TOKYO (TR) – With a few strokes of his drafting pencil, architect Hidetsugu Aneha has sent the Japanese government’s bean counters into overdrive.
In 2005, Aneha was found to have falsified the earthquake-resistance data in the designs of multiple hotels and condominiums in an effort to reduce construction costs. The resulting scandal caused the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism in June to modify the approval process for the procurement of a building permit, a move which has stalled the world’s second-biggest economy.
The stricter regulations within the Building Standards Law now require a clear designation of the responsible architect and a peer review of the submitted documents, both of which have extended the approval period from the typical 21 days to 70. What’s more, sellers of condominiums now must have enough funds in reserve to accommodate 10 years’ worth of potentially defective products.
“The new regulations are making the process more complicated and time-consuming,” says Yusuke Shirai, a structural engineer at Arup Japan, a building-industry consulting firm. “There are delays in construction schedules and frustration on the part of our contractors and architects.”
At a press luncheon in November, Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister, said that it is essential for building standards to ensure that buildings are structurally sound. “We realized the process was not detailed enough,” he said, referring to the scandal surrounding Aneha, who is now appealing a verdict that levied a fine of 1.8 million yen and a five-year prison sentence. “We had to do something about the Building Standards Law and the way it is implemented.”
Year-on-year housing starts declined 44 percent in September and 35 percent in October. The government announced that the housing slump was a cause in the downward revision of its first quarter growth forecast to 1.3 percent from a previous estimate of 2.1 percent.
The housing problem is merely the latest black mark to fall upon Japan’s construction industry over the past few months. In September, a 100-meter span of the $343 million Can Tho cable-stayed bridge under construction southwest of Ho Chi Minh City by Japanese companies Taisei, Kajima, and Nippon Steel collapsed and killed nearly 60 Vietnamese workers. Initial reports suggested that negligence on the part of the consortium is to blame. In December, Kajima was found to have concealed 600 million yen in a slush fund over the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years.
Fuyushiba, however, is confident that the housing decline is only temporary, and maintained that demand is not dropping. “Due to the unfamiliarity of the new process, things just did not move smoothly,” he said. “Therefore, the numbers seemed to have dropped. They should get back on track soon.” This claim was borne out by the December housing figure, which showed a year-on-year drop of only 19 percent.
Fuyushiba does not see the stricter measures as an overreaction. “When there are incidents of wrongdoing, we have to deal with them accordingly,” he said. “If only a handful of people are falsifying data, the amount of harm they can do to many people is tremendous. They have to therefore be dealt with.”