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A former prosecutor general and six others will form an investigative panel to determine the cause of, and the people responsible for, the government’s massive pension record debacle, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Friday.

The fiasco, which has rendered at least 50 million public pension accounts unidentifiable and shortchanged an unknown number of retirees, is growing into a major hurdle for the ruling coalition ahead of the House of Councilors election in July.

The panel, set up at the direction of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be chaired by former prosecutor Kunihiro Matsuo and answer to the ministry, which is in charge of administrative evaluations.

The panel includes experts on the public pension system and information systems and will hold its inaugural meeting Thursday, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a regular news conference.

The blunders, uncovered by the Democratic Party of Japan, are believed to have originated from the Social Insurance Agency’s effort in 1997 to integrate each individual’s premium payment data for each of the three major public pension programs under a single identification number, instead of keeping them in separate accounts.

Some 50 million pension accounts were found in limbo, and the tally is likely to grow: Since the DPJ broached the issue, the SIA has been flooded with inquiries and forced to correct its records based on receipts provided by the payers, who acted after initially being told that no records of their payments exist.

The panel will address not only how the integration effort began and developed, but also the background of the 1979 computerization initiative for the pension records, using staff from the ministry’s Administrative Evaluation Bureau, officials said.

“We want to thoroughly investigate every nook and cranny where the cause might lie and what kinds of structural problems the Social Insurance Agency had,” Suga said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki also said a third-party panel will be set up to verify claims from people without receipts who say they paid premiums to an administrative body other than the Social Insurance Agency, citing the public’s mounting distrust of the SIA.

But Shiozaki skirted the question about whether Abe will take responsibility if his administration fails to cross-check, within a year as promised, all the unidentified payment data with that on the nation’s 30 million current pensioners.

On the same day, the Social Insurance Agency director general and other senior officials started distributing fliers to commuters apologizing for the pension fiasco.

On a street near JR Tokyo Station, Director General Kiyoshi Murase and 14 agency officials spent about 40 minutes distributing about 1,400 fliers that read “We sincerely apologize,” as well as phone numbers people can call to make inquiries.

“We tried actively to create publicity in order to ask the people to confirm their pension records, given the various criticisms,” Murase told reporters afterward.

But most passersby responded coolly to the public display.

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