Lawmakers Debate Disaster Management Law

The National Assembly on Thursday debated and easily passed two chapters of a law that aims to improve responses to natural and man-made disasters, partly by imposing fines and jail time for incompetent officials and citizens who know of, but fail to report, a coming catastrophe.

The law was drafted by the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) and approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen in January. The two chapters were passed almost unanimously by the more than 100 lawmakers who attended Thursday’s session.

The Disaster Management Law consists of 10 chapters and 48 articles, one of which states that officials who do not fulfill their responsibilities in disaster situations, causing damage to public or private property, may be fined between 1 million and 4 million riel (about $250 to $1,000) and spend up to two years in jail.

The law also says that people who know of a disaster risk and do not inform authorities may be fined between 1 million and 6 million riel (about $250 to $1,500) and face up to six months behind bars.

“I hope when this law is approved, we will push those in charge of disaster management to push those who provoke disaster to take responsibility,” opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said during Thursday’s debate.

“I raise the example of anarchy in sand dredging along Mekong River…. Sand dredging has caused land to collapse and has damaged villagers’ houses,” he said.

Fellow CNRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said during the debate that he supported the law, but that the government must take additional measures to prevent disasters.

“I would like to request that the government stop eliminating lakes by filling in and privatizing them,” Mr. Sovann said. “When we fill them in, it affects the water currents and causes flooding.”

Speaking to reporters, NCDM Vice President Nhim Vanda said the law would ensure that government officials “share responsibility” for disasters.

Loek Sothea, country humanitarian coordinator for Oxfam, who was consulted during the drafting of the law last year, said penalizing officials was important.

“I am happy to see that those who are responsible for the disaster will be penalized if they are negligent in helping the poor and the victims,” he said.

“My concern is that the politicians may use that article to put pressure on another party or an opponent,” he added. “It is difficult to asses the risks.”

Debate over the law continues Monday.

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