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A government panel of experts has established the basic criteria for determining pension benefits for people whose premium-payment records have been lost by the Social Insurance Agency and who lack receipts to prove they made the payments. The Central Committee of Disinterested Parties for Confirmation of Pension Data says pension benefits should be paid out if statements by such people “are not unreasonable in light of socially acceptable conventional wisdom and appear true.”

This departure from past practice, which would have resulted in a denial of pension benefits to such people, is good news. Although the committee’s policy appears to reflect Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire to minimize public criticism of the government’s poor handling of pension problems before the Upper House election, it is still a reasonable response. The committee also says that salary statements, household account books, bank account records, duplicates of tax reports and personnel affairs records or statements of a premium payer’s employer will be accepted as evidence of premium payments.

The new criteria will be used by 50 local committees of experts across the nation. While the new rules are based on the good intention of helping as many people as possible, it is also true that the rules are fuzzy. For example, the central committee has not listed possible cases in which pension benefits cannot, or should not, be paid. Therefore, confusion could occur at the local-committee level. Utmost care must be taken so that criteria are enforced uniformly nationwide.

Local committees must guard against people who make false claims or present falsified documents. If pension benefits are given to such people, public trust in the pension system will be betrayed and the system itself will be undermined.

Judgment in difficult cases should not be left to a local committee alone. Such cases should be reported for careful study to the central committee, which should then share its conclusion with all local committees. The bottom line in handling difficult cases should be transparency.

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