Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another buildup snag

Another buildup snag

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 05:25
by Romeo Carlos | Variety News Staff

Okinawa vote heralds roadblock for Marines move

AT AN early morning breakfast meeting with a group of visiting Japanese and local businessmen news of an election in Okinawa Sunday colored discussions over a planned military-related project funded by the Japanese government.

In yet another setback to plans for transferring 8,000 Marines from Japan to Guam which was set to begin this year, voters in Okinawa elected a mayor on Sunday who campaigned on a promise to oppose the relocation of the Futenma Air Base to Nago from a more crowded part of the southern Japanese island.

“This only complicates things further,” a Japanese representative for a group of contractors preparing ahead of a major construction project to the breakfast workgroup. Like others at the table he asked not to be identified for this story because of the sensitive nature of ongoing talks.

Voters in the Okinawa city of Nago have amped up the pressure on Japan's left-leaning government to nix a 2006 agreement with the U.S. about the base by choosing challenger Susumu Inamine - who campaigned against any expansion of U.S. military presence in the area - over incumbent mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro.

Rising concern

“There are real concerns,” said a manpower expert from the Philippines at the morning meeting. “Stringent regulations mean up to six months time to plan for labor recruitment but contractors are shy about committing resources right now, when they should be finalizing things because they are afraid of being stuck too far out if this keeps dragging on like this.”

The leader of the Japanese team of businessmen told Variety, "Our contractors are very nervous because the investments at stake are very large," he said, adding that a lengthy delay could increase the costs of buildup projects by millions.

"We already have projects on the table that will move forward, even with this delay. After that however is questionable," the nervous contractors' representative said. He questioned, "If at the last minute we have the green light the question will be ‘will we have the time to get things ready on Guam and how much will the delay add to project costs?’ These things are going to have to be factored."

Another official associated with the visiting business group said he expected their project activity to create between 160 and 200 local nonconstruction jobs as they begin operations on Guam later this year - that is if things stay on track.

But he and his colleagues fear timelines will have to be pushed back as much as up to 14 months if Tokyo ultimately allows the Marines air force base to move to Nago.

Washington officials have repeatedly said, despite counter claims by officials at the Joint Guam Program Office, calling off the agreement would end plans to transfer the marines and their dependents to Guam.

Economic activity

With a stagnant tourism industry and little else bringing in revenue to the government of Guam, the island is in sore need of the infusion of multibillion dollar construction projects to stir economic activity.

Even without significant measures to assure the government, local businesses and residents capture a greater portion of the windfall that will flow through Guam, government coffers stand to surge by more than $100 million per year.

Moreover, in the event Tokyo and Washington leadership is unable to arrive at an agreement over what to do about the controversial air base it may lead to years of dialog to renegotiate the entire matter, and leaving Guam on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs meant to support the demands of increased military presence on the island.

But if the planned buildup tarries much longer or simply never materializes the longterm debt implications are likely to have a worse impact on the island’s future than the planned militarization ever would.

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