Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Japan suspends 35 reconstruction projects

AP, TOKYO

Japan’s government has suspended 35 projects included in a budget for reconstruction from the earthquake and tsunami in March last year after criticism the spending was not directly related to recovery from the disasters.

As much as a fourth of the ¥11.7 trillion (US$148 billion) budget had been earmarked for unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory in another region and research whaling.

However, the 35 projects put on hold during a meeting chaired by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda involved spending of only ¥16.8 billion.

No specific reason was given for each project, though Noda and other officials have vowed to cut spending not directly for reconstruction. Many of the projects in the budget were included on the pretext they might aid Japan’s economic revival.

“Some of the projects are being deferred to 2013,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters in a regular briefing. “But Prime Minister Noda said the spending really must be committed to reconstruction.”

Among the projects put on hold was a plan to boost the Japan “brand” through lecture tours, money earmarked to pay for Cabinet-sponsored discussions on “social inclusiveness” and quake-resistance renovations for various government ministries.

Minutes from a committee meeting held last month showed Cabinet ministers concluding that while projects unrelated to the disaster were legal, it would be better to focus spending on the disaster zone.

The committee adopted new guidelines this week requiring that reconstruction funds be disbursed through a special government account devoted to programs in the disaster area, which includes much of Japan’s northeastern coast.

A notice on the Web site of the Reconstruction Ministry said the Finance Ministry and other government agencies would work to “strictly rectify” the budget, and may suspend other projects.

The government decided to boost spending on reconstruction from the ¥19 trillion meant to be spent by the end of March 2015.

Progress on reconstruction has been hindered by a lack of local government staff and other experts, disagreements over how and whether to rebuild some towns obliterated by the tsunami and the sheer scale of the destruction.

A report issued on Tuesday showed only 47 percent of planned projects had begun work.

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