The question remains as to why the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, Komeito, forced two bills to abolish the Social Insurance Agency through the just-ended Diet session with such haste. Suspicions also have been raised about the contents of the bills.

The way in which the bills were enacted into law demonstrated that the coalition was more interested in creating the impression that it had dealt with pension-related issues than in taking the time needed to discuss and resolve actual problems.

Current pension problems stem from record-keeping blunders at the Social Insurance Agency. The agency is having trouble verifying identities for up to 50 million pension premium-payment records. Lawmakers should have been given enough time to carefully examine what actually happened at the SIA, and why, and to discuss what measures should be taken, or what kind of system should be established, to prevent a recurrence of this fiasco. But this did not happen.

Under the enacted bills, the SIA will be closed in 2010 and a wholly government-owned corporation will be set up to manage pension plans under the supervision of the welfare ministry. The government will outsource some work to the private sector, but the bills fail to specify the kind of work to be outsourced. They provide only for the formation of a panel to discuss the matter. It was as if Diet members passed these bills without a clear concept of how a future pension system should be managed.

The new corporation will rehire SIA workers, but they will have to be interviewed for their new positions and will lose their status as public servants. It was earlier reported that the government planned to greatly reduce the number of workers. One wonders how a reduced workforce will execute its duties properly.

Questions remain as to whether the new corporation will be able to seamlessly incorporate the knowledge and experience of the SIA and whether it will be able to properly accumulate and maintain pension-related information. Since officials of the corporation will not be public servants, it may be difficult for lawmakers to have them testify in the Diet. The government must prove that the SIA changeover is more than just organizational tinkering.

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