Hundreds of billions of yen in taxpayer money was again wasted by the government and publicly funded organizations in fiscal 2013, according to the annual report by the Board of Audit. Given the nation’s snowballing public debt, it is all the more important for bureaucrats and other officials to ensure their projects are implemented properly. They need to first design them from the viewpoint of maximizing cost-effectiveness, and make sure that the programs will achieve their intended effects.

The report also discusses improper behavior of organizations that was discovered by the board when it audited them.

The wasteful use of taxpayer money exposed by the audit board’s examination of spending by the national government and organizations with at least 50 percent of their capital supplied by the national government, and local governments and educational institutions getting national government subsidies reached ¥283.1 billion over 595 cases. It represents a decrease of ¥200 billion from the previous year but is still a huge amount.

Particularly noticeable was improper use of funds for projects related to the reconstruction of areas damaged by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and anti-disaster measures. The following are some examples.

The land and infrastructure ministry has spent some ¥441 billion from fiscal 2011 on projects to induce residents in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures hit by the 3/11 disasters to move from the coast to highland areas. But so far, only 13 of the 55 such residential development projects scheduled to be finished by the end of 2013 have been completed.

The delay has forced many residents to abandon their plans to move to the new housing areas, thereby sharply reducing demand for the land plots completed or under development. The Board of Audit called on the ministry to give advice to municipalities concerned, including information on downsizing the projects.

Another example involved the incinerated waste of materials that had been exposed to radiation in the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Such waste is required to be stored in special containers if the concentration of radioactive cesium exceeds 8,000 becquerels per kilogram. But the board found that as of June 2014, seven disposal facilities were keeping it in containers whose service life had expired. And it discovered 11 other facilities that were storing such waste in containers whose service life was unknown. The Environment Ministry insists that the use of containers whose service life has expired would not pose safety problems, but further checks will be necessary.

The government spent ¥163.6 billion from fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2013 to build multipurpose underground utility conduits that stretches a total of 434 km for the purpose of housing power and optical fiber cables that were originally above ground. This is intended to allow the removal of utility poles, which could collapse and block roads during disasters.

But as of the end of March, the Board of Audit found that unused utility poles were left standing in sections that stretch a total of 165 km, including ones that are designated for use in emergency transportation in times of major disasters.

The board also found that dams built to prevent floods from torrential rains were plagued by problems. River flows had deposited too much soil in 106 of these dams in Hokkaido and 22 other prefectures, reducing their ability to control floods.

In another case, the board detected some 500 spots on tracks belonging to JR Hokkaido — whose maintenance problems first surfaced in September 2013 — where examinations or repairs were not carried out in time. The board found that JR Shikoku had problems at 20 locations.

All these examples are important because they concern public safety. The board says that it will further examine the use of tax money spent on the reconstruction of the areas affected by the March 2011 disasters and on Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant where meltdowns occurred in the midst of the disasters. The board should carry out its probes in a strict and detailed manner.

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