Mayor resigns amid scandal, but Futenma plans unaffected
March 10, 2003
GINOWAN, Okinawa — An Okinawa mayor who supported the move of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma accepted illegal campaign donations during his 2001 re-election campaign, Okinawa police say.
But the arrest Tuesday of Seiko Higa and his subsequent resignation is not expected to affect the move of U.S. Marine operations to an offshore base to be built in the waters off the fishing village of Henoko in northeast Okinawa, adjacent to Camp Schwab.
Higa, 64, was an avid supporter of a bilateral agreement reached in 1996 that called for the return of 21 percent of the base property used by the U.S. military. A key to that plan was closing MCAS Futenma, located in the heart of urban Ginowan, and moving it elsewhere on Okinawa. Part of Higa’s re-election platform was his support of the move.
However, Okinawa was shocked this week when island police arrested Higa, charging him with conspiring with supporters to receive 22 million yen in illegal campaign contributions. Most of the money allegedly was from construction firms that had won bids for city public works projects.
Higa has denied the allegations.
Japanese and Okinawa officials were quick to downplay the effect of Higa’s arrest on the Henoko air station project.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s Naha Bureau said the plan was continuing on schedule.
“The agency will proceed with the plan, as it has been agreed by SACO [the Special Action Committee on Okinawa], because it is our mission to realize the moving of the facility, which is located in the center of the city, as early as possible to reduce noise and other impacts on the life of citizens,” the spokesman said.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine likewise was doubtful the arrest would hinder the project.
“I am surprised and also sorry to hear about the news concerning Mayor Higa,” the governor said. When asked how that might affect the Henoko project, Inamine said, “There will be no direct impact.”
“It is the wish of the citizens to move the operation as soon as possible,” he said. “Successful reutilization of the [Futenma] land is of grave importance, for it determines the future of Ginowan.
“I will work closely with the city government to ensure that the arrest does not negatively affect the development project.”
— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.