Ozawa threatens censure over pension-record mess

by Setsuko Kamiya

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa said Tuesday the DPJ may submit a censure motion against labor minister Yoichi Masuzoe in the Upper House for breaking his pledge to match all 50 million unidentified pension premium payment records with their holders by the end of March.

Ozawa said Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was also responsible, but the person directly in charge bears the brunt of the blame.

“Pensions are a very important issue for the lives of the public, and (the government) consequently lied to them,” Ozawa said at a news conference. “I believe the minister in charge bears a grave responsibility, and if he doesn’t voluntarily apologize and (resign), we will consider” submitting the censure motion.

A censure motion would be nonbinding, but if adopted it would represent another blow to Fukuda’s government, already suffering from political gridlock in the divided Diet.

Ozawa also demanded the government retract the newly introduced system that deducts medical insurance fees from the pensions of people aged 75 and older, claiming it is “bullying the elderly.”

Matching the pension records by the end of March was a campaign pledge by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc in last July’s Upper House election.

But the DPJ, which uncovered the Social Insurance Agency’s mishandling of the pension records, won a landslide and became the largest force in the upper chamber, which is now opposition-controlled.

When he took office as health, labor and welfare minister, Masuzoe said he would “stake his political life” on matching the records of “the very last person to the very last yen.” The government is trying to match the records with a plan set up prior to the election by Fukuda’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

The SIA admitted in late December it was having difficulty identifying millions of the accounts, leaving little chance the records would be matched by the deadline.

The government began sending notices about pension premium payment records to people in mid-December with the expectation of helping them remember details of past premium payments.