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Okinawa relies heavily on subsidies from Tokyo

Date Posted: 2002-06-28

Compared to other prefectures, Okinawa relies heaviest in its public works on subsidies from the central government. In a matter of fact, the size of these subsidies is so large that it is sometimes a cause for embarrassment for Okinawan politicians who represent the prefecture in the Upper and Lower Houses in Tokyo.

For example, whereas in other prefectures half of the budget for constructing dams, roads, harbor facilities, river banks and planting trees in nationally owned forests comes from national coffers, Okinawa gets 90 percent funding for these projects from the central government. Tokyo also pays 95 percent of airport construction expenses in Okinawa when other prefectures have to cough up one third themselves.

The situation is much of the same when it comes to building prefecture-owned apartments, schools, water supply facilities and other public projects. Other prefectures are subsidized 50 percent or less, but Okinawan projects enjoy 75 percent state funding or more.

A liberal democratic politician elected to the parliament from Okinawa remembers that back in 1995 his party members discussed at a meeting how much the central government should aid Kobe after the disastrous Great Hanshin Earthquake. “Someone suggested that the government should pay two thirds of the reconstruction costs, and he was immediately encountered with the fact that other prefectures receive only 50 percent subsidy no matter what the project. Later we Okinawan diet members wondered among ourselves why is it that we get 90 to 95 percent as a matter of course but Kobe that suffered an extraordinary natural disaster could not get more than 50 percent. We would have given them 100 percent,” the politician said.

The same seems to continue. Okinawa recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of its reversion to the Japanese rule. At the same time the Diet approved renewed Okinawan development laws.

Many say that the reason to continuing state largesse is simple. By pouring money into Okinawa the government in Tokyo tries to compensate the prefecture for the large presence of U.S. military bases. The new laws will continue until 2010, and the money will come no matter how tight the state finances are in general.

Although there are constantly plans to achieve economic self-sufficiency in Okinawa many believe that the goal is nearly impossible to reach. Some suggest that the government should do much better job teaching these economic facts to local people who, as nearly everyone agrees, are not usually aware of them.

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