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Shocking misappropriation of disaster funds

October 12, 2012


Editorial: Gov't must move fast to ensure disaster recovery cash flows to areas in need



Revelations that large portions of the national budget allocated to recovery from last year's Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear disaster have been funneled to non-disaster areas has caused wide repercussions. The opposition bloc sought to hold a meeting of a House of Representatives Audit and Oversight of Administration Committee subcommittee to get to the bottom of the matter, but it was called off when members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to show up.

It is disgraceful that not only have funds been effectively misappropriated for purposes that are not necessary related to post-quake reconstruction, but that the government's response has been so passive once the facts emerged. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's attitude toward the issue is too lax, and we demand that the government address the issue promptly, including conducting a fundamental review of the reconstruction budget.

The party that once led investigations into "vanished pensions" and other money issues seems to be no longer. In spite of questions being raised about how taxes are spent, the DPJ will not agree to a deliberation in the Diet, which is in recess. It is a sign that the party has begun to put its guard up.

Examples of the questionable use of the reconstruction budget continue to emerge. According to reports, a total of 12 billion yen was spent on seismic renovations of government agency facilities. Did it not occur to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism or the Ministry of Finance to demand that priority be placed on seismic

renovations of local government facilities in disaster areas, since the funds were set aside for reconstruction? Whatever happened to a sense of responsibility among those in government service?

Reconstruction Minister Tatsuo Hirano has requested the Finance Ministry to conduct a fact-finding survey, and the Government Revitalization Unit of the Cabinet Office has launched its own investigation. However, it's already been one month since the airing of public broadcaster NHK's special program that first uncovered the questionable spending, and over two weeks since we demanded that the issue be resolved. Perhaps the reason the government has been so slow to respond is because the prime minister has not shown a willingness to lead the way.

Among the examples of spending that have come under fire, there are cases that do not deserve criticism. The first task is to comb through all spending so far, and sort it into that which was truly related to reconstruction efforts and that which wasn't. Some cases may call for a halt to budget implementation.

Once that sorting process is completed, the approximately 1.2 trillion yen of the "national disaster countermeasures" budget not under the jurisdiction of the Reconstruction Ministry should be split off from the approximately 4.5 trillion yen in the fiscal 2013 special budget request for reconstruction. Without such drastic moves, reconstruction funding will end up in non-disaster areas. Such a situation will not appease taxpayers, now burdened with a 25-year tax increase to fund the reconstruction efforts.

Some in the opposition bloc see this as a prime opportunity to attack the current administration. However, the basic policy laid out by the government last year was worded in such a way that allowed for the possibility of allocating reconstruction funds to non-disaster areas. Plus, it's unlikely that the use of past budgets was ever pursued so fervently in the Diet.

We are now at a point where the opposition should actively let the government know what it should do. Our first priority should be to correct the government's past errors so that necessary and sufficient reconstruction funding is delivered to areas struck by last year's triple disasters.

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