Sunday, January 13, 2008

The pension mess wil not be solved before Spring 2008

More original than the teenage district of Shibuya (渋谷), or the geek paradise of Akihabara (秋葉原), Sugamo (巣鴨), close to the station of the same name on the Yamanote (山手) line, is the district for old people in Tokyo. It is a refreshing place when one had enough of trendy and youthful Tokyo. In the main street, sembei (煎餅rice crackers) stores and daifuku (大福japanese sweets) stalls alternate with grandmother clothing outlets. This is a lively street, but the rusting buildings show this is not a wealthy place.
For these humble old people, the announcement by the government last May of the loss of 65 million retirement files was a shock. More exactly, 65 million files, representing the contributions and retirement entitlements, are "orphan" and cannot be related to their beneficiaries. Thus certain old people do not receive the whole pension they are entitled to. To correct this, they must sometimes show documents several decades old.
The root cause of this huge mistake is the late modernization of the Japanese administration in this field. France assigned to each individual a single number identifying as of the creation of the social security in 1945 and proceeded to the computerization of the files in 1970. In the US, a unique number was created in 1936. In Japan, these two steps were accomplished only in 1997. Before this date, all the files were identified by the family name, the given name, the birthday and birthplace. This is error-prone because of the risks of homonymy, and kanjis transcription error, which are numerous because Kanjis can have several pronunciations). In addition, a new file is created for the same individual every time he or she changes jobs, further increasing the risk of confusion. Finally, Some paper files were lost or became unreadable. During the computerization in 1997, those files were incorrectly treated, or just forgotten.
The issue was covered-up by the administration and the government party (自民党Liberal Democrat Party) until it was raised again at the beginning of May 2007 by the opposition (民主党democratic party) during a debate in the Japanese parliament. It immediately became a nation-wide scandal. This was a major cause of the defeat of the government party in the election of the Upper House on July 29th , 2007 and the resignation of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on September 12th , 2007. During the election campaign, the government claimed it would identify all the orphan files before the end of March. The files thus identified would be assigned to their owner, and they would have seen their pension entitlement restored.
On December 12th 2007, the government announced that 19 million files would not be recovered because people died, changed name following a marriage, or had their name incorrectly spelled. Those people will have to actively claim their pension entitlement. The Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe refused to apologize. He considered that the pledge made during the election campaign did not bind the government, and only expressed their will to take every possible step to solve the problem. the opposition asked for the resignation of the minister , he has kept his job for now.

No comments: