Following the Aug 9 fire that left 96 families homeless and two boys dead, Phnom Penh’s fire department launched an internal investigation, suspended two firefighters and has begun reforms designed to reduce corruption, fire officials said Sunday.
Human rights groups and victims have criticized the department for poor performance and for demanding money to extinguish the burning houses.
Suon Sopheak, a major at the municipal police fire brigade, said a rescue chief and a regular firefighter admitted accepting $20 and $28 from villagers. He said the two men, whom he declined to name, would be investigated.
Complaints accused firemen of taking up to $400 from villagers.
In addition, Suon Sopheak said that beginning next week, firefighters will wear numbers on their shirts and helmets so they can be easily identified.
The two men under investigation were not wearing firefighter uniforms at the scene, Suon Sopheak said.
Muong Kim, first deputy director of the municipal police said the firefighters under investigation had been suspended from work during the investigation.
“If [they] have done something very wrong, we would fire them,” he said Sunday. “But if they have done something which we can forgive, we will allow them to work.”
Kek Galabru, founder of Licadho, cautiously welcomed the investigation and reform. “It’s too early to make a judgment,” she said Sunday. “But if the government responds well, it’s a positive step.”
While she said similar incidents were common, she attributed the investigation to the “very sensitive” post-election mood and widespread media attention. “This time it was so public, so obvious,” she said.
She suggested that raising firefighter’s monthly salaries from $20 would improve the department’s service.