Cabinet Office recently determined the FY 2018 Okinawa related budget request as 319 billion yen. Compared to FY17, it was 2 billion down, and the amount was the minimum since Prime Minister Abe made a commitment to keep the budget in the level of 300 billion yen until FY21.
Okinawa prefecture and the central government have been confronting on the issue of relocation of the US Futenma Base to Henoko, Nago city. Such level of budget decrease could be attributed only to the base-related issue.
Comparing each FY budget request, during the summer after the then Governor Nakaima approved the reclamation of Henoko, the maximum amount of budget was requested in FY15 by CAO, which was 379.4 billion yen, and now the amount was decreased by as much as 60.4 billion yen.
After the then Governor Nakaima was replaced by the new Governor Onaga, who has been opposing to the relocation to Henoko and cancelled Nakaima’s reclamation approval, the amount of budget has been decreasing for three years in a row. It is inevitable for anyone to believe that some political discretion has been made against Okinawa, which is not obedient to the intention of the central government.
Last August, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga stated regarding the issue of Henoko relocation and Okinawan budget, “It is quite natural to anticipate that the budget would be decreased if not much progress is to be made for the construction,” which implied the linkage between US base issue and Okinawa promotion measures.
The biggest decrease was observed in the Okinawa promotion block grant, which was minus 8.5 billion yen compared to FY17 budget request, and minus 10.5 billion yen compared to this year’s initial budget request. The minimum amount was allocated since the block grant system was introduced. CAO explained the reasons of the last year’s decrease due to the inclusion of large amount of unnecessary budget and carried-over items.
Having considered these points raised by CAO, Okinawa prefecture has been improving the budget execution rate, but the prefecture’s effort was not paid attention so much. Due to the decrease of the block grant, it is now difficult to cover the finance of constructing a large-scale MICE facility (total cost of 51.3 billion yen) planned by the prefecture. Now it will be difficult to open the MICE facility as originally planned in September 2020. Isn’t this an intentional budget decrease by the central government?
Not surprisingly, Governor Onaga criticized on the decrease of block grant, “It is quite pitiful since this would affect our measures on Okinawa promotion based on autonomous choices among prefecture and each municipality.”
On the other hand, the operations directly under the control of central government have not been decreased and instead, been either leveled off or even increased. The subsidy for OIST was 21.5 billion yen, up 4.8 billion yen compared to FY17, and the same budget amount was secured for Naha Airport additional runway construction, which was 33 billion yen.
If a large budget cut is implemented on the Okinawan block grant that allows each municipal government decide its usage with certain degree of autonomy, while the amount of budget directly under the control of the central government is increased, Okinawan autonomy itself will have a setback, which deserves the recent criticism by Governor Onaga.
Okinawa related budget is summed up through central government operations related to Okinawa and subsidies to Okinawa, and compared to other prefectural budgets, it was the 12th amount among the entire prefectures in Japan in FY 2014. Okinawa is not particularly standing out on its budget spending.
The basic policy behind the Okinawa promotion measures is to enhance Okinawan autonomous development and to aim for prosperous living among Okinawan residents. Did the central government try to go along with this policy and come up with its budget request respecting the Okinawan autonomy? The government should provide sufficient explanations to residents of Okinawa.