Events such as last month’s Koh Pich stampede fall within the scope of a new draft law on disaster management that lays down criminal penalties for any person or official whose negligence leads to a disaster, officials said yesterday.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that in the future the draft law could apply to disasters similar to the tragedy on Nov 22.
“It’s sure the Koh Pich stampede could be called disaster,” Mr Kanharith said.
“This draft will cover what will be happening in the future and can’t have effect of what happened before the adoption of that law,” he added.
The draft law punishes any person causing disasters through negligence and officials who neglect their mandate for disaster management with penalties including up to 10 years in jail, according to a copy.
Last month Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that no officials would be forced to resign over the Koh Pich incident, saying: “Nobody should be blamed for an unexpected stampede.”
Mr Kanharith yesterday compared the stampede to the Sept 11 attacks on America. “Did anyone [take] responsibilities for 11/9 disaster in NY? Despite the lady working at the FBI/CIA office attacked her boss for neglecting the warning?” he asked by e-mail.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap yesterday said that the draft law would improve the government’s ability to respond to disasters like the incident on Diamond Bridge.
“Koh Pich stampede was a disaster because it was an unexpected incident,” Mr Yeap said. “After the law is passed, it will be really good to help the authorities improve their disaster management.”
The draft law, begun in 2008 after Mr Hun Sen’s approval in 2007, covered any type of natural and manmade disaster, giving a list of examples such as fire, accident and flood, said Ross Sovann, deputy secretary-general of the National Committee for Disaster Management.
“Stampede was not included in the list and not thought about,” Mr Sovann said, adding that after Nov 22, Hun Sen announced that the stampede was the second largest national disaster ever, after the Khmer Rouge regime. “By then we agreed [with Hun Sen] and supported the stampede as a disaster.”
Mr Sovann noted that three articles on penalties in the draft law need revision based on the new penal code.
When asked if anyone would have been held criminally responsible for the stampede if the draft law had already been in place on Nov 22, Mr Sovann declined to comment. “The law did not exist so I cannot say about that,” he said. “Even if the law existed, then it would be up to the court.”
Yeng Virak, executive director for Community Legal Education Center, said that officials should already be held accountable for poor governance.
“The authorities who miss performing their duties to guarantee people’s safety must be punished,” Mr Virak said. “It is not a matter of waiting for the draft law on disaster management.”
Charles Vann, spokesman for Koh Pich’s developer, said that the stampede, like a car accident, could not have been predicted. “In the Koh Pich company, nobody was punished because it was an incident so everyone tried their best to help,” Mr Vann said.
However, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that incompetence and negligence of authorities caused the disaster.
The danger of having large crowds but only a very small exit should have been considered in advance, while too few policemen were on duty to circulate the flow, he said. “For this tragedy, nothing was prepared,” Mr Sovann said. “It was completely negligent.”
City officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.