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2008年10月 7日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 4(IHT/Asahi: October 6,2008)
EDITORIAL: Altered pension records

The health ministry has disclosed that standard monthly remuneration rates were sharply reduced on about 750,000 records in the kosei nenkin government-managed pension program for corporate employees.
年金改ざん―どこまで広がるのやら 厚生年金の記録の改ざん問題で、保険料算定のもとになる標準報酬月額を大幅に引き下げた例が75万件あることが明らかになった。

In addition, in 533,000 cases records were retroactively altered for six months or more, with the employee's monthly base income rank--one of 30 from 98,000 yen to the upper limit of 620,000--being lowered. These ranks are used to calculate premiums.
In 156,000 cases, this downgrading was made almost simultaneously with the withdrawal of the employees from the pension program.

Previously, the ministry said it had found 69,000 pension records it suspected had been falsified. But the new revelations indicate the problem is far larger.

All of these cases do not necessarily involve tampering. Companies may substantially cut the salaries of employees when in financial distress. Small businesses may correct salary figures if they fail to submit government-required paperwork on time.
However, there are probably many other cases of record tampering that fit none of the three types described by the ministry.

The government should first ferret out all records that may have been altered and reveal the whole picture to the public. Then, it should check each of the suspicious cases to determine the accuracy of the data and correct all falsified records to ensure that employees receive the benefits they have earned.

At the same time, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe should take steps to make clear how these records were altered and identify those responsible.
Masuzoe has admitted it was probably an organized practice, saying, "I think there was organizational involvement (in the record tampering)."
He should launch an investigation to identify those who were responsible for the misconduct and punish then. And he must use the findings to make sure that there will be no such malfeasance at the new organization that takes over pension management operations from the Social Insurance Agency, which is to be disbanded.

However, the way the ministry revealed these new numbers raises questions.
The ministry must have been aware of them when it found the 69,000 records that were likely to have been tampered with. Why didn't it disclose them until now?

The outlook for the dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election has changed. Until recently, new Prime Minister Taro Aso was widely expected to dissolve the chamber as early as the end of September. But it is now believed it will be delayed. The Budget Committees of both houses will soon discuss this problem and other issues.
It is hard not to suspect that the government originally intended to keep the public in the dark on these pension cases. Did this calculation change when the political situation changed, with the government believing it needed to disclose the pension scandal before the opposition grilled it on the problem at the Diet?

As it happened, it was revealed that the Liberal Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee had instructed all ministries and agencies to consult the party when the opposition requested government data.

It is obvious that such an instruction makes ministries and agencies less willing to provide important information to an opposition party, especially information that may be embarrassing to the ruling camp.

Opposition requests for government-held information have led to a series of revelations of outrageous negligence and misdeeds by government officials, from pension record mismanagement to misuse of money earmarked for road construction to acceptance of gifts from taxi drivers by bureaucrats while using taxi services paid for by the government.
With a Lower House election in the offing, is the LDP trying to block opposition access to information that can lead to such embarrassing revelations? If so, the party is not playing fair.

Needless to say, information held by the government belongs to the the public. The government should provide all information requested by the Diet to ensure serious, fact-based discussions on key issues.
That's essential for finding remedies to serious problems like the pension record scandal.


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