The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced Tuesday it has tracked down eight current and former officials believed responsible for the ever-spiraling safety woes complicating the relocation plan for the Tsukiji fish market, the world’s biggest seafood bazaar.
Gov. Yuriko Koike said during a hastily arranged news conference that she will swiftly decide what disciplinary actions should be taken against the individuals.
The announcement was the result of a weekslong internal probe into the decision-making process that led to the planned relocation site in Toyosu being left exposed to contaminated soil.
It was also a breakthrough in the metropolitan government’s long-stalled effort to identify individuals culpable for missteps related to the market move after its initial investigation in September failed to determine who changed the original construction plans — and why. An unsatisfied Koike ordered a redo of the investigation.
“The lack of management and responsibility, the tendency to follow precedent and the failures to check, confirm, communicate and coordinate. … The list of contributing factors is endless. The fact they continued to offer explanations inconsistent with the truth is egregious,” Koike said with a note of anger in her voice.
The officials singled out in the latest investigation included former wholesale market chiefs Mitsuru Nakanishi and Itaru Okada. Nakanishi currently serves as vice governor.
Those two, along with another six high-ranking officials, participated in a critical internal meeting in August 2011 that Koike faulted for overturning the policy recommended by a panel of outside experts. It was during that meeting, Koike quoted multiple sources as testifying, that the controversial decision to build basements beneath the Toyosu relocation site rather than layers of soil to protect against contamination was made.
It was not immediately clear, however, why the basements were made.
Environmental fears have dogged the relocation site, located 2 km south of Tsukiji, from the get-go.
The new market was built on land that once housed a Tokyo Gas Co. production plant, which tainted the soil beneath with toxic chemicals, including benzene and cyanide. To allay safety fears, the metropolitan government initially said it would strip away the top 2 meters of the polluted soil and cover it with a 2.5-meter-thick layer of new, clean soil before construction began.
But in a surprise announcement in September, Koike revealed she had learned that the clean soil was never laid, which could leave the market potentially exposed to toxic substances.
Koike’s determination to straighten out the Toyosu debacle remains true to her campaign promises in the July gubernatorial election to purge the metropolitan government of corruption and improve transparency. Her actions so far are being well-received by the public.
Koike’s continued popularity is readily apparent, exemplified by the reception her new school on politics, called Kibo no Juku (School of Hopes), has received, attracting more than 4,000 applicants. Her move to teach politics is widely seen as a prelude to a bid to establish her own political party — a sensitive move that could threaten the Liberal Democratic Party and others as they brace for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election slated for next summer.
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