十年も放置されてきたのであって、別に菅直人や小泉純一郎など一人や二人の責任でも何でもない。

Japan's ruling party is at such a low level that they do not realize that what they are doing will not succeed even as a negative campaign.
Actually, the root of the problem is not the one that [the LDP] is indicating. The fact that [these records] were processed, during the age of paper records, without any care to detail, and then neglected for several dozen years without having been verified, means that this is not the exclusive responsibility of Kan Naoto or Koizumi Junichiro; it is the responsibility of more than just one or two people.

[…]

 長い年月をかけたこの蓄積があってすでに誰の記録かわからなくなっていたのであり、基礎年金番号を付けたことなどはこの問題と何の関係もない。

Things had already piling up over a long period of time, and registration had already been lost; therefore, this problem does not have anything to do with introducing basic pension numbers.

自民党が目前の選挙に勝つために手段を選ばないのはわかる。多少汚くても卑怯でも、追いつめられればこの程度だろう。たとえば幼児が幼い頭脳と知能を動員して何とか嘘をついてごまかそうとすることはある。親は、半分は怒りながら、半分は「こんなことをいえるようになったのか、頭がよくなった」と、ごまかす姿のかわいらしさもあって、苦笑する。しかし、それは相手が自分の子供で、しかも幼児だから許されるのであり、いい大人がこのレベルとなると、腹が立つより悲しくなる。本当のアホではないか、と。

I understand that the LDP will do anything to win the immediate election. Although it is dirty and cowardly, this is probably the best they can do when they are driven into a corner. For example, young children may use all the brains and intelligence they have and try to hide things with lies. The parents, while half-angry, are find it endearing, half-thinking: “They have grown up and became so smart that they are able to talk about such things”, and give a wry smile. However, in this case, the parent is talking to their own child, and since they are speaking to their child, they allow them [to do this kind of thing]; an adult descending to this level is more than just offensive, it is sad. These people are just really stupid.

 昔、アメリカ軍の将校が、日本の兵士が勇敢で命知らずである一方で、指揮官は本当のバカであると感じたという話を聞いたことがあるが、日本の頭はカラッポである。

A long time ago, I heard that some American military officer thought that while Japanese soldiers were brave and death-defying, the commanders were real idiots. The Japanese head is all empty.

 腹が立つという問題ではない、というのはこういうことだ。
バスに乗っていて、明らかに薬か何かをやっている運転手が、正常な判断力を失い、焦点の定まらない目をしてよだれを垂らしながら運転していたら、怒るどころか、そのまえにまず止めなければ、と思うのではないか。自民党のレベルはそれに達している。

It is in this sense that this is not only a problem of something being offensive.
Suppose you are riding in the bus, and you clearly notice the bus driver taking drugs or something like that, that they have lost their normal sense of judgement, that their eyes are wandering, and they are drooling as they are driving the bus. If this happened, before getting angry, you would first try to stop the bus, right? This is the level that the LDP has reached.

 なお、このビラについては党内からも批判があるそうだ。現在の執行部がここまでアホだとは思わなかった、となかばあきれている人もいるのだろう。

By the way, I heard that there are even criticisms about the recent flyer coming from within the LDP itself. It appears that there are also people who are quite amazed, not having thought that the current leadership would reach this level of stupidity.

Pension account book

A pension account book

The rest of the entry is divided into three sections, dealing first with the disappearance of the pension accounts:

◆ 年金は消えている
照合がすんでないだけだというのであれば、そもそもたいした話ではない。しかし、先ほどのサイトにあるこういう報道を見る限りでは、記録がないというものがあるのだ。照合がすんでないだけならこれほどの問題にならない。何万人もの人が社会保険事務所に詰めかけて、自分は払っているはずだと主張しても、認められた人は0.1パーセントもないのだ。99.9%は今後も認められないだろう。これを消えたといわないのか、ふざけるのもいい加減にしてほしい。

The pension funds are gone
If this is only about the verification never having been completed, then, from the beginning, it was never really a big deal. However, just looking at the report posted on the site mentioned earlier, it is clear that some of the records do not even exist. Had the records simply not been verified, then there would not have been any further problems beyond this. Many thousands of people crowded the social insurance office, insisting that they had paid [their pension fees], but only 0.1 percent of them were okayed. It appears that 99.9% of them will not be acknowledged. They won't admit that these records have disappeared. I want them to stop screwing around.

