The government will review 42 projects related to the reconstruction of the devastated Tohoku region to confirm if the funds are being used properly or whether they are being misused.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) came under fire last month after it was revealed that up to 25% of the budgetary funds allocated to reconstruction was being used for other projects.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the review, which is to start on Nov 16, will strictly examine if the funds are being used for projects that directly help people in the Tohoku.
About a quarter of the 11.7 trillion yen budget for reconstruction after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.
Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan's economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.
Speaking in the Diet last week, Noda vowed that projects not directly related to Tohoku's revitalization will be "strictly wrung out" of the budget.
But ensuring that funds go to their intended purpose might require an explicit change in the reconstruction spending law, which authorizes spending on such ambiguous purposes as creating eco-towns and supporting "employment measures."
Among the unrelated projects benefiting from the reconstruction budgets are: road building in distant Okinawa; prison vocational training in other parts of Japan; subsidies for a contact lens factory in central Japan; renovations of government offices in Tokyo; aircraft and fighter pilot training, research and production of rare earths minerals, a semiconductor research project and even funding to support whaling, ostensibly for research.
Some 30 million yen went to promoting the Tokyo Skytree, a transmission tower that is the world's tallest freestanding broadcast structure. Another 2.8 billion yen was requested by the Justice Ministry for a publicity campaign to "reassure the public" about the risks of big disasters.
Near the crippled Fukushima DaiIchi nuclear plant, recovery work has barely begun.
More than 325,000 of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone or forced to flee the areas around the nuclear plant after the March 11, 2011 disaster remain homeless or away from their homes, according to the most recent figures available.
In Rikuzentakata, a fishing enclave where 1,800 people were killed or went missing as the tsunami scoured the harbor, rebuilding has yet to begin in earnest. The tsunami destroyed 3,800 of Rikuzentakata's 9,000 homes. The first priority, officials say, has been finding land for rebuilding homes -- on higher ground. For now, most evacuees are housed, generally unhappily, in temporary shelters in school playgrounds and sports fields.
The government has pledged to spend 23 trillion yen over this decade on reconstruction and disaster prevention, 19 trillion yen of it within five years.© Japan Today/AP