From one stingy minister to another

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From one stingy minister to another


Dear Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs:

I am the head of the Social Insurance Agency in Japan. I am in charge of pensions, so we deal with similar issues. You may wonder why I am writing to you. When I was reading an article in yesterday’s Korean newspaper, I laughed out loud because the article showed how alike we civil servants all are.

I read that your ministry will pay 5,000 won ($4.40) as compensation to the family of a soldier killed in action in the Korean War. Although your ministry turned down the original request by Mrs. Kim because the right of claim lasted five years from the 1950 death, you lost the lawsuit she brought against you and were forced to pay. According to Korean War-era compensation regulations, a private’s family was to be paid 50,000 hwan, or about 5,000 won based on the ministry’s conversion of 10 hwan to 1 won.

I have had similar conversions many times, especially with Koreans. In 1996, our Nagasaki office decided to pay 35 yen ($0.46) to Kim Sun-gil, a Korean forced labor victim, for withdrawing from the pension program. If you apply today’s exchange rate, that is about 530 won, or enough to buy two snack cakes. The calculation was based on the wage she received when she worked for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Nagasaki shipbuilding plant during the Japanese colonial period.

I felt sorry for her, but what could I do? There are countless forced labor victims in addition to Mrs. Kim, so I wasn’t able to make a special consideration for her. Initially, I was not going to pay her anything because the Social Pension Law says that you can only receive a payment within five years of being disqualified for a pension. But in late 1995, the law was changed to allow the minimum payout. You should understand that 35 yen is not bad. I heard your ministry said that it would not pay your Mrs. Kim because the five-year statute of limitations had passed. We are alike, indeed. Yet, there is one thing I do not understand. I know why we were stingy - it is natural that our government would not want to pay Koreans - but why were you?

Maybe I should have told you this earlier, but the Social Insurance Agency no longer exists. It lost 5,095 pension case files, leading to the collapse of the Liberal Democratic Party’s regime. In January 2010, the agency was replaced with the Japan Pension Service. So I am a ghost minister. I just wanted to say that you should be careful because it could happen to you, too.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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