 ご安心ください、というが、国民が安心できるのは自民党が崩壊したときだけだ。
実際にはこんなものではないだろう。もっと恐ろしい崩壊、つまり、年金の積立金として今あるとされている150兆円ほどがほとんど不良債権化しているのではないかという疑惑が本格的に問題にされたとき、年金は国家的オレオレ詐欺だったことが白日の下にさらされるだろう。

They say that they want us to set our minds at ease, but the citizens will only be able to set their minds at ease when the LDP is destroyed.
This is the honest truth of the situation. It may even turn out that when serious questions are put [to the government] raising concerns that the accumulated pension funds, currently valued at more than 150 trillion yen, have simply become bad debt — when there is this more terrible collapse — it will be revealed that the pension funds were actually an “it's me” fraud committed by the state.
[“It's me” fraud: telephone fraud in which scam artists trick elderly people by pretending to be someone the elderly person knows but cannot remember.]

「オレだよ、オレ。国家。信用できるだろ?美しい国だからな。振り込んだ金がきれいさっぱりなくなるという意味で美しいんじゃないぜ」

“It's me, me! The government. You can trust me, right? Because this is a beautiful country. The money that was transferred has been cleanly, and completely, lost — isn't this, after all, the meaning of ‘beautiful'?”

The next section criticizes the practice the government is using, in which frustration directed at employees of the Social Insurance Agency over their better working conditions is used to divert attention away from the government's responsibility:

◆ ねたみ根性を利用するのは悪質
菅直人や民主党のことはまあおくとして、問題は職員に対するねたみ根性を利用したキャンペーンである。確かに労使の慣行で、データの入力に関しても、一日にこれだけとか、ノルマはない、とか民間からみれば天国、というような事態はあるだろう。しかし、こういう組織というものは「上から腐る」のである。社会保険庁の長官が天下りで渡り歩き2億9000万円ものカネをかすめとっていく職場で、まともに働くということは可能だろうか。

Using the power of envy is heinous
Putting aside the issues to do with Kan Naoto and the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ], the problem is the campaign [waged by the LDP] which uses jealousy directed at employees [of the Social Insurance Agency]. Certainly, it seems that the situation is that, in regards to a customary practice of labour and management — one that also applies to data entry — there are no absolute requirements on how much work has to be done in one day, no output quotas. From the point of view of the average citizen, these conditions are like heaven. However, this kind of organization is one which usually goes “rotten from the top”. Is it really possible for anyone to do proper work in a work place in which the director-general of the Social Insurance Agency, in his cushy job [amakudari], goes here and there and skims profits of 290 million yen?

「ケッ、面白くねえ。何かワシらだって甘い汁を吸えないか」と思うのは、当然だとまでは思わないが、気持ちとして全くわからないわけではない。
一方、民間では正社員はサービス残業、非正規は低賃金で過労死直前まで働かされて、地獄のような目に遭っている、そう考えると、ねたみたくなる気持ちもわかるけれども、社会保険庁の職員をいくらねたんでみても、我々の労働条件はよくならない。

“Pfft, this is so stupid. Why can't we have some of this good life as well?” — I wouldn't go as far as to say that this kind of thinking is unsurprising, but, as a feeling, it is to a certain extent understandable.
Meanwhile, among the general population, full-time employees are doing off-the-clock work, while non-fulltime employees, earning very low wages, are being worked nealy to death from overwork, suffering in hell-like conditions. If you think about this, then it is understandable why such people feel jealousy, but however much jealousy one might feel, our work conditions are not going to get any better.

 ぎりぎりまで働かせるような法制度を作っているのは社会保険庁の職員ではなく、自民党である。にもかかわらず「人権メタボ」などと称して、人権を少しでも削り取ろうとねらっている。贅沢は敵だと言いながら、さんざんピンハネしてきた人たちの跡取りなんだから当然といえば当然だが。
少しでも職場の待遇がよい人たちを妬んで、どんどん労働組合をつぶしていくに従って、我々の生活はどんどん悪くなっている。向こうの思うつぼなのである。

The legal system which forces us to work to these extreme limits was not designed by the employees of the Social Insurance Agency, it was designed by the Liberal Democratic Party. Despite this, under the guise of what has been called the “metabolism of human rights“, they are attempting to chip away at our human rights as much as they can. These people took the place of predecessors who themselves, while claiming indulgent spending to be the enemy, had been stealing money we had invested, so this is all not very surprising.
Jealous of people with good workplace conditions, and as moves are steadily made to destroy labour unions, our life will become worse and worse. This is exactly what these people want.

