One of the big news stories in Japan over the last month concerns Architect Hidetsugu Aneha who faked a lot of safety data on buildings which means that they are likely to collapse in a moderate earthquake that they ought to survive. This has finally struck home to me because we just learned that one of my wife's best friends lives in one of the affected buildings.
The liability issue is horrible; the architect, various construction companies and the government's building inspectors all appear to be partially culpable and needless to say a significant amount of buck and blame passing is going on.The problem here is that the buildings are liable to collapse in an earthquake, but until that moment, are perfectly OK. Hence all sorts of questions which basically boil down to "who pays to fix it?" and the answer, so far, appears to be, in part, "the government" as Yahoo/AP reports:
The government will spend $66 million on the package, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported earlier Tuesday.
Kitagawa said the government would demand compensation from companies involved in the construction and sale of faulty buildings. It will also set up a center to handle inquiries from citizens worried about building safety, help cities pay for building inspections, and audit architectural safety agencies accused of approving the flawed construction plans.
So far, the ministry has confirmed that 57 defective buildings — the majority of them hotels — are at risk of collapsing in a moderately strong earthquake.
In the "no shit sherlock" category of news the next couple of paragraphs are a gem:
On Monday, the ministry filed a criminal complaint against architect Hidetsugu Aneha, who admitted to violating quake safety regulations to cut costs on at least 21 of the faulty buildings. The ministry also reportedly planned to file criminal charges against builders who worked with Aneha.
"We need to pursue their civil and criminal responsibility for this problem," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.
Of course since the construction sector is a major beneficiary of pork it came as no surprise to discover that certain politicians seem to have been pulling strings (or trying to) and this is bound to result in another group of likely payers - the suckers like my wife's friend who bought property there. As this AFP article notes the residents are worried:
"Any of us could go crazy thinking about double loans for the next 30 years, a more serious problem than the risk of a major quake itself."
... [T]he residents would have to pay for moving and new rent or a housing loan on top of the loan for the condo.
"No one, even the government, understands we have no compensation, althoughd they say residents' lives must be protected more than anything else," said another resident, a four-month pregnant housewife, 27.
Although of course (and also in the "No shit" category) the government is putting "pressure" on the construction companies caught to pay some of the costs.
One question which I have not seen asked, but which comes to my mind more and more as I learn more about how widespread the problem is (over 50 buildings so far), is whether Aneha is the only architect to have cut these corners. Given that he seems to not have had too many problems finding inspection firms who would validate his poor data and worked for at least three construction companies I greatly fear that the problem could be far more widespread.
By the way it occurs to me that if this sort of thing happens in Japan where else is it likely to occur? We know that in countries like Turkey building standards are regularly violated and that many die as a result. We also know that in the past buildings in Korea have collapsed due to shoddy consruction. If a quake hits (say) Shanghai does anyone care to bet on the amount of corner cutting that will be discovered? Not that I should be so casual about it, the south of France is not precisely a paragon of rectitude when it comes to construction (just a couple of months ago a whole street of houses near Cannes was ordered to be demolished because it had been built in land designated to be parkland), so I would be unsurprised if large numbers of the coastal eyesores between Nice and Cannes were to collapse in an earthquake.