Photo/IllutrationProtesters outside Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, criticize the dumping of soil and sand as part of the land reclamation work continuing off the Henoko coast. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Okinawa Prefecture on April 5 was dealt another defeat in its long-running legal tussle with the central government over relocation of a U.S. military base to the Henoko district of Nago.

Keiichi Ishii, the land minister, said he decided to nullify a move by the Okinawa prefectural government aimed at halting reclamation work there, despite Naha's earlier approval for the project to go ahead.

Ishii's decision was in response to a request from the Defense Ministry. It follows a temporary injunction handed down by Ishii in October that overruled Okinawa's retraction of its original decision to allow the project.

The new move means the Okinawa prefectural government must now take further steps to stop the land reclamation work to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

Among the options being considered are to request the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council to examine the legality of Ishii's latest decision or to file a lawsuit seeking its nullification.

However, the council refused to consider a request by the Okinawa prefectural government over the temporary injunction imposed by Ishii in October, and it remains to be seen if if will even take up a new request.

The Okinawa prefectural government had argued that part of the seabed off the Henoko coast where land reclamation work is planned has the consistency of mayonnaise and will require a huge amount of work to provide solid foundations.

In explaining his latest decision at a news conference on April 5, Ishii said, "I made the judgment that there were no problems and the project can proceed because the stability of the land reclamation zone had been secured."

He approved the nullification on grounds the Okinawa prefectural government did not have an adequate reason for retracting its earlier approval.

After Ishii announced his decision, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya held his own news conference at which he said, "While the issue of a weak foundation remains, we have received approval that work can proceed in a stable manner using established general construction methods."

While the decision went against the Okinawa prefectural government, the tactic employed by the central government was quickly criticized by legal experts.

The request made by the Defense Ministry is based on provisions of the Administrative Complaint Review Law, which is designed to provide redress for individuals who have a complaint about some administrative action.

Masanori Okada, a professor of administrative law at Waseda University, said it was inappropriate for the land minister to consider a request from the Defense Ministry, which is a government organ, not an individual.

"The decision was also inappropriate because it simply sided with the arguments made by the Defense Ministry instead of conducting a thorough assessment of the validity of the points raised," Okada said.