What was the “Corona Temporary Subsidy for Local Development”, a random appropriation of a different dimension… People pursuing the “facts” without discovery. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

What was the “Corona Temporary Subsidy for Local Development”, a random appropriation of a different dimension… People pursuing the “facts” without discovery.

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The total budget was 17.126 trillion yen!

The much-talked-about film “Elpisu: Hope or Disaster” (produced by Kantele and Fuji TV), starring Masami Nagasawa, has made many people think about the state of power and the media.

After all, Japan ranks 71st in the Reporters Without Borders international journalist organization’s ranking of press freedom in 2022.

In fact, many TV stations and newspapers are now almost entirely government public relations organizations.

In such a situation, did you know that there are people who pursue the “facts” without any discovery at all?

Tansa (Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa) is a non-profit organization. Tansa is a journalism organization that specializes in investigative reporting and aims to change the situation for the victims by uncovering and reporting the facts through independent reporting.

Tansa’s predecessor, Waseda Chronicle, was created in 2017 at the Waseda University Journalism Institute. Although it is an organization with only three reporters in addition to its editor-in-chief, Shu Watanabe, it has cut into numerous cases of injustice and waste of taxpayers’ money.

One of them is the “Exploratory Reporting Series: Fictional Local Development. Mariko Tsuji, one of the main reporters, says, “Tansa has a lot to do with JUDGEM.

Tansa has a database called JUDGIT! that allows anyone to look up the “purpose,” “contents,” “results,” “budget payers,” and “amount” of more than 5,000 projects conducted by government ministries and agencies.

This database is jointly produced and operated by four organizations: the policy think tank, Concept Japan, the Yosuke Onoe Laboratory of the Department of Information Science and Technology at Nihon University’s College of Humanities and Sciences, Visualizing.JP, and Tansa. I realized that the “Temporary Grant for Local Development” was such a large amount of money. When the Cabinet Office started the grant program, it boldly stated that the grant could be used in any way, which also bothered me, so I decided to look into it.”

As of December 2010, the total budget for the “Corona Temporary Grant for Local Development” had grown to 17.126 trillion yen. This is exactly the 17 trillion yen increase in defense spending envisioned over the five years that Prime Minister Kishida’s 2023 fiscal revision grand net that he put forth late last year, whose funding was called into question (Photo: AFRO).

The Ministry of Finance has failed to grasp “wasteful spending!”

The case was initiated around June 2021. The interview team consisted of “about 2.5 full-time equivalents” with Mr. Tsuji as the main person, two part-time student interns, and the editor-in-chief.

The original article was based on a database created by the company, which summarized 65,000 projects funded by a total of 3 trillion yen from the first and second supplementary budgets for FY2020. The database was first created in September 2021, and when the series was first published in March 2010, the response to the database gradually increased.

“When I first asked the Ministry of Finance’s main accounting bureau how they managed wasteful spending, they said, ‘We don’t know, we’re just picking up the reports.

Although the Cabinet Office also said it would conduct verification, the actual work was left to Nomura Research Institute, and the results of the verification of projects awarded in FY2020 were finally made public in the spring of 2022. At the time we were starting the project, no verification had been completed, and budgets were being added one after another during this period.

There was some sporadic media coverage, but Tansa was the first to show a comprehensive and significant picture.

The fact that we conducted our research from the standpoint of taxpayers and centered on the viewpoint of whether we could really be satisfied with this kind of use of public funds was what led to the response,” he said.

The criteria used to select wasteful spending were “replacement of the general budget,” “unrelated to corona measures and local development,” and “disbursement of cash.

The “Squid King” in Noto Town, Ishikawa Prefecture, became a topic of conversation in “various ways” and later made the news for its economic impact of 600 million yen. Of the approximately 27 million yen spent on construction, 25 million yen was allocated from a temporary grant from Corona for local development. The town is said to be proud of the economic effect… (Photo: Kyodo News)

Stuffed animals, fireworks, membership fees for dating sites… The shocking contents of the “Corona Local Creation Temporary Grant: The 100 Worst Projects in Japan

One of the most shocking among the 100 worst projects was the “replica of the Jomon goddess.

