In essence, given the tight fiscal situation, there is a limit to continuing to give Okinawa Prefecture special treatment.
The Cabinet Office has decided on a plan to cut the total amount requested for the budget to revitalize Okinawa Prefecture in fiscal 2017 to ¥320.9 billion, ¥14 billion less than the initial amount in fiscal 2016. This is the first time the requested amount has dipped below the previous year’s budget since the launch of the second Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012.
A major factor in the decrease was a ¥27.4 billion reduction in the lump-sum subsidies that can be largely used at Okinawa Prefecture’s discretion. This payment has been cut to ¥133.8 billion.
The subsidies are distributed via the prefecture to cities, towns and villages in the prefecture and are used to fund various projects in fields such as tourism, employment and information communication. However, a growing chunk of this budget has been going unused due to reasons including insufficient coordination between the central government and local authorities. The total amount that went unused up until fiscal 2015 reached about ¥28 billion.
“It’s natural for the government to constantly make efforts to reexamine outlays as needed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
Based on the huge amount of this funding that is going unused, reducing the budget is reasonable.
To begin with, the budget to promote Okinawa’s economy was around the lower half of the ¥200 billion level until fiscal 2011. The administrations of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sharply boosted this amount to gain the understanding of Okinawa Prefecture for the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district.
Onaga’s baffling stance
Also in the budget request for fiscal 2017, the government has stuck to a plan to secure a budget of at least ¥300 billion for development of the prefecture “through fiscal 2021.” Items in the request include ¥33 billion, the same amount as this fiscal year, for constructing a second runway at Naha Airport, and an increase in funds for steps to combat child poverty.
We think proper consideration has been given to Okinawa Prefecture on the budgetary issue. The prefectural and local governments will need to ensure they do not fritter away this precious budget and use it effectively.
Suga denied suggestions that Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga’s opposition to the Henoko relocation plan had influenced the cut in the prefecture’s revitalization budget. However, soon after the latest House of Councillors election, Suga also said the U.S. base issue and revitalization measures “are linked in the sense that we are comprehensively promoting” the two matters.
For many years, huge sums of money have been funneled to Okinawa Prefecture as compensation for the heavy cost Okinawa shoulders for Japan’s security. If the return of U.S. bases stalls, revitalization measures using these sites will not progress.
We can understand how the base issue and the Okinawa revitalization budget are to a certain degree connected.
Separately from the revitalization budget, the Defense Ministry plans to continue revitalization funds provided directly to three local districts that strongly support the Henoko relocation plan, albeit with strings attached. This probably is a necessary step for making the relocation a reality.
Onaga has shown he wants to acquire a large revitalization budget, even while he repeatedly criticizes the central government over the base issue and refuses to cooperate with efforts to merge and reorganize bases in Okinawa Prefecture. We cannot help but feel uncomfortable about his stance. Taxpayers from across Japan also probably feel baffled.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 29, 2016)