Vice ministers reformed pension system

by Setsuko Kamiya

Authorities have yet to determine if there is any relation between the fatal stabbings of a former welfare vice minister and his wife and the attack that left another ex-welfare vice minister’s wife seriously wounded, but such speculation has inevitably arisen as both bureaucrats specialized in the pension system, whose mishandling has been heavily criticized in recent years.

However, a noted scholar versed in the pension system said they appear to have fallen victim to someone who does not know about the positive changes the two men made to the system 20 years ago.

Kenji Yoshihara, 76, who was vice minister between 1988 and 1990, and Takehiko Yamaguchi, 66, who held the same position between 1996 and 1999, were the brains behind the introduction of the flat-rate universal basic pension benefit, which is the basis of today’s national pension system.

In 1985, when the laws were revised to introduce the basic pension, Yoshihara, as head of the pension bureau, and Yamaguchi, as the section chief of the pension division, were the key bureaucrats behind the revision.

Noriyuki Takayama, professor at Hitotsubashi University and an expert on the pension system, explained that the 1985 revision was an epoch-making move, as it allowed everyone to be covered by the public pension equally, at least in the basic first-tier level of the system.

However, thousands of pension records went missing during the process of integrating the different pension systems, angering hundreds of thousands of people and leading to harsh criticism of officials at the welfare ministry and Social Insurance Agency.

But Takayama nevertheless highly praised the integration reform led by the pair.

Prior to the revision, three different public pension programs existed — for public servants, salaried workers and self-employed people. As the financial resources were not shared, this resulted in great inequality among occupations as Japan’s industrial structure changed drastically.

To solve the problem, the revision unified all the pensions and distributed part of the resources equally to everyone at the basic level, Takayama said.

The revision also secured coverage for housewives and people who became disabled before they turned 20, he said. “The 1985 revision solved the problems the system had at that point,” he added.

“And because of the significance, both the ruling and opposition parties supported it and the bill cleared both chambers of the Diet,” he said.

“Both Yoshihara and Yamaguchi were commanders of such significant revision, and they deserve merit for this,” Takayama said. “I cannot understand why someone would hold feelings of resentment against them.”

Takayama said he does not know Yoshihara or Yamaguchi well personally, but added he feels deeply sorry for them.

“The media seem to be heavily bashing the bureaucrats, and the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry and Social Insurance Agency are two major targets. I feel so sorry if Yamaguchi and his wife, and Yoshihara’s wife fell victims to someone who targeted them simply because of the (ministry) titles they held,” he said.

Yoshihara also served as chief of the SIA prior to becoming vice minister.

Both men retired from the ministry after their term as vice ministers ended.

Following the brutal stabbings, the health ministry Tuesday evening suddenly raised its security level.

On Tuesday night, the ministry sent a list of the names and addresses of former ministers, vice ministers, heads of the SIA and officials of the pension and health insurance bureaus to the National Police Agency so they can provide necessary security.

Since Wednesday morning, security guards with metal detectors were assigned to check each person entering the ministry’s main entrance in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district.