AP: Where Japan’s Post-Fukushima rebuild cash really went: Corruption and coverup on grand scale in a crisis that even TEPCO admits “could have been avoided”
Posted by debito on November 3rd, 2012
Hi Blog. This story has hit a lot of newspapers worldwide. I’ll just blog the first article I saw, and other Debito.org Readers who find articles that cover points not mentioned here can add them to the Comments Section.
For all the talk we have had in the past of Japan’s efficient government and incorruptible bureaucracy (dating from, oh, perhaps Chalmers’ MITI AND THE JAPANESE MIRACLE — even Transparency International still ranks Japan higher than say, oh, the US, France, or Spain in its “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011″), one major factor that not only despirits a nation but also steals its wherewithal is an unaccountable administrative branch robbing the public coffers blind. In this case, the GOJ is reportedly siphoning off disaster funds that had been earmarked to save people’s lives and livelihoods and diverted to support completely unrelated projects.
The news below goes beyond the fact that TEPCO and the GOJ have finally admitted their collusion to cover up their malfeasance in preventing the nuclear meltdown (article archived below — note that the investigative committee was led by a NJ). It shows, as Debito.org first mentioned back in December 2011 (and repeated in a different incarnation last July) that our first “see I told you so” moment (where even our critics would not capitulate for being wrong about corruption and coverup) stating that Japan’s control-freak governance system in Japan is irredeemably broken, was ever more right all along.
And more Japanese elites, as I am hearing through as-yet inconclusively-researched channels, are moving overseas to set up transplant Japanese communities away from this strangler-fig bureaucracy. More on that later if we get something conclusive. Arudou Debito
Where Japan’s rebuild cash really went
Associated Press/The New Zealand Herald, Wednesday Oct 31, 2012
About a quarter of the US$148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.
The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. 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 11.7 trillion yen budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.
“It is true that the government has not done enough and has not done it adequately. We must listen to those who say the reconstruction should be the first priority,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a speech to parliament on Monday.
He vowed that unrelated projects 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, according to data from the government audit released last week.
A list of budget items and spending shows some 30 million yen went to promoting the Tokyo Sky Tree, 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.
Masahiro Matsumura, a politics professor at St. Andrews University in Osaka, Japan, said justifying such misuse by suggesting the benefits would “trickle down” to the disaster zone is typical of the political dysfunction that has hindered Japan’s efforts to break out of two decades of debilitating economic slump.
“This is a manifestation of government indifference to rehabilitation. They are very good at making excuses,” Matsumura told The Associated Press.
Near the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, which suffered the additional blow from the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, 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, says Takashi Kubota, who left a government job in Tokyo in May 2011 to become the town’s deputy mayor.
The tsunami destroyed 3,800 of Rikuzentakata’s 9,000 homes. The first priority, he says, 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.
“I can sum it up in two words speed and flexibility that are lacking,” Kubota said. Showing a photo of the now non-existent downtown area, he said, “In 19 months, there have basically been no major changes. There is not one single new building yet.”
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.
But more than half the reconstruction budget remains unspent, according to the government’s audit report.
The dithering is preventing the government, whose debt is already twice the size of the country’s GDP, from getting the most bang for every buck.
“You’ve got economic malaise and political as well. That’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Matthew Circosta, an economist with Moody’s Analytics in Sydney.
Part of the problem is the central government’s strategy of managing the reconstruction from Tokyo instead of delegating it to provincial governments. At the same time, the local governments lack the staff and expertise for such major rebuilding.
The government “thinks it has to be in the driver’s seat,” Jun Iio, a government adviser and professor at Tokyo University told a conference in Sendai. “Unfortunately the reconstruction process is long and only if the local residents can agree on a plan will they move ahead on reconstruction.”
“It is in this stage that creativity is needed for rebuilding,” he said.
Even Sendai, a regional capital of over 1 million people much better equipped than most coastal communities to deal with the disaster, still has mountains of rubble. Much of it is piled amid the bare foundations, barren fields and broken buildings of its oceanside suburb of Arahama.
Sendai quickly restored disrupted power, gas and water supplies and its tsunami-swamped airport. The area’s crumbled expressways and heavily damaged railway lines were repaired within weeks.
But farther north and south, ravaged coastal towns remain largely unoccupied.
