Following a survey by the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest newspaper, the country’s government revealed on Monday that as much as 1 billion US dollars of the public’s money that was flagged for use in recovery from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster was used on projects completely unrelated, and in unaffected areas. Everything from the counting of sea turtles on beaches to cheese & wine party promotions received portions of taxpayer funds that were earmarked for those in need in the Tohoku region.
This marks the largest discovery of ineptitude on the government’s part when it comes to misusing disaster recovery money. One previous instance included the admission that funds had been directed to support the controversial, money-losing whaling program. In Asahi‘s investigation, they discovered that in 38 of the prefectures that were outside the disaster-hit northeast region and received recovery funds, 97% of the people who were paid with said money did originally come from the zone in recovery.
In one such example, a town in southwestern Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture (the opposite end of the country as the natural disaster, just to be clear) used 3 million yen (approx. 30,000 US dollars) on protection and observation of sea turtles. Incredibly, 10 people were hired to count the ocean creatures as they came ashore to lay eggs, and remind others not touch them or get in their way. One of the workers admitted that the money that was spent on the project wasn’t even really used on the turtles, let alone disaster recovery efforts, as the 10 people weren’t even tasked with objectives like relocating the turtle eggs to safer areas.
The government’s Welfare Ministry attempted to defend itself after the Monday admission, saying that the earmarked funds were dispersed around the country in order to support the business and manufacturing industries whose supply lines were disrupted by the quake and tsunami. In addition to taking over 18,000 lives on March 11th, 2011, the disaster completely erased a number of coastal communities, and forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their hometowns in order to be relocated. That the government has even tried to defend itself comes as a slap in the face to those who are still awaiting assistance, more than two years now after the tragedies.