Japan Turns Down RMI Request To Fund Gym Renovation

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Marshalls’ government didn’t follow Japan timetable for request

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, July 29, 2013) – Japan has turned down a request from the Marshall Islands government to fund a $5 million renovation of the damaged national gymnasium in Majuro, prompting a Majuro senator to call on the national government to rethink its priorities.

A Japan Embassy official in Majuro explained that after careful consideration by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, the request to fix the gymnasium was not approved.

"Unfortunately Japan cannot fund the ECC project at this time," Japan Embassy Third Secretary and Economic Advisor and Researcher Masataka Mizutani said.

Mizutani said the Japanese government operates on a timetable, and this was not followed by the Marshall Islands. The government was advised through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit a project request for the gym last year following the visit by a JICA technical team that evaluated the gym in June and July. The Marshall Islands request was submitted in February this year, six months after JICA presented its "Situation Study" on the gym to the government.

Another factor that influenced the decision was the lack of maintenance performed on the gym since it was built as a Japanese aid project in 1997.

"We are now one year out from the Micronesian Games with no facility where our national volleyball and basketball teams can prepare," said Majuro Senator Tony Muller, a member of the National Olympic Committee’s executive board. "The surrounding communities have not had access to the gym facility for over two years."

A portion of the roof at the national gym collapsed in June 2011 from termite damage.

A critical lack of public recreation facilities has developed at a time when the World Health Organization reported earlier this year the Marshall Islands has one of the highest non-communicable disease or NCD rates in the world, and that sport and physical activity are the best prevention, Muller said.

"The Marshall Islands has declared its NCD rate to be a national emergency, yet the Marshall Islands has no multi-purpose track and field facility and (the national gym) is still condemned," he said. "Our priorities must be adjusted."

Muller pointed out that Majuro Mayor Mudge Samuel has since last year implemented a plan to improve and expand existing basketball and volleyball courts. "We need to follow the Majuro Atoll Local Government’s lead in the development of sports facilities at the national level and make these priorities and positions clear to our friends in the international donor community," Muller said.

Mizutani said the government of Japan understands the value of the national gym for the Marshall Islands, and noted that Japan provided $200,000 to refurbish the gym’s floor in mid-2000s

He urged more dialogue among the Embassy of Japan, JICA and the Marshall Islands to focus on other projects in a timely manner

Japan continues to support a variety of projects in the Marshalls, including drought relief with 15 reverse osmosis water-making units due to arrive next month, new school buses funded through the Grassroots Grant program, funding for garbage disposal equipment, and other activities.

"We cannot fund all requests, but we do our best for what’s needed according to our budget," he said.

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