Japan disaster money spent on counting turtles

Updated: 2013-06-04 09:25

(China Daily/Agencies)

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A billion dollars of public money earmarked to help people affected by the 2011 quake and tsunami in Japan 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 benefited from the funds, a report said.

While there is no suggestion of corruption, the admissions are an embarrassment for the Japanese government, which has previously acknowledged the country's controversial whaling program was being supported by disaster money.

Asahi Shimbun, a major daily newspaper, surveyed local authorities around the country to find out what happened to the 200 billion yen ($1.99 billion) Tokyo set aside in 2011 for job creation after the disaster.

It said 108.5 billion yen was spent in 38 prefectures that were outside the stricken northeast, where 97 percent of people employed with the help of the money were not evacuees from the disaster zone.

In a town in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, about 1,300 km from the devastated city of Ishinomaki, 3 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 the 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 defended its spending, saying money had been disbursed around the country 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.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, said staff members were checking how the money had been used, but noted the reported spending took place under the previous administration.

"After seeing the results, we will take firm measures with a view to stricter rules on use," he told reporters.

Agence France-Presse