Kishida Feeling Heat as My Number Woes Pile Up

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, attends the first meeting of a task force tackling problems with the My Number system on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s sense of urgency about My Number mishaps was plain to see Wednesday during the first meeting of a task force launched to address problems with the system.

The government is eager to iron out problems and alleviate the apprehension many people feel about the cards, amid growing criticism that Kishida has shown a lack of leadership on the issue.

“Please take all of the problems very seriously, and further strengthen efforts to address them,” Kishida said at the start of the meeting.

Kishida then asked digital transformation minister Taro Kono, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato, and Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Takeaki Matsumoto to review the elements of the system under their respective jurisdictions.

“Public trust is essential for the shift to a digital society,” Kishida said.

During periods of government meetings open to the media, the prime minister typically presents an overview of policy. It is unusual for the prime minister to mention ministers by name and fire off instructions to them.

The administration has received a lot of flak over its handling of My Card problems.

Hiroshige Seko, secretary general for the Liberal Democratic Party in the House of Councillors, said, “The government hasn’t issued a unified response to the problems. The Prime Minister’s Office must take the lead on this issue.”

Kishida’s comments at Wednesday’s meeting appear to have been aimed at demonstrating his leadership.

At a press conference the same day, Kishida said the “entire government” would push ahead with an overhaul of the system and measures to prevent further problems.

The decision to appoint Kono head of the task force triggered groans from some LDP lawmakers.

“The prime minister might have wanted to avoid bearing the brunt of the criticism, but this gives the impression he’s leaving everything up to Mr. Kono,” an LDP lawmaker said to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

It is widely accepted within the government and ruling parties that the recent drop in the Cabinet’s approval rating is because of public concern about the My Number system.

The government’s response has been one step behind since the first case of a data breach linked to My Number cards was discovered in autumn 2021. Since then, many cases have emerged in which cards have been erroneously linked to the health insurance details of the wrong cardholder.

If more problems are uncovered, public distrust will grow and support for the Cabinet will fall further.

“I’d like to ask the government to take steps to prevent further problems and to dispel unease about the system,” Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said to Kishida, who paid a customary visit to the head of the LDP’s coalition partner on the last day of the ordinary Diet session Wednesday.

Doubts are growing in the ruling and opposition parties about the plan to scrap health insurance cards in autumn 2024 as the function has been integrated into My Number IDs.

On Wednesday, LDP lawmaker Shunichi Yamaguchi urged the government to rethink the plan, which he described as “a bit reckless.” “Both cards should be allowed. It would be better for people to switch over to My Number IDs gradually over time,” said Yamaguchi, who is chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Rules and Administration.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan President Kenta Izumi has also blasted the plan. “It’s inflexible and being implemented too hastily,” the leader of the main opposition party said.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Kishida left the door open to pushing back the deadline for scrapping health insurance cards. He repeatedly said public concerns would have to be eased before the cards were scrapped.

A senior LDP official said, “he probably wanted to avoid being seen as fixated on the deadline.”