Rengo roasts May Day guest Kan
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Rengo roasts May Day guest Kan"
The Japan Times
"Heated debate over Japan's pension reform"
(AP, Reuters) The Straits Times
Just as constructive debates were to be called to repair the national pension system, a number of senior lawmakers were found to have evaded mandatory premium payments in the past, which flipped the issue into more or less a bad joke.
In the course of the lawmakers arguing over the most disputed bill in the current diet session to amend the national pension system, it was revealed at first that three ministers in the present cabinet had for certain lengths of periods, a few months to few years, not paid their dues into the national pension system.
At first, people's reaction was slow. But as the leader of the opposition party, Mr Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) started to criticize the ministers strongly by demanding their resignation, and the media began to pick it up seeing it as a sprout of possible political fiasco, Mr Koizumi and his government was compelled into a defensive position.
As it is difficult to imagine that the politicians, no matter how greedy they could become at times, would want to risk their whole career by deliberately evading such a thing as paying into the pension program, a commoner would tend to believe the explanations provided by those accused, that they were the results of careless and clerical errors. Provided that they would express sincere regrets, and compensate through whatever means the loss they have caused, most people had felt resignations by the ministers would be going a little too far and out of line as a form of punishment.
Then the second report of evaders came out. It listed four additional current cabinet members, but it was the name of Mr Kan, the leader of DPJ, to appear as an evader which raised people's eyebrows. At first, Mr Kan accused his assistants at the time for the delinquency, the bureaucrats supporting him as the Health Minister, for handling his documents improperly, and he stressed that he had done nothing wrong. The following day, however, seemingly upon recovering a part of his common sense, apologized for the incident. During the while, the comments made by DPJ members displayed their confusion. At least one senior member said Mr Kan should resign as the leader of DPJ while others tried to play it down, struggling unsuccessfully to find reasons to justify Mr Kan's evasion but not those of the ruling LDP members. (By the way, the former leader of the DPJ, Mr Hatoyama, reportedly had evaded payment for more than ten years.)
Prime Minister Koizumi made a comment that the pension system needs to be streamlined in order to avoid such clerical mistakes, and Mr Kan made an announcement exactly following the PM's line. They are right to that extent. The pension system needs to be revised to at least make it simpler, especially if it is to function as a national system requiring every citizen to participate.
The tragedy of the incident, however, was not of some politicians evading contributions, but that real issues regarding the national pension system were obscured by the turmoil. If a national pension system is really necessary, the funding base must be secured and the system to collect the dues must be enhanced, perhaps by adopting a similar scheme currently utilized in handling taxes. Another option would be to leave the pension to the private sector, as in the case of various types of life insurances. The new bill has not made the course of the future clear, and that is leaving the people with anxieties.