The Cabinet Office’s decision to request a smaller budget for Okinawan development isn’t due to the political tension with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, but because Tokyo has a tight budget and Naha still has funds leftover from last year, the new state minister in charge of Okinawa affairs said in a joint interview.
The Cabinet Office cut its fiscal 2017 budget request for Okinawan development to ¥321 billion from ¥335 billion in the initial fiscal 2016 budget, the first drop since Shinzo Abe began his second stint as prime minister in December 2012.
Speculation has grown that Abe trimmed the request in retaliation for Onaga’s staunch refusal to back the long-delayed relocation of U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan. The two sides are battling it out in court.
“This has nothing to do with (the Futenma issue). Development is development,” said Upper House lawmaker Yosuke Tsuruho, who was handed the Okinawa portfolio last month.
Tsuruho said the Okinawa Prefectural Government still has a lot of money leftover from last year’s budget allocation. In light of Tokyo’s tight budget, a decision was made to cut lump-sum subsidies to Okinawa to ¥133.8 billion from ¥161.3 billion, Tsuruho said.
“If this country had plenty of money to spend, we could keep unused funds while thinking about what to do with them. But unfortunately, we are not in such a situation,” the new minister said.
The central government will take measures to promote Okinawa’s economy while reducing unnecessary spending, focusing in particular on helping children in poverty, Tsuruho said.
“We need to cut the cycle of poverty,” Tsuruho said, referring to the fact that poor families are more likely to stay impoverished for several generations.
According to the Cabinet Office, the relative poverty rate for children — or the ratio of child-rearing households that make less than half the income of the average Japanese household — stood at 29.9 percent in Okinawa in 2014, nearly twice the national average.
Tsuruho also said he has appointed predecessor Aiko Shimajiri to stay on as a special adviser because she is familiar with poverty issues in Okinawa.
The central government is pushing harder than ever to move the Futenma base from crowded Ginowan to Nago, further north. Onaga is calling for the U.S. military to reduce its giant presence in the prefecture instead.
The presence of such a military facility in the middle of the island has obstructed its economic development to a certain extent, Tsuruho said, adding that the reversion of its land to the prefecture should be carried out “as soon as possible.”