The Ministry of Environment is, clearly, the major obstacle that prevents patients and victims of Minamata Disease from being certified and compensated. A municipality, which is in charge of administrative procedures in line with legal decisions of the state, is decisive; whether it has an independent policy to save people or it regards itself as a subsidiary organ of the state.
A MUNICIPALTY CAN HAVE INDEPENDENT POLICY
The Supreme Court decision released in April last year was epoch-making as it overturned the state’s Criteria of 1977 which had imposed a requirement of combined multiple symptoms in order to be certified as a patient of Minamata Disease. The judgment approved a plaintiff, Mizoguchi Chie, to be a patient though she had a single symptom of sensory disorder on the tips of limbs.
Different Attitudes Taken by One Municipality from Another
A local body which involves in administrative jobs relevant to the ‘legal decisions of the state’ has own policy for evaluation and response. It differs from one municipality to another.
Governor of Kumamoto Prefecture Kabashima Ikuo told, on the following day of the Supreme Court’s ruling, to a plaintiff Mizoguchi Akio, who had demanded to review the Criteria for certification, repeating to say that ‘a governor is not entitled to change the criteria’ during a meeting of three hours. The governor did not show any signs to sympathize with patients and victims.
Meanwhile, Governor of Niigata Izumida Hirohiko appreciated the Supreme Court’s decision and demanded the state’s government to review the criteria and renew administrative procedures. In Niigata Prefecture Minamata Disease was caused by industrial waste released from the factory of Showa Denko K.K. The disease broke out along the lower reaches of the Agano River.
Why are two different approaches seen? What are reasons and backgrounds? An overwhelming discrepancy is found between the number of patients/victims and that of officially certified patients.
A Policy to Discard Patients
One of the supporters of the litigation of Niigata Minamata Disease reported in a public meeting held in Tokyo on April 2 about the ruling issued by the Kumamoto District Court given to plaintiffs of the second generation victims of Minamata Disease. He said: ‘if the number of people who applied for coverage under the Special Procedure Act and the 1995 Reconciliation is added to the number of people who applied for certification, and then the figure is compared with the number of certified patients, the ratio is four times in the case of Niigata Prefecture. In the case of Kumamoto Prefecture it is approximately 24 times, and over 40 times in the case of Kagoshima Prefecture.’ The reporter pointed out these sharp differences.
Niigata Prefecture and Niigata City commits in administrative jobs relevant to the state’s certification. Though the prefecture and city are not especially positive in certifying patients, their stance differs from those of Kumamoto and Kagoshima Prefectures, which try to disert victims.
A municipality has direct contacts with residents. Kumamoto Prefecture, which has dozens of thousand of inhabitants who suffer from the Minamata Disease, must and can afford to take a policy to save them.
Principles of Local Autonomy
A defense counsel Takashima Akira, a lawyer for a third-round litigation of Niigata Minamata Disease, told in the April 2 rally: ‘prefecture officials, especially, those of Kumamoto prefecture, are tempted to use as an excuse legal procedures ordered by the state. They say the state’s guidelines are the sole option. Does this attitude comply with the Constitution which provides principles of local autonomy? A municipality can be managed by democratically elected assembly members and a governor. A local government is independent. It has an equal status as the state. Legal, administrative jobs can be processed by a prefecture or a city to their discretion. An important point is how a municipality can contest with the state government’.
May 20, 2014