National Assembly Discusses Disaster Management

SRP and Funcinpec lawmakers grilled the National Committee for Disaster Management at the Na­tional Assembly on Monday over its handling of recent incidents—in­cluding two plane crashes, drownings during the Water Festival and the recent collapse of a portion of Mekong riverbank.

In response to the complaints, NCDM First Vice President Nhim Vanda said his committee was doing the best it could, but that it was ultimately powerless to enforce the law.

Nhim Vanda, who spoke at the Assembly in defense of a new Asean treaty on disaster management and urgent rescue, said there is no law dictating the precise role of his committee or endowing it with the power of enforcement.

“If I say ‘you cannot do’ and they still do, I have no law. This is the truth. I can only coordinate and I cannot punish them,” he said, add­ing that he is fighting disaster with only his “five fingers.”

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay asked whether the five Singaporean boat racers who drowned Nov 23 had been provided with life jackets prior to their boat capsizing near Phnom Penh port.

Fellow SRP lawmaker Yim So­vann claimed that authorities knew the two aging, Russian-made Anto­nov aircraft that recently crashed—the first killing 22 people in Kampot in June—were too old to safely fly.

“I have noticed that the old planes were allowed to fly until there were two crashes,” he said, adding that the families of Cambodian victims have yet to receive compensation from the airline.

Yim Sovann also said those who had property destroyed when 70,000 cubic meters of riverbank col­lapsed in Phnom Penh’s Mean­chey district Dec 7 should be compensated by Sokimex, the company which was dredging sand from the river at the time of the accident.

“The government has ignored [sand dredging from riverbeds] until there was a disaster,” he said, adding that the government has ar­bitrarily allowed companies to dredge sand across the country.

Funcinpec lawmaker Monh Sa­phan said the government had ignored lawmakers’ warnings of the dangers of uncontrolled dredging.

Nhim Vanda defended his committee, saying the right people to blame for the riverbank collapse are those at the ministries of Industry and Water Resources who granted licenses to the dredgers.

The Singaporean boat racing team had been provided with life jackets, Nhim Vanda said, adding that the rowers took off the jackets after their race and decided to forge the river upstream on their own des­pite warnings against it.

Regarding compensation for the victims of the PMT airline crash, he said the government has given the victims’ families $1,250 and was working to get them proper insurance compensation.

“The government is asking  [PMT] company to consider,” he said.

Yim Sovann also asked what had been done about the Yala dam in Vietnam, which could potentially cause severe flooding in northeastern Cambodia and affect 50,000 people in Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces.

Nhim Vanda said the NCDM was communicating with officials in Vietnam, but that it had no authority to stop their activities.

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