The vice president of Sumitomo Mitsui Construction, the prime contractor for the tilting condominium building in Yokohama, has apologized over the incident — the first such acknowledgment of regret by the company since the scandal broke mid-October.
“We deeply apologize for causing troubles and worries,” Yoshio Nagamoto said during a news conference in Tokyo Wednesday to announce the company’s midyear earnings results.
“We accept the grave responsibility as the prime contractor. We weren’t thorough enough. We should’ve supervised better.”
Still, the belated public admission of regret triggered criticism from within the construction industry. Some officials blasted the company over its passive stance on the incident.
During the news conference, Nagamoto said he felt “betrayed” by Asahi Kasei Construction Materials Corp.
“It was very shrewd, (making it difficult for us) to detect. There wasn’t necessarily negligence (on our side) in supervising them. We had placed too much confidence in Asahi Kasei Construction Materials.”
Nagamoto also stressed that the construction schedule for the Yokohama condo buildings was not rushed, brushing aside allegations that a tight timetable forced the subcontractor to fabricate the piling data.
He admitted that the company ordered pilings that were not long enough to reach solid ground but refused to comment on whether it was a mistake.
Solid ground below the Yokohama condo site started at about 16 meters; Sumitomo Mitsui Construction ordered pilings that were about 14 meters in length.
“They were only estimates, the solid ground started at various depths at the site. We told Asahi Kasei Construction Materials to make sure the pilings hit bedrock,” he said.
If Asahi Kasei Construction Materials knew they were not reaching solid ground, it should have asked for longer pilings. No such requests were made.
Nagamoto, however, refused to comment on whether its company workers were present during the piling work, saying it needed to first report on the matter to the land ministry.
Asked why the company had not addressed the issue publicly until now, Nagamoto said the company’s first priority was the residents of the condo.
He also said it could not estimate the impact of the scandal on future earnings, but said it is unlikely to be “small.”
Some industry officials were critical of the explanation.
“It’s odd that the subcontractor (Asahi Kasei Construction Materials) has already held a news conference while the prime contractor (Sumitomo Mitsui Construction) waited until now,” said an official with a major general contractor. “Who do they think they are? A victim?”
Legally speaking, Sumitomo Mitsui Construction is responsible for the entire construction project.
“Because the parent of the subcontractor is Asahi Kasei, a major company, they were able to deal with it,” the official said. “Normally, it would be tasked to the prime contractor.”
Another construction industry official said the chaos surrounding the incident stemmed, partially, from the prime contractor’s failure to quickly offer an explanation.