Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

October 31, 2012

Japan spent rebuilding money on unrelated projects

SENDAI, Japan (AP) — About a quarter of the $148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan's 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 11.7 trillion yen ($148 billion) budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan's 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. We must listen to those who say the reconstruction should be the first priority," 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 30 million yen ($380,000) went to promoting the Tokyo Sky Tree, a transmission tower that is the world's tallest freestanding broadcast structure. Another 2.8 billion yen ($35 million) was requested by the Justice Ministry for a publicity campaign to "reassure the public" about the risks of big disasters.

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