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?
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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pension account book
The rest of the entry is divided into three sections, dealing first with the disappearance of the pension accounts:
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.
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.]
“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:
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?
“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.
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:
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?
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?