Japan began sending warnings to an estimated 8.5 million people yesterday that their pension data may have gone missing, as the government seeks to clean up a scandal that has damaged its credibility.
The government has acknowledged losing track of pension records linked to 64 million claims.
The disclosure earlier this year ignited a scandal that saw the ruling party lose control of parliament's upper house in July elections and eroded public confidence in the ability of the world's second largest economy to support its growing legions of elderly.
The Social Insurance Agency sent notices linked to about 300,000 claims yesterday, agency official Sueji Miura said. The agency anticipates follow-up mailings through the end of March that will bring the total to around 11 million claims involving 8.5 million people, he said.
Recipients need to verify their pension and related personal information recorded by the government, make any necessary additions or corrections and return the notice along with supporting documents, he said. Those with no changes to make are asked to return an included postcard.
From next April, the government will also send notices to over 100 million people to try to match the remaining 53 million outstanding claims, Miura said.
"We are making and will continue to make every effort to see that each and every person conclusively gets back the pension funds they are owed," Health and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe told reporters.
The mess helped to drive former prime minister Shinzo Abe out of office and has continued to make life difficult for his successor, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Fukuda's government has faced criticism that a failure to resolve the pension problem would be considered a breach of public pledges that the ruling party made during July's electoral campaign.
The Nikkei Shimbun attributed a 12 percentage point drop in the support rate for Fukuda's Cabinet to 43 percent in a poll published yesterday in part to the imbroglio.
No margin of error was provided for the random telephone survey of 870 people.
Pension payment is mandatory for all Japanese aged between 20 and 60. On average, company employees contribute more than 6 percent of their salary and can expect to receive about US$1,450 a month after retirement.
Japan has one of the world's fastest-aging societies -- 21 percent of its 127 million people are 65 or older, and some 25 million retirees are collecting pensions, with the number expected to rise to 35 million by 2040.
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