Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Japan Has Spent Its Tsunami Money on Unrelated Projects; Transmission Tower, Whaling, PR Campaign Are Funded

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Japan Has Spent Its Tsunami Money on Unrelated Projects; Transmission Tower, Whaling, PR Campaign Are Funded

Article excerpt

SENDAI, JAPAN About a quarter of the $148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japans March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.

The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.

Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the $148 billion budget were included on the pretext that they might contribute to Japans economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.

It is true that the government has not done enough and has not done it adequately," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a speech to parliament on Monday. He vowed that unrelated projects will be strictly wrung out of the budget.

But ensuring that funds go to their intended purpose might require an explicit change in the reconstruction spending law, which authorizes spending on such ambiguous purposes as creating eco- towns and supporting employment measures.

Among the unrelated projects benefiting from the reconstruction budgets are: road building in distant Okinawa; prison vocational training in other parts of Japan; subsidies for a contact lens factory in central Japan; renovations of government offices in Tokyo; aircraft and fighter pilot training, research and production of rare earths minerals, a semiconductor research project and even funding to support whaling, ostensibly for research, according to data from the government audit released last week.

A list of budget items and spending shows some $380,000 went to promoting the Tokyo Sky Tree, a transmission tower that is the worlds tallest freestanding broadcast structure. Another $35 million was requested by the Justice Ministry for a publicity campaign to reassure the public about the risks of big disasters.

Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would trickle down to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japans efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump. …

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