社説:辺野古環境委 公正に監視できるのか

October 21, 2015 (Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Company donations put fairness of Okinawa environmental watchdog in doubt
社説:辺野古環境委 公正に監視できるのか

Three members of an expert panel tasked with monitoring the environmental impact of construction work off the Henoko district of Nago for the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma received donations from contractors involved in the project.

Of the 13 members on the panel, Yokohama National University graduate school professor and panel chair Yoshiyuki Nakamura, along with two others, were found to have accepted donations between 500,000 yen and 8 million yen each following their appointments to the body.

The donations were given by contractors for the relocation project and an environmental consulting firm, the latter of which now runs the day-to-day office functions of the panel.

The previous Okinawa governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, requested the formation of the expert panel in December 2013 as a condition for approving landfill work off Henoko. The Defense Ministry then established the environmental oversight committee in April the following year. The panel is tasked with providing scientific and technical advice to the Defense Ministry on environmental protection, and is responsible for environmental reviews of a drilling survey at the Henoko site -- a preliminary step to the land reclamation work -- all the way through a post-construction survey.

When the Okinawa Prefectural Government pointed to the possibility that large concrete blocks that the Defense Ministry sank into the waters off the Henoko coast for a seabed survey had destroyed coral reefs, and demanded a halt to the work this past spring, the expert panel stated that the impact of the seabed survey on the reefs was "minimal." The committee played an important role as a source of expert opinion.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said that the government sees no problem in the three panel members receiving donations from companies involved in the base relocation work, insisting, "The panel is being managed in a fair and just manner." The panel members also claim that the donations have not affected the body's discussions and judgment.

Even if the truth is as Suga and the committee members have claimed, however, the situation has unfolded in the midst of the controversial U.S. base relocation plan, which has developed into a very public clash between the central and Okinawa governments. Members of the expert panel should not have accepted money that could have been seen as suspicious in any way. As an old Chinese proverb says, "If you don't want to be mistaken as stealing a plum, you should not adjust your crown under a plum tree," i.e. don't leave any room for scandal or doubt.

University of the Ryukyus professor emeritus Seiji Azuma, vice chairman of the expert committee, told the Mainichi Shimbun that most of the panel members from mainland Japan have no experience in environmental research in Okinawa.

"I'm dubious of their ability to conduct environmental monitoring in Okinawa. The central government is probably looking to go ahead and build the new base with a green light from the panel," Azuma added, casting doubt on the purpose of the committee itself.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga revoked his predecessor's approval for the land reclamation work off Henoko last week. However, the central government is trying high-handedly to push ahead with the landfill work, and the conflict between the two sides has heightened. If the committee remains a group tailor-made to endorse the central government's plans, it will fail to fulfill its stated role as an environmental watchdog.

The Defense Ministry should disclose all minutes from the panel meetings.

Not accepting money or goods from interested parties is the least that can be expected, morally speaking, from members of an expert panel like the environmental monitoring committee in question. The Nuclear Regulation Authority, for example, checks whether outside experts have received remuneration of 500,000 yen a year or more from nuclear business-related organizations in the previous three years when asking their opinions.

The Defense Ministry should consider introducing such a system for the environmental monitoring committee in Okinawa.

毎日新聞 2015年10月21日 東京朝刊

by kiyoshimat | 2015-10-22 08:58 | 英字新聞

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