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Okinawa assembly probes why Nakaima reversed base stance

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

A special investigative committee of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly met last week and early this week to determine why Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima reversed his campaign pledge to get U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma moved outside Okinawa.

But the hearings created more questions than answers, and it was learned that none of the written records sought by the assembly to clarify the decision-making process was kept.

Nakaima reversed his earlier position and agreed late last year to approve a landfill application needed to move the contentious base to Nago’s Henoko district.

This was only the third time since Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 that the assembly has formally investigated the decision of a sitting governor. Witnesses called to testify included not only prefectural officials but also Nakaima and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine.

Among the revelations was that the prefecture said it had not made notes of comments by either Nakaima or Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a meeting they held Dec. 25 in Tokyo. Two days later, Nakaima approved the landfill project.

Okinawa bureaucrats involved with Tokyo’s landfill application also told the committee that a number of points in the application process had been unclear, creating concerns about the impact base construction would have on the natural environment and local residents’ lifestyles.

Nakaima told reporters in December he approved the application because the project met prefectural environmental standards.

He testified before the special committee last Friday, the first time a sitting governor has ever done so in response to demands by the opposition. Grilled on his discussions with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga while convalescing in a Tokyo hospital in the days leading up to his December decision, Nakaima said they only touched on Okinawa’s revitalization projects, not the application.

Immediately before the governor’s approval of the landfill project, the central government announced it would provide a little more than ¥340 billion in assistance for Okinawa in fiscal 2014, which begins in April. Abe also promised to provide Okinawa an additional ¥300 billion annually from fiscal 2015 until fiscal 2021, although that funding is subject to future Diet approval.