A major Japanese newspaper has revealed that billions of yen meant to employ people in areas devastated by a powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami off the northeastern Japan in 2011 were funneled into other unrelated projects that did not benefit the victims.
The Asahi Shimbun reported that of the 200 billion yen (two billion US dollars) of government budget meant to help those who lost their homes and jobs in the Great East Japan Earthquake, more than half went to 38 prefectures other than the nine affected in the Tohoku region.
Emergency employment budget was spent on, among other things, a team of workers to count sea turtles, an international manga comic expo, and a campaign to promote Yamaguchi Prefecture with a green-haired mascot called Choruru.
The news of the misappropriation of reconstruction funds drew criticism among social media users.
Twitter user @2_happy commented with disappointment:
@2_happy: Public office and authorities doing such terrible job in this country. Can we still call this country doing just fine? | One hundred billion reconstruction fund diverted
The editor of cyclingtime.com, a portal site for bicycle fans, slammed the “money-grubbers” responsible for the misuse of the money on Twitter. The comment was retweeted for more than 200 times:
@cyclochabumaro: Of 65000 people hired in 38 different prefectures in disaster recovery effort, only 3% were the residents of the disaster-stricken area. 97% were from elsewhere. Please. You should be kidding me, this was meant to help recover from the disaster. Too many money-grabbers making people believe that they are sympathizing and helping fellow citizens.
Shingo Nishinari (@shingo_ghetto), a rapper who is known for political criticism, commented:
@shingo_ghetto: Disappointing. This is unforgivable diverting. Ministries and agencies making excuse to make money. Heartless organizations and groups carrying the money away. My deepest wish for true reconstruction.
This is not the first time that disaster relief funds for the Great East Japan Earthquake have been used for unrelated projects. Kahoku Shimpo, a regional newspaper in the greater Sendai area in central Japan, wrote in June 2011 with disappointment that the government hired [ja] national contractors over local contractors from the devastated region to build temporary housing for earthquake victims.
And The Hokkaido Newspaper wrote editorial [ja] in October 2012 criticizing that 3.4 billion yen of relief aid was used to fund road construction on southwestern Okinawa island, which was unaffected by the earthquake.Twitter user inakamon_jiji (@Inakamon_jiji), whose name means an old man in the countryside, commented on Hokkaido Newspaper’s editorial:
@Inakamon_jiji: “Appropriation of reconstruction budget, unforgivable bureaucrats.” says the paper. The essence of this issue is that government officials are incompetent in governing the country. It’s obvious they needed to do something before they increase taxes.
After the earthquake, fierce criticism was also directed at the mainstream media and public relations agencies which allegedly devoured parts of the reconstruction budget to run morale-boosting public service announcements using celebrities on television. In 2012, blogger popo wrote [ja] about the massive spending by these large television stations funded by siphoning off disaster relief funds. The blogger referenced an article by weekly magazine Post Seven which broke the story in August 2012 [ja].
According to the piece, of the entire reconstruction budget, more than three billion yen were used for recovery support advertisements. The local fishermen’s guilds in disaster-stricken areas barely got any government support and some were forced to shut down business due to a lack of financing. If this piece really reports the truth, I think these major stations should be shut down immediately!
The latest funding revelations by Asahi Shimbun drew vocal criticism. In response to the report, the government plans to ask local governments and other organizations to stop using the reconstruction money and return any untouched funds to the government, according to the newspaper. The Finance Ministry is currently investigating the matter.
On blogroll esteru.com[ja], an anonymous author criticized the plan as being too late. Anonymous users debated in comments below the blogger’s post, trading blame and squabbling about whether it was the fault of the former ruling party Democratic Party Japan (DPJ) or the current Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) administration:
52 名前：はちまき名無しさん 投稿日：2013年06月04日 09:23
I think LDP was quick to take action on this misuse of the reconstruction fund, given how messy of a situation the DPJ created. I’m pretty sure LDP needed at least a half year [after they were elected in December 2012] to respond to the misappropriated budget issue.
148 名前：はちまき名無しさん 投稿日：2013年06月04日 13:57なんで、自民党を叩いてるのがいるのか、まったくわからん。政治、法律の構造をわかってないからだと思うが。自民党が豪腕を発揮した話だろ？ たぶん法律的な手続きを踏んでるから違法性はないと思うけど、普通に考えたら基金にまでいった金を返還させんのは無理だろ。で、その基金を作ったのは自民党かい？
I don’t understand why some people here are blaming on LDP. I suppose they have no idea about political system. I see this story on hauling budget appropriation as a demonstration of LDP’s competency. I mean think about it:it was not LDP that established the fund in the first place. It’s obviously difficult to return funds especially when it was legally proceeded.
151 名前：はちまき名無しさん 投稿日：2013年06月04日 14:20
So they blame DPJ for this? I bet they don’t understand how the Basic Act on Reconstruction passed. When DPJ made cabinet decision on the bill, it included one sentence; the budget should be exclusively used in disaster-stricken area. But when the Diet lawmakers of DPJ-LDP-Komei party together put into legislation, they decided that this budget should not be exclusive. So they are all to be blamed.
153 名前：はちまき名無しさん 投稿日：2013年06月04日 14:26
[in reply to 148] It’s been two years since the diversion of disaster relief funds was first criticized. I think the government is to blame for not interfering with the agencies responsible for the funds. This is not a partisan issue. The pork-barrel spending is an act of government agencies. It’s not a partisan issue. Government agencies are the wrongdoers that spend money without monitoring the use.
On Twitter, Nakano Takashi, who organizes a project in Minamisoma city, Fukushima to support victims of the earthquake, argued that it's not a partisan issue:
@wildft: These budgets that were scrounged via tax increase, but were misused massively; 2 trillion, 1.2 trillion, 10 billion yens used for funding “yuru chara” regional cartoon mascot, local idols, national road construction, counting turtles, gourmet. Each local municipality applied for the fund. In other words, all of us is responsible.