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Editorial: New Toyosu market probe unveils chain of irresponsibility

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has released the outcome of a renewed investigation into its failure to lay a soil base below the site of the new Toyosu market in Koto Ward that has been built to replace the Tsukiji market in Chuo Ward.

A plan to lay a soil base to prevent contamination was effectively decided on in the guidelines for building a new market compiled in February 2009 and approved by then Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. However, it was decided at a meeting of department managers and section chiefs within the Central Wholesale Market's new market construction department in August 2011 not to lay a soil base, according to the new investigation. The decision was endorsed in May 2012, the metropolitan government found.

It is hard to believe that the plan to build a new market approved by the governor was secretly overturned by a technical division of the metropolitan government. Gov. Yuriko Koike identified eight high-ranking officials involved -- including Vice Gov. Mitsuru Nakanishi and another who previously headed the Central Wholesale Market division -- and said the metropolitan government would take punitive measures against them. These officials apparently cannot evade responsibility for the case.

The renewed investigation highlighted the lack of transparency in the management of the metropolitan administration, in which bureaucrats make decisions on important issues in ignorance of the intentions of top-ranking officials and the metropolitan assembly.

It also came to light that the minutes of a meeting were forged to make it look as if a technical panel comprising outside experts had proposed that an underground monitoring space be created underneath the market's key structures, even though the metropolitan government actually made the proposal.

Officials also made false statements on the case at the assembly. These findings have shown that the metropolitan government's lack of governance is serious.

The metropolitan government should further clarify the background to the scandal and fundamentally reform itself based on its findings.

The new investigation failed to clarify who led the decision not to lay a soil base during the 2 1/2-year period from February 2009 and why. A report on the probe only states that a department manager-level official went ahead with work on the basic design of the market on the assumption that a monitoring space would be created underground.

The new report is a far cry away from providing an entire picture of the scandal, although it is better than the initial report, which merely stated, "The plan to lay a soil based was changed on a step-by-step basis," without specifying the period. The renewed investigation report highlighted limits to what the metropolitan government can do in an in-house probe.

The responsibility of Ishihara, who was governor at the time, is serious. Ishihara says he has no recollection of what he had been briefed about regarding the issue. However, such an explanation from someone who headed the metropolitan government at the time is unacceptable.

Ishihara rejected Koike's request that he be interviewed in public over the case. And he did not respond to a questionnaire on the issue sent by the metropolitan government. He should fulfill his responsibility to publicly explain the scandal.

The prime concern for those involved with the market, as well as Tokyo residents, is safety. The metropolitan government's monitoring of underground water at the site has detected benzene and other toxic substances in excess of the upper limits set under environmental standards. Mercury up to seven times the limit set by the central government's guidelines was also found in the air in a hollow space below the main structures of the market. Moreover, questions have been raised over the quake resistance of the structures at the site.

Questions remain as to whether the Toyosu market can fulfill its role as a large-scale wholesale market that deals with fresh fish and vegetables. Gov. Koike said she will shortly suggest options on the relocation of the Tsukiji market. The governor should present a direction for the relocation of the key wholesale market as early as possible.

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