More than 240 ports remain unbuilt; in many cases their harbors are treacherous with tsunami debris.
Like many working on the disaster, Yoshiaki Kawata of Kansai University worries that the slow progress on reconstruction will leave the region, traditionally one of Japan’s poorest, without a viable economy.
“There is almost no one on the streets,” he said in the tiny fishing hamlet of Ryoishi, where the sea rose 17 metres. “Building a new town will take many years.”
Even communities remain divided over how to rebuild. Moving residential areas to higher ground involves cumbersome bureaucratic procedures and complicated ownership issues. Each day of delay, meanwhile, raises the likelihood that residents will leave and that local businesses will fail to recover, says Itsunori Onodera, a lawmaker from the port town of Kesennuma, which lost more than 1,400 people in the disaster.
“Speed,” he says, is the thing most needed to get the region back on its feet. -AP
TEPCO ADMITS FUKUSHIMA CRISIS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED
By Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press
NATIONAL OCT. 13, 2012, courtesy of JDG
TOKYO — The utility behind Japan’s nuclear disaster acknowledged for the first time Friday that it could have avoided the crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said in a statement that it had known safety improvements were needed before last year’s tsunami triggered three meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, but it had feared the political, economic and legal consequences of implementing them.
“When looking back on the accident, the problem was that preparations were not made in advance,” TEPCO’s internal reform task force, led by company President Naomi Hirose, said in the statement. “Could necessary measures have been taken with previous tsunami evaluations? It was possible to take action” by adopting more extensive safety measures, the task force said.
The task force said TEPCO had feared efforts to better protect nuclear facilities from severe accidents such as tsunamis would trigger anti-nuclear sentiment, interfere with operations or increase litigation risks. TEPCO could have mitigated the impact of the accident if it had diversified power and cooling systems by paying closer attention to international standards and recommendations, the statement said. TEPCO also should have trained employees with practical crisis management skills rather than conduct obligatory drills as a formality, it said.
The admissions mark a major reversal for the utility, which had defended its preparedness and crisis management since the March 2011 tsunami. The disaster knocked out power to the Fukushima plant, leading to the meltdowns, which forced massive evacuations and will take decades to clean up.
The statement was released after TEPCO held its first internal reform committee meeting, led by former U.S. nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein. His five-member committee oversees the task force’s reform plans.
“It’s very important for TEPCO to recognize the needs to reform and the committee is very anxious to facilitate the reform necessary for TEPCO to become a world-class company,” Klein told a news conference. “The committee’s goal is to ensure that TEPCO develops practices and procedures so an accident like this will never happen again.”
The reform plans aim to use the lessons learned at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in northern Japan. The cash-strapped utility wants to restart that plant, but TEPCO officials denied the reform plans are aimed at improving public image to gain support for the plant’s resumption.
“The reforms are intended to improve our safety culture, and we have no intention to link it to a possibility of resuming the (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa) plant,” said Takafumi Anegawa, the TEPCO official in charge of nuclear asset management. “We don’t have any preconditions for our reforms.”
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has been substantially stabilized but is still running on makeshift equipment as workers continue their work to decommission the four damaged reactors, which could take several decades.
Additional safety measures have been installed at nuclear power plants nationwide since the accident under the government’s instructions, including enhancing seawalls, adding backup power and cooling water sources, and developing better crisis management training. But plant operators will be required to take further steps as a new nuclear regulatory authority launched in September steps up safety requirements.
Investigative reports compiled by the government and the parliament panels said collusion between the company and government regulators allowed lax supervision and allowed TEPCO to continue lagging behind in safety steps.
Despite records indicating a major tsunami had once hit off Japan’s northern coast, TEPCO took the most optimistic view of the risk and insisted that its 5.7-meter-high seawall was good enough. The tsunami that struck Fukushima Dai-ichi was more than twice that height.
The company had said in its own accident probe report in June that the tsunami could not be anticipated and that the company did the best it could to bring the critically damaged plant under control, although there were shortfalls that they had to review. TEPCO bitterly criticized what it said was excessive interference from the government and the prime minister’s office.
TEPCO’s Anegawa said the task force plans to compile by the end of the year recommendations “that would have saved us from the accident if we turn the clock back.”