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Economic pressures mandate more local municipal mergers

Date Posted: 2006-02-16

Okinawa Prefecture is currently an amalgamation of 11 cities, 11 towns and 19 villages, but the central Tokyo government wants that number reduced.

The Japanese government, according to Yauhisa Arakaki, wants Okinawa trimmed to a more economically feasible 25 municipalities. Arakaki, chairman of the Okinawa Merger Promotion Council, says the government is “almost forcing Okinawa” to institute more community mergers.

Uruma City, Miyakojima City, Kumejima-Cho, Najou City and Yaese Town were formed over the past year, combining 17 municipalities into five. Still, says Arakaki, it’s not enough to reduce the prefecture budget, and the need is growing stronger to reduce local budgets further. Okinawa, since 1999, has already trimmed its community rolls from 53 municipalities.

Governor Keiichi Inamine is to receive a letter from the Merger Promotion Council by the end of March, with recommendations as to which cities, towns and villages should be targeted in the next round of mergers. Current law requires mergers of governments serving populations of less than 10,000.

Okinawans are reacting negatively to that requirement, saying other factors such as a community’s historic background, location and life styles should all be carefully considered.

Advance notifications indicate the Merger Promotion Council will recommend to the governor that northern Okinawa consolidate to four local governments, and southern Okinawa and the Yaeyama Island group each have one local municipality. It is expected to say that the heavily populated central island area, including Naha City, be combined into three community units. The Council is expected to make further recommendations later in the year.

Government workers are apprehensive about cutbacks triggered by the consolidations, saying it could greatly increase unemployment. Politicians, including both assemblymen and mayors, are also worried about reductions in their ranks of 60-70%. The 41 mayors presently in office are scrambling as well, knowing 16 will not have jobs following the mergers.

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