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Police have arrested disgraced structural designer Hidetsugu Aneha and seven others involved in the scandal that has shaken public confidence in the safety of residences, although the specific allegations against them at this point are not directly related to the core of the scandal — Mr. Aneha’s fabrication of earthquake-resistance data for building designs. It is hoped that the investigations will eventually reveal the scope of the scandal and shed light on what went wrong with the nation’s structural design certification system.

It has been reported that Mr. Aneha has falsified quake-resistance data for designs of 98 condominiums and hotels. Mr. Aneha is suspected of having violated the law governing architects by allowing structural designer Mr. Mikio Akiba, who was also arrested, to use his name and title as a state-licensed “class-one architect.”

The other seven included Mr. Moriyoshi Kimura, president of Kimura Construction Co., a client of Mr. Aneha; and Mr. Togo Fujita, president of building inspection agency e-Homes Inc. Kimura Construction Co. built 56 of the 98 buildings constructed according to Mr. Aneha’s falsified design data. Mr. For the time being, however, Kimura is suspected of violating construction industry law by window-dressing his company’s financial reports for the business year ended June 2004. Mr. Fujita was the first person to report data falsification by Mr. Aneha to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry after discussing the matter with Mr. Susumu Ojima, president of Huser Co., a developer. Mr. Fujita was arrested on suspicion of falsifying his firm’s financial documents before acquiring official government certification as an inspector so that his firm could inspect designs of more varied types of buildings.

It is hoped that the investigators will be able to determine which party first hit on the idea of using falsified quake-resistance data for building designs and thus unravel the process of falsifying design data, inspecting design data, constructing buildings using such designs, and then certifying and selling the buildings. The initial arrests did not include people from Huser Co., which sold a condominium built according to Mr. Aneha’s data, or those from General Management Consultant Co. (Soken), which served as a consultant on more than 20 business hotels built according to fabricated data.

Mr. Fujita, regarded by some as a whistle-blower, stresses that there was no negligence on the part of his firm. But his firm failed to detect false designs in about one-third of Aneha-designed buildings. The investigators should find out whether the failure was a simple mistake or a result of long-standing negligence.

The scandal surfaced in November when the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry announced that Mr. Aneha had fabricated quake-resistance data in designs for 20 condominiums and a hotel in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa, and that some of them might collapse if struck by an earthquake of upper-5 intensity on the Japanese scale of 7. Under a 1981 regulation, buildings must be strong enough to resist a quake of upper-6 intensity.

The problem is that people other than Mr. Aneha also fabricated quake-resistance design data for many other buildings. In Hokkaido, for example, a class-two architect is suspected of having fabricated such data for 34 condominiums. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Aneha scandal has helped call people’s attention to the fact that the practice of fabricating building design data is pervasive.

The Aneha scandal should be viewed in the larger context of government policy related to building safety, especially deregulation. As part of the government move to relegate as many duties as possible to the private sector, the Building Standards Law was revised to enable government-designated private agencies to certify building designs beginning in 1999. It is now clear that some of these private agencies have put priority on earning profits rather than on assuring safety, and that some local governments, while in competition with such agencies, have lost the expertise needed to perform design inspections.

Strangely, four legally acceptable calculation methods exist for structural designs as well as more than 100 software programs for such calculations, leading to different results from method to method. The government is considering strengthening the punishment for architects and construction industry people, but such an approach would be too simplistic.

The government needs to present policy measures that substantially make the nation safer in the event of earthquakes. Investigations should eventually clarify the government’s responsibility for allowing the fabrication of quake-resistance building data to spread.

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