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SECURITY > Okinawa

Gov’t provides Henoko with unlimited funds to silence Okinawan people

  • November 25, 2018
  • , Tokyo Shimbun , Lead story
  • JMH Translation

A man dressed entirely in black was sitting on the bow of a boat and menacingly pointing a video camera at a protest boat. The man, whose face was hidden by a black mask and sunglasses, continuously warned through a loudspeaker. “This is a temporarily restricted area. Please leave immediately.”

 

On Nov. 20, I boarded a small boat with a group of people protesting the construction of a new U.S. base and sailed to waters some 500 meters away from the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture. In between the floats set up to restrict access to the construction area was a private patrol vessel undertaking a patrol mission for the Ministry of Defense’s Okinawa Defense Bureau.

 

Marine construction work resumed for the first time in two months on Nov. 1, and the beautiful waters were sectioned off by the floats again.

 

Hideo Yamamoto, 67, is a photographer from Nago who has been capturing images of the protests against the construction of a new U.S. base. He directed his anger toward the patrol vessel, saying: “The government says it’s short on money but spends 20 million yen here every day. But this is much less than what’s being wasted on the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.”

 

Since fiscal 2014, when the full-scale construction of a new U.S. base began, private patrol vessels as well as those of the Japan Coast Guard have been monitoring the waters around the clock.

 

The total budget for maritime patrols from fiscal 2015 to 2017 was 16.1 billion yen. When combined with the budget for land patrols in front of the Schwab Gate, where sit-in protests are being held, the total budget for the three years reached 26 billion yen.

 

“The daily cost of 20 million yen for patrols” was uncovered by Tsuyoshi Kitaueda, 72, a retired civil engineering technician and a member of the “Okinawa Heiwa Shimin Renrakukai [Okinawa peace citizens’ liaison council],” which opposes the construction of a new U.S. base, through an information disclosure request to the Okinawa Defense Bureau. He deplores: “I was stunned when I found out that the per-capita labor cost was estimated at 90,000 yen a day. It’s unforgivable that the government is doing whatever it wants in the name of national policy.”

 

Later, the Board of Audit of Japan examined the maritime patrol costs and found out that the Okinawa Defense Bureau adopted a cost estimate by a private contractor instead of the publicized labor unit price on the pretext of the “special nature of the job.” As a result, the bureau overpaid a total of 188 million yen for its contract from fiscal 2015 to 2016.

 

The lack of cost-consciousness in the bureau is generating even more ill will among the Okinawan people. Tadashi Shimabukuro [spelling not confirmed], a 58-year-old from Nago who runs his own business, complains: “People on the mainland may be thinking that Henoko is merely Okinawa’s problem, but our tax money has been wasted [on Henoko]. So the Henoko issue takes a toll on each and every individual in the country.”

 

But the central government has been using underhanded methods from the beginning.

 

In July 2014, the central government paid 14.2 billion yen for construction out of the reserve fund after then Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima gave the green light for Henoko land reclamation work in December 2013. The use of the reserve fund, which needs to be approved by the cabinet but does not require Diet deliberations, is limited to disasters and other emergencies. At that time, a wave of protests against the base construction project was spreading across Okinawa.

 

Muneyuki Shindo, an emeritus professor of public administration at Chiba University, analyzes, “[The usage of the reserve fund] indicates the government’s desire to forcibly construct a base by fending off the opposition’s questioning.” He goes on and criticizes, “It’s a makeshift measure that runs counter to financial democracy, under which budgets must be approved by the Diet.”

 

Though the reclamation work has yet to begin, 127 billion yen has already been spent on Henoko. The central government initially estimated the total project cost at more than 350 billion yen. It does not even try to explain to the public how much more money will be needed in the future and wastes massive amounts of taxpayer money.

 

Seiken Akamine, a Lower House member of the Japanese Communist Party who has been elected from Okinawa Prefecture, is furious with the central government’s excessive spending, saying: “The budget doesn’t really matter in Henoko. The main purpose of the budget is to silence the Okinawan people.”

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