Governor Onaga optimistic about settlement involving temporary suspension of Henoko construction

Governor Onaga optimistic about settlement involving temporary suspension of Henoko construction

Governor Takeshi Onaga, second from left, tells the press he expressed optimism toward the court’s provisional settlement proposal after the fourth hearing of the execution-by-proxy lawsuit on February 15 at the Okinawa Prefectural Office.

February 16, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

February 15 marked the fourth hearing in the trial brought by the Japanese government against the Okinawa prefectural government over the construction of a new base in Henoko, Nago as part of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. After Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga nullified the permit needed to reclaim land off the coast of Henoko, the Japanese government’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism sued for permission to authorize the land reclamation by proxy. The trial is being held at the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, presided over by Judge Toshiro Tamiya.

At the previous hearing, the presiding judge urged the parties to come to an out-of-court settlement, offering two compromise proposals. At the February 15 hearing, it was finally revealed by the Okinawan side that one of these proposals, dubbed a “provisional solution,” stipulated that the national government should withdraw the lawsuit and suspend land reclamation works while the two sides engage in talks toward a new solution. After the hearing, Governor Onaga told the press that he had conveyed to the court his optimistic stance toward considering this “provisional solution” proposal.

The proposal rests on the precondition that the government will suspend construction works, meaning that Okinawa prefecture would lose the grounds for its claims in the two lawsuits it has brought against the government over the same issue, and those two trials would also be terminated. Lawyer Isao Takeshita, part of the team of lawyers representing Okinawa, stated, “Since all three of the trials will be temporarily solved, and the construction will stop, the proposal warrants our consideration.” At a later date, the national government may end up bringing a different kind of lawsuit against Okinawa prefecture; the new lawsuit would seek to have the governor’s nullification of the permit overturned by declaring it an act of unlawful negligence of administrative duty. This type of lawsuit would have the same effect of overturning the governor’s decision, but is less legally forceful than an execution-by-proxy lawsuit. If such a case is brought by the government at a later date, the “provisional solution” proposal stipulates that both sides must go along with the trial.

According to prefectural representatives, during talks after the hearing, the court authorized the release of details relating to the “provisional solution” proposal. However, it refused to authorize release of details relating to the other proposal, a so-called “fundamental solution” which reports say stipulate that the Okinawa governor should reverse his nullification of the land reclamation permit, in exchange for which the Japanese government should negotiate with the U.S. to have the base either returned to Japanese administration or converted into a joint military-civilian airport within thirty years of its completion.

Governor Onaga gave his testimony at the February 15 hearing. He talked of Okinawa’s history of bearing an excessive burden of U.S. military bases, and strongly protested the national government’s current attempt to push forward forcefully with the Henoko base construction, saying that Okinawans’ rights to liberty and equality as Japanese citizens have been continually ignored. He reiterated his determination not to let a new base be built in Henoko, and urged the court to display careful consideration in coming to a verdict that will enable Okinawa’s people to live with courage and pride.

The hearing lasted two and a half hours, as representatives from both the national government and the Okinawa prefectural government questioned the governor. Onaga stated that the third-party committee that issued the report revealing legal flaws in the previous governor’s authorization of the Henoko land reclamation, which became the grounds for his nullification of the permit, had been “impartial, neutral, and objective” in reaching its conclusions. He emphasized that he had not set up the committee simply in order to follow through with his campaign pledge to prevent the Henoko base construction. He also expressed his intention, as an administrative head, to accept the court’s eventual ruling.

The next hearing in the trial will be held on February 29. Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine will give witness testimony, and the trial will conclude on the same day.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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