The time is drawing near for Tokyo’s lawmakers to use a powerful investigative tool in a bid to seek answers about the Tsukiji fish market relocation fiasco.

The first session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly’s special committee kicks off Saturday with an aim to investigate the issue concerning the relocation of the capital’s famed Tsukiji fish market to the Toyosu district in Koto Ward.

Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members will question key figures involved in the relocation process including former Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and his close aide and Vice Gov. Takeo Hamauzu.

Here are some questions and answers about the rare assembly process.

What is the special committee?

The special investigative committee is seen as a last means to grill former officials involved in local government affairs because it can summon sworn witnesses.

Those subject to investigation who refuse to testify without a justifiable reason can be imprisoned or fined.

The right to set up the committee is stipulated in the Local Autonomy Law, meaning other local prefectural assemblies have the same power.

Because the rules are outlined in Article 100 of the Local Autonomy Law, it is sometimes referred to as the Article 100 Committee.

What will the investigation focus on?

Ever since current Gov. Yuriko Koike postponed the relocation of the Tsukiji market due to safety concerns at the new site, attention has turned to how and why the government decided to purchase the Toyosu land.

Assembly members will be taking advantage of the powerful committee to investigate whether the selection of the Toyosu land was appropriate. It will also look at the decision-making processes that led to a deal with Tokyo Gas Co., which formerly owned the land, and further procedures to tackle soil contamination at the site.

The Saturday session will start with Minoru Oya, a former government official who was in charge of wholesale markets, including Tsukiji, and former Vice Gov. Masamichi Fukunaga, who served under Ishihara.

The committee will also question nine Tokyo Gas representatives involved in the deal and other former top officials overseeing the Tsukiji market.

Hamauzu, who was in charge of negotiations between the metro government and Tokyo Gas, will testify on March 19. Ishihara, who served as governor from 1999 to 2012 and chose the Toyosu site, will testify the following day.

However, it remains unclear whether the special committee can extract new information from Ishihara, as he has repeatedly said he had no knowledge or could not remember details of the deal and procedures related the move.

Koike will not attend any of the sessions, a spokesman for the metropolitan assembly confirmed by telephone on Thursday.

When has the committee been active in the past?

The Saturday session will be the first time in 12 years for the special committee to open in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

Ishihara and Hamauzu were actually subject to investigation in 2005 concerning the management of a vocational school run by the metropolitan government.

Hamauzu was under fire for lying about construction related to the school, with claims that it was mismanaged. The investigation led to the resignation of Hamauzu as well as Fukunaga the same year. It was the first such investigation in Tokyo since 1970.

Hamauzu had long faced criticism for controlling metropolitan government operations and dictating what information reached Ishihara, who was often away from his office.

During the 2005 investigation, the metropolitan assembly questioned 13 witnesses in 13 sessions.

In 2012, the assembly decided to set up the special committee to question then-Gov. Naoki Inose, who had been criticized for receiving ¥50 million from the Tokushukai hospital group. Inose resigned the following day, so the session did not take place.

In 2005, the Nagano Prefectural Assembly summoned Yasuo Tanaka, a former governor and novelist, over illegitimate connections between the local government and his support group.

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