Funagata Town is located in Yamagata Prefecture and has an aging population of 42%. At a cost of 6.49 million yen, two replicas of the Jomon Goddess, a national treasure clay figurine from the Jomon period excavated in the town, were produced.

In fact, there are numerous areas where local governments do not know what to do when asked to revitalize their communities. In addition, the original goal of local development was to increase the population. However, is population growth the optimal solution for all municipalities?

Some municipalities are doing their best, but with the overall population of the country declining to begin with, each municipality’s efforts will only result in competition. If they still want to attract people, they will look outside the country and create incomprehensible things in the hope of increasing tourism.

However, some local government officials and residents are aware of the wasteful spending, and when we asked the residents of towns such as Funagata about their thoughts, they were angry, saying, ‘Since there are only old people living here, please do more welfare work.

Two replicas of the “Jomon Goddess” from Funagata Town, Yamagata Prefecture, were commissioned by a contractor in Osaka Prefecture at a cost of 6,699,000 yen. Of that amount, 6.49 million yen was allocated from the grant. One of the replicas is now kept in the town’s community center, while the other is displayed in the mayor’s office (photo provided by Tansa).

Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, distributed 120,000 yen to all residents for the COVID-19 crisis. The source of the funds was… “I didn’t say because I wasn’t asked.

On the other hand, he says that the database has enabled him to compare various projects and to see what is necessary and what is unnecessary, what is meaningful and what is not.

For example, when Ama City in Aichi Prefecture distributed a catalog gift called ‘Amano Gift,’ at first I thought it was a waste of money,” he said. But when I actually made a phone call to the city, I learned that welfare facilities and small local stores were listed in the catalog, that after use the catalog became a guidebook for various businesses in town, and that there were actual comments such as ‘I was able to interact with local people’ and ‘I learned about employment offices for the handicapped,’ which made me realize that it was not just a handout. I realized that it was not just a handout.

Still, why can’t the government, as well as the media, shamelessly conduct such surveys?

In the spring of 2020, when the policy was to begin, Keisuke Murakami, a councilor at the Secretariat for the Promotion of Regional Development, made the following statement at a press conference: “If it is a corona measure, there are no restrictions at all. ‘If it is a corona measure, there are no restrictions at all,’ ‘The plan is frankly fine in general,’ and ‘We will spend tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars without examining it in detail, but we trust the local governments.’ So I thought that the government had no intention of conducting verification in the first place, but I also think that media scrutiny was very weak.

For example, when 120,000 yen was distributed to all residents of Chiyoda Ward, the ward did not disclose that the grant was part of its financial resources. Reporters did not ask any questions, and when we interviewed the head of Chiyoda Ward’s finance section, he replied, “I didn’t say that because I wasn’t asked the question.

The subsidy is necessary for those in need, but the average annual income of Chiyoda Ward is one of the highest in Japan at nearly 10 million yen. It is a waste of money to disperse the money to all of them.

In addition, when the Fukui Shimbun covered Fukui Prefecture’s marriage support program using the grant, it only introduced the program in a positive light and did not verify whether it was used appropriately at all.

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the fact that Japan is very bad at “verification” in the first place. So, how exactly does one go about covering and verifying the information?

Tansa’s approach is to conduct interviews based on the questions that emerge from the database. However, Tansa’s recognition as a news organization is still low, so we often don’t get a proper response.

When we ask them to tell us how taxpayer funds were used and how much money was spent on the project, they are quick to say things like, ‘I wasn’t in charge of the project at the time, so I don’t know. There were many things that they would not answer unless I filled them in one by one, such as, ‘Please look it up and answer,’ or ‘Please send out the person who can tell me.

I think local governments have become accustomed to dealing only with local reporters and not being asked about inconvenient matters. I learned that you have to push in and cover things that are legitimate.

Also, since they would fluff and mislead me verbally, I made sure to ask specifically about the amount of grant money spent on the project, when the project was implemented, the results, when the meeting was held, and who decided to implement the project,” he said.

