Poor use of reconstruction funds

The latest annual Board of Audit report has once again highlighted the lagging implementation of projects to aid the reconstruction of communities devastated by the March 2011 disasters. Nearly a quarter of the ¥19 trillion set aside for such projects in fiscal 2011 and 2012 was unused. Meanwhile, roughly ¥1.3 trillion was found to have been earmarked for work that has nothing to do with reconstruction of disaster-hit areas. The government must properly assess reconstruction requirements, set aside funds where the money is really needed and take the initiative to remove obstacles that are hindering the implementation of necessary projects.

According to the report, a total of ¥19.9 trillion had been earmarked for reconstruction projects in fiscal 2011 and 2012, but ¥4.53 trillion — or 22 percent of the total — was left unused at the end of March 2013. About ¥2.2 trillion of the amount was carried over for use in fiscal 2013 or later while the remainder was returned to the national coffers as “unnecessary.” About ¥570 billion earmarked in fiscal 2011 to cover 127 projects was carried over to the fiscal 2012 budget but remained unused a year later. Many of the projects to dispose of tsunami debris and rebuild port facilities could not be carried out because of local manpower and materials shortage or for other reasons such as soil contamination.

In some of the programs financed by a fund created by the reconstruction budget, government subsidies were returned entirely unused to the state coffers after nobody applied for money from the fund — apparently because the programs did not match the needs of the disaster-hit areas. The Board of Audit report urged the central government to work more closely with local municipalities to assess what is needed and what is being done in the affected areas before distributing reconstruction funds.

About ¥1.52 trillion of the reconstruction budget was set aside for work related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, 60 percent of which was to finance soil decontamination efforts. But decontamination work is lagging due to difficulties finding a temporary storage site for contaminated soil, according to the report. The report meanwhile showed that Fukushima Prefecture had to compile one extra budget after another over the past two years to pay for the mushrooming costs of reconstruction efforts.

The report also determined that of the total 1,401 projects earmarked for reconstruction purposes in the fiscal 2011-2012 budgets, 326 programs — or 23 percent of the total — had in fact nothing to do with the disaster-hit areas. Some ¥2.19 billion spent by the Fisheries Agency in 2011 to aid Japan’s whaling research program — ostensibly to support reconstruction of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, home to the whale meat processing industry — was singled out as one of the unrelated projects that took advantage of the reconstruction budget. Other expenses deemed not to be serving the reconstruction purposes included quake-resistance work in municipalities outside the earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged areas.

The reconstruction budget is being financed by taxpayer money, including funds raised by tax increases in response to the March 2011 disasters. The same Board of Audit report pointed out as much as ¥490 billion in overall wasteful spending of the fiscal 2012 budget. The government has a duty to use the reconstruction funds in the most efficient way to meet the pressing needs of hundreds of thousands of people who have yet to rebuild their lives after the Tohoku disasters.