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    House of horrors

    So many dropped balls are coming to light in the Aneha scandal that I’m starting to expect Mr. Moose to wander by at any moment. One of the sticking points thus far had been over the degree to which the federal government should be helping out people who’ve been stuck with unsafe condos. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport has come up with a partial plan:

    Residents of housing blocks built on falsified structural integrity data who took out loans with the government’s Housing Loan Corporation to purchase their now unlivable homes, will be allowed to defer their loan payments, Construction and Transport Ministry officials said Sunday.

    This will be the first step the government has taken to help those living in 230 condominiums in question. However, only 14 of the households, or about 6 percent, of them took out loans with the corporation.

    Thus, the ministry is also looking into possibly assisting residents who borrowed from private financial institutions, the officials said.

    The ministry holds that the condominiums’ builders should fulfill the defect liability to rebuild the buildings free of charge before the ministry assists residents, but it is not clear how such firms, including Huser, will handle the problem and whether they have the necessary funds to rebuild the housing blocks.

    The ministry is searching for a way to extend a helping hand, as it will take time for the residents to rebuild their lives and they may be forced to repay their loans at the same time they pay rent on new homes.

    I hope my arch tone over the last week hasn’t made it seem that I regard this story as a joke. While it’s true that we’re very lucky no one was killed here, a lot of people have poured savings into mortgages that are now proving worthless. There’s nothing funny about that.

    There’s also nothing funny about the fact that, as the Asahi reported this morning, it’s beginning to look as if everyone–and I mean everyone–involved in these construction projects failed to be vigilant:

    The reports submitted by Aneha, who is based in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, were supposed to be thoroughly checked by eHomes Inc., a private-sector inspection company.

    At the same time, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport only carried out perfunctory reviews of the work done by eHomes in its annual inspection of the company.

    To compound matters, a number of local governments were also lax in their efforts to unearth irregularities in reports put together by Aneha.

    Land ministry officials searched the offices of eHomes in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on Thursday and Friday to look into the company’s inspection procedures.

    Sources said that eHomes apparently failed to reconfirm the information included in the structural-strength reports as required by the Building Standards Law.

    The whole point of building redundancy into these sorts of procedures is to put as many pairs of eyes as possible on the same information: what one person doesn’t notice, everyone else will. What actually appears to have happened–all Tragedy of the Commons-like–is that everyone assumed everyone else was being vigilant, so once Aneha had put his fraudulent structural integrity reports into circulation, the falsifications weren’t discovered.

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport made an announcement today:

    On 28 November, reacting to the scandal in which Aneha Design falsified the structural calculations for apartment complexes and other buildings, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport firmed up new policies of systemic revision that would require the name of any architectural subcontractor that performed structural calculations to be recorded in any application for a building permit. The intention is to have revisions enacted and implemented in basic construction laws governing application documents by the end of the year.

    Well, okay. I’m sure anyone who sees the name Aneha on a building permit application from here on will be sure to put it in the “Reject” pile. Otherwise, if there’s a way this will help ensure greater vigilance on the part of those in charge of inspection and certification, I’m not sure what it is.

    Like other federal ministries, the MLIT takes the tack that the safety of the public is too important for its operations to be spun off into private hands. Since protecting its citizens is the government’s primary responsibility, I’d be inclined to agree. But the above policy appears to add only a little more paper pushing (never a hard sell on bureaucrats). The fact is that it’s already the job of functionaries in government construction agencies to review structural calculations, and they didn’t do it. Perhaps the rules themselves could use some revision, but the major issue is pretty clearly the mindset. It’s not clear what anyone plans to do to change that.

    If you care to depress or scare yourself, BTW, the Japanese Nikkei now has a handy category page dedicated to the Aneha scandal–certain to be updated frequently for the foreseeable future, if this week is any indication.

    5 Responses to “House of horrors”

    1. Zak says:

      This is exactly what I meant by my previous comment about the era of greater Japanese competence than other countries being over. This sort of thing cannot happen without systemic incompetence and indolence. It’s not a failure of Aneha, it’s the failure of everybody down the line in government and industry, who instead of being the best and brightest are the the poorest and dimmest.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Right. When surface conformity and rubber-stamping is so highly valued, the flip-side is that it provides an opening for wily malefactors to get away with murder simply by observing the proper forms. The truly frightening thing here is that Aneha’s fraud was, by all accounts, mere microns beneath the surface. These experts they’re calling in to look at the structural integrity reports all seem to be saying that any engineer with access to the back of an envelope could have figured out they were screwy.

    3. Chris_B says:

      These unfortunate revelations come as no surprise to me. This is very similar to the “ringisho” system whereby many people’s approval is needed to start any project in a company. Of course once the first hanko is on the paper, no one and I mean no one will deny their stamp of approval.

      This gets magnified in any inter company projects where one or more parties are either large or famous or where there is a pre-existing business relationship between the parties. Even if one of the parties is a government agency the same negligence goes on because as long as there is the prospect of amakudari, approval will always be forthcoming.

      The whole idea of “shared responsibility” is a fraud. If everyone is responsible, no one really is.

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Right. For anyone who doesn’t know what Chris is talking about, the way it generally works is this: If you have an idea for a project/initiative/whatever, you start by talking to the people just below you in the hierarchy and getting them on board (which may involve their getting the people below them in the hierarchy on board first). Once you have the much-prized consensus, you can talk to your supervisor. Depending on the scope of the initiative, he may have to get approval from two or three levels directly above him, but you won’t start moving with anything like an official proposal until you know that it’s already unofficially got clearance. Then you use whatever form your company has, with its row of squares for stamps from however far up the hierarchy you have to go. It’s passed from level to level as high as it needs to go, being stamped along the way with (generally) very little review.

    5. Toren says:

      Looks like we may have our own little engineering scandal bubbling up here…only instead of a private company it’s the government itself.

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