SENDAI, Japan: 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 $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.”
Near the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, recovery work has barely begun.