We would give away goods and services worth 50,000 yen, invite them to a fireworks display, and so on. Fukui Prefecture has implemented the “Happy Marriage Support Project” to support the number of marriages in the prefecture by supporting couples who are getting married after the COVID-19 crisis. A temporary local development grant of 99 million yen was used to finance the project (from the Fukui Prefecture website).

National Tax ⇒ Local Regions ⇒ Consulting Firms… In the end, it is the Tokyo-based consulting firms that are enriched by the “regional creation” balm.

Tsuji and his colleagues are currently covering the origins of regional development as a sequel to “Fictional Regional Development.

Local region creation began in November 2014 with the enactment of the “Machi-Hito-Shigoto Creation Act,” which was prompted by the publication of the “Masuda Report” by Mr. Hiroya Masuda in May of the same year, which stated that “896 local governments will disappear by 2040. Despite the fact that this is an important policy to increase the population of rural areas and stop the declining birthrate in Japan, the decision was made in such a short span of time. What was behind the creation and initiation of the law less than a year after the report was released?

One reason could be the administration’s election campaign: there was a lower house election at the end of 2014 and a nationwide local elections in the spring of 2015. There, the LDP won a landslide victory with regional development as its centerpiece policy.

The LDP’s support base is the local regions. I believe that by promising large-scale financial support to these regions, the LDP planned to stay in power.

On the other hand, once the project started, the local regions were left to the consulting firms from the planning stage. In many cases, the projects were awarded not to local companies but to large corporations. Money is simply flowing back to the consulting firms and large corporations, and the concentration in Tokyo is only accelerating.

Looking at this trend, I suspect that the original intention was not to create local regions in the first place, but rather to have the subsidies provided to local regions flow to the cities so that large corporations can make money.

For example, Hokkaido commissioned Dentsu to create the torch relay course for the Tokyo Olympics. The 30 million yen for the creation of the course was paid out of a temporary grant for local development.

No company other than Dentsu participated in the bidding for this project. During our interviews, we heard some people say, ‘Only Dentsu can do the Olympics project.

Many of the local development projects were hoping for synergy with the Olympics, and I believe there were many more such cases.”

COVID-19 crisis, the site of the ignition ceremony held in the center of Sapporo, Hokkaido, where the torch relay on public roads was cancelled. The ceremony was surrounded by tents, and citizens could not see the ceremony. The 30 million yen for the creation of the course was paid out of a temporary grant for local development and was handled by Dentsu (Photo: Kyodo News)

The more interviews we conducted, the closer we got to the darkest part of Japan, the mainland. When asked if he was ever pressured or harassed, Mr. Tsuji replied, “There is no such thing as pressure or discovery.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we are pressured or disciplined, but rather an accumulation of things like “I don’t want to get angry” or “I don’t want to do this because it’s too much trouble.

I think anyone can ask the questions they want to ask, without any great courage. I think the important thing is to go to the scene and take the time and effort to cover the event.

The media certainly has a role to play in picking up information from press conferences, but the only information that can be obtained at a press conference is the information that the interviewee wants to give out. If major newspapers, for example, were to turn their attention to exploratory reporting, I think they could regain the trust of their readers.

Mariko Tsuji became a member of the Waseda Chronicle while a student at Waseda University. Waseda Chronicle changed its name to Tansa in March 2021. She was working on the creation of the “Pharmaceutical Money Database” to make payments from pharmaceutical companies to doctors and medical institutions transparent, etc. Since she was unpaid at the time, she continued working as a contracted reporter at Toyo Keizai for three years, and after three years of being a two-legged stalwart, she started focusing on Tansa in June 2022. Currently, he is writing a series “Who spread me?” on a smartphone app, which reports on the damage of sexual photos and videos being sold and traded without the person’s knowledge and their composition.

■Tansa’s “Exploration Reporting Series, “Fictional Localities” ” is available here.

  • Interview and text by Wakako Tago

    Born in 1973. After working for a publishing company and an advertising production company, became a freelance writer. She interviews actors for weekly and monthly magazines, and writes columns on dramas for various media. His main publications include "All Important Things Are Taught by Morning Drama" (Ota Publishing), "KinKi Kids Owarinaki Michi" and "Hey! Say! JUMP 9 no Tobira ga Open Tokimono" (both published by Earls Publishing).

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