Minister Nagatsuma and the Japan pension records mess

A Japan Times editorial is pointing out that even with 50,000 extra staff, it may be impossible to accurately determine which of the remaining 15 million records belongs to which contributor here.

It’s an astounding mess the DPJ inherited when they won the election, and that’s why I have a lot of admiration for Akira Nagatsuma.

More tomorrow.

[11/08/09: The sense I have is that the government is going to have to come up with a formula to guess what monies were uncredited to individual accounts, and then boost the monthly benefit of current pension recipients.

Out of the original 50 million unidentified records, it looks like 35 million of the easier ones were matched to a beneficiary in the last 2 years.

The remaining 15 million-and-change that aren’t connected to a premium payer must include a number of cases where it will be a long-shot to find the owner.

I’ve seen how people can try to create the bureaucratic nightmare within companies here in Japan–it’s done with a little more practice and pinanche than what you see back home. If the bureaucracy in the Health and Labor Ministry wanted to stick it to Nagatsuma, they could play this 15 million orphaned records matter out in 15 billion different ways. Almost all of them not good for reform.

In one of my old companies, people (usually those with little to do or not wanting to do the jobs they were hired for) used to create big issues where none really existed. I was floored by this because it’s normally pointed out in American culture very quickly. But here, people don’t like to point!

I could see the news going for months on end that “there’s still trouble” (of the bureaucracy’s own making) with pension clean up. And all this being done simply to make Nagatsuma look bad. Folks who voted Minshuto in on the pension issue then start getting impatient. (“Hey, where’s my money?!” is a question that could make anyone get so.)

The strategy of the Labor and Health bureaucracy, then, would be simply not to deliver. “Look at this smelly problem that we can’t seem to get rid of!” This would be more pressure on the Minister, since the people in government who let the mess itself occur are long gone.

A lot of this argues for ending a crap system sooner rather than later, by the way.

One good alternative is extend cash or credit assistance to any retiree with a records problem. This would allow the retiree to collect while the records get worked on. There would have to be a policy and a set of regulations to determine whether the money should be a cash grant, or a loan collected out of the estate. Maybe a higher temporary award if the government gets the right to claw back the money, if need be, when the estate settles. Otherwise, a lower, cash grant that is a settlement of the issue.

Would such a remedy be subject to fraud and abuse? Yes, in some instances. But it is a better alternative than making people who are retired spend time worrying about money and if they’ll ever see what, arguably, they were promised a long time before!

Another alternative is to retroactively adopt an American-style payout scheme. In American social security original contributions count for more (up to 90% of average monthly earnings over a career, on about the first $300,000 of earnings).

In cases of gaps that appear due to unrecorded contributions, if an alternate formula is employed to determine the pension benefit, this could also bring needed relief.

Either of these fixes are going to require a funding source. ]