Four major parties in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly agreed Monday to set up a powerful committee to look into the issues dogging the Tsukiji fish market relocation plan and possibly summon former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara as a sworn witness.
Ishihara was governor when the metropolitan government decided to buy land in the nearby Toyosu area in Koto Ward to host the famous but aging fish market in Chuo Ward.
Gov. Yuriko Koike has put the move on hold amid pollution at the new site, which was hosted a gas production plant, and has publicly called on Ishihara to clarify his role in the purchase.
The committee, which will have the power to compel individuals to testify and submit relevant records, may be set up as soon as Wednesday, the opening day of the assembly’s next session. Witnesses who give false testimony could face perjury charges.
Another special assembly panel on the relocation issue has already decided to summon Ishihara and his deputy governor at the time, Takeo Hamauzu, for questioning between March 18 and 20 about the land purchase from Tokyo Gas Co.
Although the former governor has expressed a readiness to appear before the special assembly committee, it cannot compel him to do so. This has led to calls to form a new panel with stronger investigative powers under the local autonomy law.
The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which were initially cautious about establishing such a panel, have since reversed their stances and joined the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party on Monday in calling for its creation.
Kei Takagi, an LDP member and chief of the assembly’s steering committee, told reporters that the assembly members will work on forming the new investigative panel. It is not clear whether it will replace the existing special committee.
Komeito, the DP and the JCP are expected to call Ishihara as a witness.
Ishihara reportedly intends to a hold a news conference on the matter as early as next week.
A former metropolitan government official who was in charge of wholesale markets, including Tsukiji, under Ishihara said in an interview Friday that he urged Ishihara to move the market to Toyosu.
“Mr. Ishihara made the final decision,” Minoru Oya said in an interview with Kyodo News.
Oya judged that moving the market was urgently needed due to its aging facilities and cramped premises. Though he had considered other sites in waterfront neighborhoods, each was problematic, especially when it came to size, Oya said.
The move to the Toyosu waterfront area was to have been completed by last Nov. 7, but Koike, who became governor in August, postponed the project after discovering concerns over soil and air pollution at the new site, including a secret change in the blueprints that eliminated pollution safeguards.
Some parties are calling for investigations into the negotiations between the metro government and Tokyo Gas, and the results of groundwater monitoring at the new site.
Toxic benzene 79 times the government’s safety limit has been detected in the groundwater at Toyosu. The carcinogen is a byproduct of gas production. Arsenic and cyanide have also been detected there.
In September, Koike disclosed that a protective layer of fresh soil that was supposed to be placed beneath the main buildings to protect the new wholesale market from the tainted soil was missing.
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