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Okinawa subsidies spigot to become an open floodgate

Date Posted: 2006-11-25

Even as governor-elect Hirokazu Nakaima prepares to tackle the contentious Futenma relocation issue, the central government in Tokyo is promising Okinawa a massive infusion of new aid.

Tokyo, moving quickly in the wake of Sunday’s gubernatorial election, announced plans to flood Okinawa with billions of yen in new grants and subsidies for public works projects. The announcement is seen as an olive branch between the national government and Okinawa Prefecture, which haven’t had the warmest of relations because of disagreements over how to close Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and move it to the northern end of the island.

The government says it will hike its share of public works project costs from the normal 33-50% to a whopping 95% for Okinawa, which shoulders the brunt of U.S. forces stationing in Japan. The monies would be used for a wide variety of projects including airports, seaports and road construction. There would also be money earmarked for land improvements and erosion control, as well as protection of the seacoasts.

Okinawa, a government spokesman says, “would receive special preference in building elementary and junior high schools, parks and firefighting facilities.” It would also identify money for water and sewage system upgrades. The money is wrapped in a bill to be sent to the Diet when it convenes in January. The measure would be effective for ten years.

The bill would also increase from 67% to 85% the public works projects share for mainland prefectures affected by the troops realignment plan agreed to last May by the U.S. and Japanese governments. Iwakuni and Yamaguchi Prefectures would be the two main prefectures to see increased funding.

Nakaima is promising to be ‘flexible’ as he approaches talks with both the central government and local officials in Nago City, where the replacement airfield is to be located. While he voiced opposition to the new airfield during the campaign, he’s acknowledged it will happen “because there is no other suitable place in Okinawa for it to go.

“Even if their proposal is different from ours,” he says, “I hope we can move in a positive direction to reduce the burden.” He will be meeting with Governor Keiichi Inamine and Nago City officials to resolve differences and “form firm policies.” The Defense Agency Chief, Fumio Kyuma, says he may also travel to Okinawa for the talks. Nakaima and the central government are trying to mend fences torn by the base relocation issue.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki says “we want to promote polite dialogue” with local governments and the Okinawa public, to get a solid working relationship going.

The increased grants is expected to go well with Nakaima’s objective of wiping out unemployment in Okinawa, which at 7.8% is double the Japan average. He has repeatedly said new construction and technology projects will boost the local economy and reduce unemployment.

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