(Asahi: January 14, 2016 – p. 2)
By Takuya Suzuki, Isamu Nikaido
A senior government official identifies the subsidies to be directly extended to the three Kube neighborhoods in Nago as “payments for causing inconvenience.” What the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expects to gain as a result of direct financial assistance to the community associations is the local endorsement of the relocation of the Futenma air base. Amid constant criticism from Governor Takeshi Onaga and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, the government wants to stress that there are people who support the plan.
Former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who gave the go-ahead for the reclamation project in Henoko, was the orchestrator of this direct subsidy deal between the government and the Kube districts. The heads of the three communities met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in September 2014 through the introduction of Nakaima, who was still in office at the time, and petitioned for the construction of a sewage system and other infrastructure. Since Inamine assumed the post in 2010, the Nago municipal office has not received allowances paid to base-hosting communities affected by the realignment of the U.S. forces.
The petition was a godsend for the government, as it was seeking to win local understanding. Suga set up a meeting with the three communities. The first meeting, which was held in May 2015, was joined by the chief of the Okinawa defense bureau and senior officials from the Cabinet Secretariat to listen to local requests. The Ministry of Defense established new allowance guidelines to enable it to directly extend aid.
In December, the government allocated 78 million yen to the three communities to help promote their economies in a budget draft for fiscal 2016, with an eye on launching the reclamation work in Henoko.
Suga stressed the legitimacy of the direct subsidy to the Kube distcits at a Jan. 13 press conference. “We have made a decision through consultations with the districts and there is nothing wrong with this.”
During a Jan. 12 meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Abe was criticized by a Democratic Party of Japan member who said that the direct subsidy to the Kube districts is aimed at dividing the local communities. He responded: “The area of the Futenma base will be reduced to a third once it is moved (to Henoko). We are making significant progress (in reducing the local burden).” (Abridged)