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Careful with that money!

October 15, 2012


Gov't urged not to use quake reconstruction budgets for other areas




The government should hammer out a clear-cut policy not to direct budgets for the reconstruction of areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami for other purposes, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Policy Research Committee Chair Goshi Hosono stated over the weekend.

Hosono made the remarks during a Fuji TV program on Oct. 14, following a string of revelations that massive amounts of "reconstruction budgets" have been diverted to measures unrelated to disaster recovery efforts, drawing fire from the public.

"The government should set out a clear direction that reconstruction budgets would not be used in areas other than those hit by the quake disaster," Hosono said.

"The government had initially proposed the law with the idea of limiting the budgets' use to disaster-affected areas, but it was later decided that the budgets be authorized for all of Japan based on the opinions of the Liberal Democratic Party. I believe the idea was not mistaken as a whole," he said.

"Areas outside the disaster-hit zone are settling down, so it is fine to change the course (of the budgets)," he added.

Regarding the DPJ's nuclear energy policy to be incorporated into the ruling party's manifesto for the next House of Representatives election, Hosono said, "The government and the DPJ have laid out a policy to inject all necessary resources into a goal of zero nuclear reactors in operation by the 2030s, and the policy will be clearly stipulated in the manifesto."

Funds allocated to suicide prevention projects from quake reconstruction budgets




Over 3 billion yen has been allocated to nationwide suicide prevention projects out of reconstruction budgets set aside for areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned.

The revelation is the latest in a series of much-criticized diversions of budgets for quake reconstruction to projects that have little or no connection to disaster recovery efforts.

According to the finding, the Cabinet Office has granted 3.7 billion yen to suicide prevention projects nationwide as part of the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 and demanded another 3 billion yen in the fiscal 2013 budget -- out of budgets for "nationwide disaster prevention measures," which are part of the reconstruction budgets. The nationwide disaster prevention budgets are intended for use in preparation for potentially imminent major disasters, such as a quake hitting Tokyo or a temblor occurring in the Nankai Trough in the seabed off central to western Japan.

An official of the Office for Policy of Suicide Prevention of the Cabinet Office defended the budgetary measures, saying, "Suicide prevention projects constitute disaster prevention in that they are meant to prevent psychological damage emanating from the quake disaster."

The suicide prevention projects, called "regional suicide prevention emergency stepped-up measures," are intended to support projects such as suicide hotlines operated by municipal governments and counselor training -- through prefectural governments across the country.

The projects have heretofore been funded by general accounts since fiscal 2009. At a press conference on Oct. 12, Minister of State for Disaster Management Mikio Shimoji said, "In light of the urgency, I wonder if it's right to demand budgets for suicide prevention projects from the nationwide disaster prevention budgets, while the Cabinet Office has demanded general account budgets since before the quake disaster," suggesting that the Cabinet Office's budget demand for the next fiscal year is likely to be reviewed.

The Cabinet Office has earlier defined expenditure prerequisites for nationwide disaster prevention budgets as projects that have immediate effects, taking into consideration that reconstruction budgets are funded by tax hikes for disaster recovery efforts.

A representative of the Office for Policy of Suicide Prevention said, "The number of suicides increased on the heels of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The suicide prevention budgets are also intended to prevent suicides in case a major quake hits the Nankai Trough area and from other quakes, but it may be a bit hard to understand."

The nationwide disaster prevention budgets were created with the aim of preparing for mega disasters, taking heed to the lessons left by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. However, the idea of funding future disaster prevention measures from reconstruction budgets for a past disaster is hard to understand for the public. A spate of revelations that reconstruction budgets have been diverted to projects that are not highly urgent or effective have also raised questions.

"I think some twists are needed, such as separating nationwide disaster prevention budgets from reconstruction budgets," said Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Yuichiro Hata.

Out of the approximately 19 trillion yen set aside as reconstruction budgets, some 1 trillion yen is expected to be earmarked for nationwide disaster prevention budgets. In December last year, the Cabinet Office cited possible future disasters subjected to the nationwide disaster prevention budgets. They included major aftershocks of the Great East Japan Earthquake, a Nankai Trough tremor, a quake directly hitting the Tokyo area, and a tremor around the Japan Trench and Chishima Trench.

The ministries and agencies have allocated the nationwide disaster prevention budgets to projects in areas outside the disaster-hit zone as well, such as work on national roads in Okinawa Prefecture and anti-quake and anti-tsunami measures at government buildings. By fiscal 2012, some 1 trillion yen has been earmarked for those purposes, and another 940 billion yen in budgets is demanded for fiscal 2013. Criticism has been mounting over delayed budget implementations for disaster-affected areas.

Financially-strapped coastal prefectures, where potential damage from the Nankai Trough quake is projected, have demanded an increase in nationwide disaster prevention budgets. A representative of the Wakayama Prefectural Government criticized the central government, saying, "We have been taking only direct measures, such as setting up evacuation routes, as part of projects covered by the nationwide disaster prevention budgets. I wonder why they budget for projects that have nothing to do with disaster prevention."

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