Japan PM Kishida apologises for ID card mishaps as ratings slide

By Sakura Murakami

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose approval ratings have slid to their lowest since he took office, apologised on Friday for mishaps over a government plan to integrate people’s tax and social security data into a single identification card.

Adding to his woes going into the weekend, one of Kishida’s members of parliament resigned as a deputy minister earlier in the day amid allegations that he had accepted bribes from a wind power company.

“I apologise for the concerns that have spread among the public,” Kishida said at a news conference held in a bid to ease concern over the identification card plan.

Public frustrations with the push for a single “My Number” card system have mounted after errors in its implementation came to light.

Such mishaps have included people’s health insurance information being linked to the wrong social security account and welfare payments being made to the wrong person.

A Yomiuri newspaper poll in July found that the public approval rating for the Kishida administration had dipped to a low of 35%. The same poll found 52% of respondents did not support the government.

Earlier in the day, Tokyo prosecutors raided the office of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto on suspicion that he took bribes amounting to tens of millions of yen, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The foreign ministry later announced that Akimoto had stepped down from his post as a vice minister.

In his news conference, Kishida declined to comment directly on Akimoto, citing the ongoing investigation, but said he was “very disappointed that the situation has turned into one that sows distrust among the public.”

Asked about the possibility that the alleged bribes accepted from a renewable energy company might be perceived as exploiting Japan’s energy policy, Kishida said only that the government’s policy on energy was “unwavering”.

Calls to Akimoto’s office went unanswered. Government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno declined to comment, saying that Akimoto had not spoken to him about the issue.

State broadcaster NHK and other media reported that Tokyo prosecutors suspect Japan Wind Development Co. paid bribes to Akimoto.

The Tokyo-based company declined to comment, referring questions to its lawyer. Reuters was not able to reach the company’s lawyer for comment.

A lawyer representing the company’s president denied bribery, the Sankei newspaper reported.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; editing by Robert Birsel and Hugh Lawson)