The National Assembly on Tuesday approved a law on fire prevention that hands out lengthy punishments to firefighters who are deemed not to have carried out their duty when extinguishing fires, and also amended a law bestowing more power to local authorities when selecting staff in provincial or municipal departments.
The approval of the law on fire prevention comes after several large fires in the past year, including a blaze that ripped through the popular Siem Reap night market in December leaving eight people dead.
Consisting of eight chapters with 33 articles, the law on fire prevention lays out punishments for officials that hinder the process of putting out fires. Article 27 states that any official that does not “responsibly fulfill their duty, or carries out their duty improperly when getting rid of the fire” will be sentenced to prison for six months to two years and will receive a fine of up to 4 million riel, or about $1,000.
“Any action deliberately causing an obstruction to the action of getting rid of the fire, and thus causing the loss of property, will be punished from two to five years with a 4 million to 10 million riel fine [about $1,000 to $2,500],” Article 28 says.
Cambodia National Rescue Party Yim Sovann said he supported the law but that it would need effective implementation as reports in the past have shown that firefighters often take bribes before extinguishing fires. “I appeal to the ministry that applies this law to avoid the extortion of money from people at the time when they need the most help,” Mr. Sovann said in Parliament.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng replied that he was aware of “these rumors” but that no official complaints had ever been received. “We have not received any complaints so far,” he said.
In addition, Mr. Kheng said the government needs 200 more fire trucks to properly meet the needs of the people throughout the country. Currently, Cambodia has about 100 working fire trucks, he said.
“If we depend only on the authority, it is not enough. So the state, the public, as well as private institutions and the people have the obligation to prevent and get rid of fire,” Mr. Kheng said, repeating past pleas made by Prime Minister Hun Sen for the private sector to purchase their own fire trucks.
The National Assembly also amended Article 28 in the Law of the Organization and Functioning of the Council of Ministers.
Article 28 formerly gave ministers the power to unilaterally appoint, transfer and dismiss subordinates from below the rank of provincial department chief. The article now allows the head of any government department or provincial and district office to suggest changes to department chiefs.