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Can the new Governor deliver his campaign promises in 99?

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-01-08

New Governor Keiichi Inamine has a difficult road laying ahead of him. He must now try to redirect Okinawa's economy to fulfill his campaign promises as the Prefecture begins the last year of this millennium. It also must be pointed out that despite his win over former Governor Ota, approximately 47% of the voters did not cast a ballot in his favor. Most political analysts believe that Okinawa's 9.2% unemployment rate and economic stagnation helped to swing many Okinawans in his direction during the final weeks of the campaign, but those same voters will be waiting to see if Inamine can deliver.

During the election last year, Okinawa's economic problems seemed to take priority over Ota's stance against the relocation of MCAS Futenma within the prefecture, leaving Inamine with the opportunity to step in with a proposal to build a new airport in northern Okinawa. The plan calls for the new airport to be jointly used by both the U.S. Military and commercial airlines for a determined time period. Inamine also managed to appease the Central Government, who was sitting on economic incentives linked to the heliport's relocation. It is now being hoped that the economic stimulus package along with Inamine's focus on business will resolve Okinawa's economic dilemma.

The new plan however, makes neither environmentalists nor some locals living in northern Okinawa very happy. Why move a problem simply to another location, where it will most likely become a problem again? It would surely mean the destruction of forests, increased noise pollution, and a repeat of many problems the residents of Ginowan are now facing. Furthermore, the construction of such an airport would waste huge amounts of money. There is already a heliport at Futenma, and there is enough money currently being spent on the major re-modification of Naha Commercial Airport.

A new airport in northern Okinawa would not mean more tourist dollars either. Where would the new flights come from? Where are the studies showing the economic benefits for a new airport? Although the number of tourists to the island has been steadily growing every year, there are no projections or guarantees that warrant a new commercial airport. In fact, many flights operate with high passenger carry during only the very short summer season. It would not mean more convenience for tourists either. The ride from any location north of Nago to the resort areas of Onna-son and Yomitan-son takes just as long as from Naha. Adding increased congestion would only mean more traffic for the north, while the problem of traffic in the central and southern part of the island will most likely continue to become worse. Maybe the plan is to shift the tourist industry further north? Building more hotels controlled by mainland companies, which provide minimum wage jobs for locals does not sound to economically promising - especially when many of the jobs disappear during the winter, a time when most hotels are empty.

The economic stimulus package, which was talked about so much, will probably never amount to much either, except for a great many unnecessary construction projects: more public spending for unneeded roads, sea walls, and bridges to connect outer islands. Why does the government constantly spend money on destroying Okinawa's nature, which is its main resource for tourism? It is time for that money to be spent on projects that will not destroy, but instead improve the lives of residents and also be beneficial for Okinawa's image. There has always been talk of needed mass transportation here on Okinawa, but we have yet to see anything done, except for an expensive expressway, that you can't even reach the airport with, and no one uses. A monorail is being built in Naha, but it will do no good for any of the main arteries connecting Naha with the rest of Okinawa. Everyday, thousands of work-hours and productivity are lost as people sit in their cars waiting to get to work.

Okinawa should stop depending on these short-term lifelines that are thrown from the mainland for mostly projects that become failures. Build something everyone needs, and spend the money on education, quality of living, and realistic business ventures.

The last election showed that Okinawans are watching what their leaders are doing. They voiced their displeasure once at the polls and they can do it again. Inamine will need to show results.

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