TOKYO: A billion dollars of public money earmarked to help people hit by Japan’s 2011 quake and tsunami was spent in areas unaffected by the natural disaster, the government admitted on Monday.
Projects ranging from counting sea turtles on semi-tropical beaches, to the promotion of cheese and wine events hundreds of kilometers from the disaster zone benefitted from the largesse, a report said.
The admissions are the latest in a series of apparent embarrassments for the Japanese government, which has previously acknowledged the country’s controversial whaling program was being supported by disaster money.
The Asahi Shimbun, a major daily newspaper, surveyed local authorities around the country to find out what happened to the 200 billion yen Tokyo set aside for economic reconstruction after the disaster.
It said in 38 prefectures that were outside the stricken northeast, a staggering 97 percent of people employed with the money were not from the disaster zone.
In a town in southern Kagoshima prefecture, which lies around 1,300 kilometers from the devastated city of Ishinomaki, three million yen was spent on the protection and observation of sea turtles.
Ten people were employed to count the creatures as they came ashore and to remind sightseers not to interfere with them.
“We only counted sea turtles and were not required to move eggs to safe places or do other things. It wasn’t even for sea turtles, let alone those hit by the disaster,” the daily quoted one of the 10 as saying.
The welfare ministry on Monday defended its spending, saying money had been disbursed around the nation for good reason.
“Those who were hit by the disaster were widely spread across the nation at that time and supply chains [for manufacturing industries]were disrupted,” said an official at the ministry.
More than 18,000 people died when the towering tsunami smashed into Japan’s northeast in March 2011.
Vast stretches of coastline were devastated and hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless in the catastrophe, which also set off a nuclear crisis at Fukushima.