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The government wasted some ¥210.87 billion in tax money in fiscal 2020, which ended in March this year, the Board of Audit said Friday.

The amount increased sharply from around ¥29.7 billion the previous year, despite the number of wasteful spending cases falling to 210, the lowest level since fiscal 1994, according to the board’s report submitted to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The decline in cases reflected restrictions on on-site inspections by staff due to the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The largest amount of improperly used tax money in a single case was ¥160.1 billion reported at the Finance Ministry. The board urged the ministry to sell 80 tons of gold ingots, with a book value of ¥160.1 billion, that was not slated to be used to produce commemorative coins.

The ministry sold the ingots to its Foreign Exchange Fund Special Account for ¥542 billion. It was the first time ever for the ministry to sell gold ingots, according to the ministry.

The Finance Ministry had the most tax money wasted with a total of ¥160.3 billion, followed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries at ¥22.7 billion and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare at ¥2 billion.

The board called on the agriculture ministry to improve its ¥13.7-billion system for searching farmland nationwide, pointing out that it is not being used effectively.

Funds totaling ¥42 trillion were spent on 770 programs related to the coronavirus crisis, such as infection prevention measures and economic stimulus measures, in fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2020.

A total of ¥65 trillion was reserved for these programs in the respective years’ budgets, meaning that only 65% of the earmarked funds were used.

Of the remaining amount, ¥21 trillion was carried over into the budget for fiscal 2021, while ¥1 trillion was deemed unnecessary.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last year procured 287.41 million cloth masks, dubbed “Abenomasks” by the public, but 82.72 million of these, or about 30% of the total, valued at around ¥11.5 billion, remain in storage. The ministry paid ¥600 million in storage fees to Japan Post Co. and others.

“(The ministry) should consider measures, keeping in mind options such as sales and transfers, in addition to reducing storage fees,” the board said.

The board also called on the government to make improvements in outsourcing operations for the business continuation subsidy program, in which ¥5.5 trillion was paid out to small businesses and sole proprietors.

The Small and Medium Enterprise Agency paid ¥66.8 billion to outsource administrative work regarding the program to the Service Design Engineering Council, which then commissioned the work to advertising agency Dentsu Group Inc. for ¥64.1 billion.

Dentsu also outsourced the work, resulting in a total of 723 companies taking part in the operation, with the work recommissioned up to nine times.

On the Go To Travel domestic tourism promotion campaign, the board took issue with the Japan Tourism Agency’s failure to comprehend whether subsidies to compensate for cancellations were distributed fairly.

After the campaign was halted late last year due to the resurgence of the coronavirus, the agency paid ¥115.7 billion to the tourism industry. However, the agency was unable to check whether such funds were fairly given to varying businesses involved, such as lodging and transportation operators.

“The agency paid ¥11.5 billion for administrative work related to the distribution, so it should review whether the funds were given out appropriately,” the board said.

The relevant government agencies each released comments saying that they will aim to take steps for improvement in response to the board’s suggestions.

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