In an Asahi Newstar TV interview on February 8, Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo discussed recent problems related to U.S. military bases in Japan: the differences arising between the national and local governments over the realignment of U.S. forces and the allegations about bid-rigging for Defense Facilities Administration Agency (DFAA) contracts. The following is the gist of the interview.
Q: The bid-rigging scandals involving the DFAA which has a major role in persuading local governments to accept U.S. military realignment plans have been exposed one after another. What do you think of the present situation concerning the U.S. forces realignment?
Shii Kazuo: In the name of the transformation and realignment of U.S. forces, the Japanese and U.S. governments are intent on strengthening U.S. bases in Japan and promoting Japan-U.S. military integration. There are two major contradictions emerging right now.
On the one hand there are contradictions between the government and local municipalities concerned. 103 local heads and assemblies throughout Japan have expressed opposition to the strengthening of the functions of U.S. bases, and local struggles led by municipalities are increasing. These moves are based on local people's anger at the plans to strengthen U.S. bases and the government's high-handed method of pursuing the plan.
In October 2004, Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro said, "The government will first hold discussions with local municipalities. After receiving their approval, it will negotiate with the U.S." However, without holding talks with local governments or even providing them with any information, the government only informed them of the conclusion of the Japan-U.S. talks and the plan to strengthen expeditionary capabilities on a global scale, or "strike force" functions, of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps units stationed in Japan.
In December, a senior DFAA official in charge of negotiating the U.S. military realignment plan with local governments sent an e-mail message to Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureaus instructing them to keep an eye on local municipalities' moves and try to prevent them from adopting resolutions in opposition to the realignment plan.
The e-mail message was revealed by JCP House of Councilors member Inoue Satoshi and the DFAA acknowledged its existence. The revelations of government interference in and pressure on local autonomy have created major controversies in Kanagawa and Okinawa. It is important to note that the government's outrageous attitude in disregard of local municipalities is creating more opposition.
Q: The government under U.S. pressure says the final report on the realignment plan will be completed in March. What is your view of future developments on this issue?
Shii: To be honest, I think the "interim report" released last October is a de facto final Japan-U.S. agreement.
For example, concerning the plan to construct a new U.S. base on the shoreline near U.S. Camp Schwab in Okinawa, outgoing Mayor of Nago City Kishimoto Tateo and newly elected Mayor Shimabukuro Yoshikazu are both in opposition to the plan. The government, however, shows no intention to review the plan and says, "No other plan will be considered." In this situation, the Nago City government has declared that it won't accept any plan if it is based on the shoreline plan. Okinawa Governor Inamine Keiichi agrees with the city on this point. It is therefore really important to focus on this common ground to increase the movement.
Q: As a citizens' referendum will take place in Ikuwakni City, local municipalities are unlikely to accept the plan, aren't they?
Shii: This is very important because Iwakuni citizens will try to thwart the plan by use of a referendum, and I wish them every success in this effort. Also unacceptable is the plan to extend the Iwakuni base site by 50 percent with the construction of another runway.
In Sagamihara and Zama cities, where U.S. Camp Zama is located, both mayors in cooperation with their citizens are resisting the plan.
The U.S. military realignment strategy focuses on Camp Zama, the Iwakuni base, and all the other bases in Okinawa, but faces a deadlock at every base. In disregard of this fact, it is absolutely impermissible to impose the plan.
Q: A bid-rigging scandal involving the Defense Facilities Administration Agency (DFAA) came to light recently. What kind of influence do you think the scandal will have?
Shii: I think that this is another major scandal surfacing.
The illegal bidding committed by three arrested DFAA officials is only the tip of the iceberg. In reality, the DFAA has systematically taken part in a bid-rigging mechanism established by the DFAA itself. Akahata recently reported that DFAA contracts for construction projects at seven U.S. bases (Misawa, Yokota, Zama, Yokosuka, Atsugi, Iwakuni, and Sasebo) and 10 U.S. bases in Okinawa were awarded to construction contractor companies at an average 97.5 percent of the upper limit of cost offered in bids between 2001 and 2004. Nationwide bid rigging schemes have apparently taken place at the initiative of DFAA officials.
Q: The U.S. military realignment itself is a huge project, isn't it?
Shii: Yes. For example, the Iwakuni base extension project underway for ten years may have been awarded in a rigged bid.
The extension project is funded by the so-called "sympathy budget," which Japan has no obligation to pay under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The costs of "sympathy budget"-funded projects have been decided in bids suspected of being rigged, and they have taken a big bite out of people's tax money. How can the DFAA possibly ask local residents to accept the plan? If a private company commits such bid collusion, the company would definitely be ordered to suspend operations.
Q: The Defense Agency is beginning to suggest that the DFAA be dissolved and integrated into a defense ministry. What do you think of this?
Shii: By arguing for this, the DA is trying to deflect attention from this issue. The root cause of bid riggings is the system of giving retired government officials high positions in the private sector or government-affiliated corporations, which is called "Amakudari." Unless "Amakudari" is prohibited, nothing will be solved.
Remember the 1998 bribery scandal involving the Defense Agency's Central Procurement Office. "Amakudari" was used as a means of the breach of trust and corruption at that time. Dissolution of the DFAA won't be the solution. A total ban of the "Amakudari" system is essential to in any attempt to solve this problem.
- Akahata, February 9, 2006