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Editorial: Report on missing soil base at new Tokyo market falls short

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has released a report on its investigation into why a soil base was not laid below the main buildings at the Toyosu wholesale market, built to replace the Tsukiji market, as a soil contamination countermeasure.

During the in-house probe, attention was focused on the reasons for a major change in the design of the new market, under which an underground space was created instead of a soil base.

The report states that the change in the design was decided on a step-by-step basis that began in 2008, but stops short of specifying who made the actual decision and when. The report is therefore extremely inadequate.

The investigation was conducted at the instruction of Gov. Yuriko Koike by eight high-ranking officials of the metropolitan government, including director general-level officials and the market head. These officials reportedly questioned those concerned with the market and reviewed internal documents to compile their report.

The report, however, makes little mention of how decisions, such as those of division directors and section managers, were made at meetings. It has given the public the impression that the establishment of an underground space was decided through tacit approval -- highlighting the limits of the in-house probe.

If the process of discussions on such a drastic change in the design of the market was never recorded in documents, the management of official documents could be criticized as being sloppy, showing the metropolitan government has serious problems as an administrative organization.

Before the lack of a soil base surfaced recently, the metropolitan government had falsely explained in the metropolitan assembly and other forums that a soil base had been laid over the entire premises of the new market. The metropolitan government's attitude has also therefore been called into question.

According to the report, some high-ranking officials knew that there was an underground space instead of a soil base below key structures at the market, but failed to correct the metropolitan government's explanation. These officials' extremely irresponsible attitude apparently also played a part in the scandal.

The report also states that the metropolitan government "aimlessly" kept a blueprint showing that a soil base lay below key buildings at the market on its website until the problem surfaced. However, the report does not indicate that the metropolitan government possesses an awareness of its accountability.

Gov. Koike said the metropolitan government will adopt a system aimed at protecting whistleblowers to encourage officials to anonymously report on how the decision on the change in the design was made. The metropolitan assembly will launch intensive deliberations on the case next week.

The metropolitan assembly should consider setting up a special investigative panel under Article 100 of the Local Autonomy Act and summoning former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and others concerned to testify over the case.

The eighth round of ground water monitoring conducted by the metropolitan government has detected toxic benzene and arsenic in excess of the upper limit set by the authorities. This has raised doubts about whether the metropolitan government had accurately conducted its seven earlier rounds of monitoring.

The outcome of the next and ninth round of monitoring, which the metropolitan government will conduct by the end of this year, will be announced in January next year. What would the metropolitan government do if the amount of benzene and arsenic is to exceed the upper limit again? The metropolitan government should respond to the matter from a long-term perspective.

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