And, finally, in the last section, Japan's public broadcaster NHK is taken to task for its mediocre coverage of the pension accounts scandal:

◆ 大本営化したNHK
年金問題でのNHKニュースを見ていたら、なんと宣伝カーに乗ってマイクを握る安倍の遊説のシーンを延々と流している。年金は大丈夫だ、一年以内に解決する、と選挙向けの宣伝を、全国ネットで流してやっている。
確かに年金について政府の責任者は、責任ある回答をすべきである。それについて報道する義務もマスコミにはあると思う。ところが政府の回答として、選挙のための遊説を垂れ流しするのが報道なのか。

NHK, the new imperial headquarters
When I was watching news about the pension problem on NHK news, what I found was hours upon hours of scenes with [Prime Minister] Abe riding in a sound truck, grasping a microphone, campaigning [on the pension fund issue]. They are airing election advertisements on the national television network claiming that pension funds are okay, that within one year this will be resolved.
Certainly the people responsible for pension funds within the government should give responsible answers to questions put to them. I think that the mass media also has a duty to report about this. And yet, can we really call airing election campaign advertisements, issued by the government as a response [to questioning], to be reporting?

 選挙向けの政党の演説は、自分の選挙に都合のいいことだけ、党利党略で並べる。国会や記者会見でつっこまれることもない。それはそれで党の宣伝活動なんだから、かまわない。しかし、それを国民に対する説明としてNHKが報道するとなると話は別である。
NHKは恥を知らないのか。今必要なのは、我々の疑問に政府の責任者として答えることであって、自民党の選挙宣伝の言葉をそのまま流すことではないはずだ。ここまで露骨な情報操作の先兵に成り下がったのか。

Since election speeches by political parties are arranged to win an election campaign, they only display what is in the party's interest. They are not questioned in detail the way that they are in the National Diet or in press conferences. That itself is okay, because it's an advertising campaign for the party. However, it is a different story when NHK broadcasts these [campaign advertisements] as an explanation to the Japanese people.
Does NHK have no shame? What is needed right now is for our questions to be answered by parties responsible within the government; this is not the same as simply airing the words of LDP election advertisements. Has [the NHK] been degraded to the level of a puppet that manipulates information this blatantly?

6 comments

  • […] Japan: The Disappearing Pension Accounts, Global Voices Online; If you’ve been trying to understand the pension fund scandal, this is hands down the best write up I’ve seen so far. Good job, Chris Salzberg! […]

  • […] bolsillos de la mayoría de los nipones), que Abe y su gabinete no han podido resolver. El escándalo de las pensiones es el tema más importante en la campaña que inició el pasado 12 de julio. En […]

  • david sarcia

    Thank you for your excellent article. I have been staying here in Japan for more than a decade and unable to appreciate and understand the political system. I can’t even remember the names of the politician, except the Prime Minister Abe.

    One week ago, I just found out that the ruling party has been in power for about 60 years. It’s too long! The Japanese people should realize that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    The corruption we see almost every week in Japan, maybe just be the tip of the iceberg.
    My concern is that corruption may permeate the “Election ministry” or “Commission on Election”? I really don’t know the name of the group or ministry (Election) This for sure is also under the ruling party as part of the Ministry of something. If these guys (powerful media group + election officials) are already corrupted and sympathetic to the ruling party, the election could easily be influence in favor of the powerful group.

    It is a perfect combination (media + election commission). This is how the ruling parties in other countries do it. Usually these ruling party members are all corrupt, and who have been in power more than 8 years. The media will show the trend that is acceptable to everybody and to satisfy everybody. And in the final analysis the winner will be announced by the Commission on Election that the competition was very closed, but the winners could easily the ruling group.

    Unless all parties are well represented during the counting of the ballots; and with results of the election records are all coordinated with the central and local voting places, including the television stations; and having the same numbers (results),there could be a possibility of cheating. With all observers of the presentative paties have access to telephone all th voting places especially big cities and municipalities. Otherwise,there could be a disappearing of numbers that could change the outcome of the true election.

    Best regards,
    David

  • Kevin

    And this goes to show just another reason why paying into the pension program is idiocy. I haven’t paid anything into it and I’ll never do so. Foreigners that wish to collect their pensions when leaving Japan can only get back 90% of what they paid into it. What the hell is that?!? You get less than what you put in? Granted it is because those foreigners are not going to be here when they retire, but why would they want to be here to do so only to receive what would be significantly less than the total of what they’d paid into it (which by the time they might retire could be as little as 50% of what they paid into it). The truth is more than likely the government knows it’s screwed because they’ve been excessively overspending and stealing money for decades from places they weren’t supposed to have done so.
    The Japanese postal savings accounts are equally empty.
    The government was stealing money from there for years to fund excessive highway construction and other unnecessary projects.

  • […] in dissatisfaction with the LDP — and, in particular, palpable anger and frustration over the pension fund fiasco — than anything else. One thing that most seem to agree on, however: given the long and […]

  • samuel welsh

    japanese people should stop this evil

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