New Disaster Law to Punish Negligent Officials

Officials found to be negligent in preventing or responding to disasters could face criminal pe­nalties under a new draft law on disaster management, according to a copy obtained yesterday.

The draft law includes penalties for officials who fail to carry out risk prevention or respond to all man­made or natural disasters, such as extreme weather, building collapses or terrorism.

“Any state official and staff…shall be punished with criminal penalty in case of failure or negligence to fulfill their duty affecting the life of people,” reads the draft law, which is dated Sept 27.

Anyone who causes a disaster through negligence would face im­prisonment and fines ranging from about $500 to $2,500, the draft says.

“Any person who through negligence or direct or indirect acts, caused a disaster to happen shall be punished with criminal penalty from 2 years to 10 years,” it says.

The draft law, which includes provisions on risk prevention, disaster response, and the rehabilitation of victims, will hopefully also cover crowd control when finished, said Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Commit­tee for Disaster Manage­ment, on the sidelines of a meeting yesterday between UN agencies and the NCDM on the law, which is to be distributed to government and NGO officials on Dec 30.

When asked if the draft law could have prevented the stampede in Phnom Penh that killed 353 on Nov 22, Mr Vanda said: “It will help in preventing those incidents.”

Nobody in the government was punished for the Koh Pich tragedy because they did not think the incident was going to happen, he said. “The story is in the past so I don’t want to mention it anymore,” he said. “Enough has been learnt from it. Now we are looking at making a law for the future.”

Mr Vanda said that the law would provide a legal framework to make disaster response easier in the future.

A National Disaster Management Council-comprising the prime minister as chairman, ministers, heads of relevant institutions and Cambodian Red Cross representatives as well as capital and provincial leaders-is set to be established, according to the draft.

Government ministries and institutions as well as capital, provincial, municipal, district and commune councils must also form groups responsible for disaster management.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that he had not seen the draft law, but the justice system was unlikely to hold officials accountable for poor disaster management. “Those affiliated to the CPP or officials enjoy impunity,” he said.

The Koh Pich stampede resulted from the incompetence and negligence of the local authorities and government, he added. “They must be made accountable.”

Last month, after the government’s weeklong investigation into the incident concluded, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that nobody should be blamed for the stampede and ruled out resignations.

Chea Sokhom, secretary-general for the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festival, referred questions to the municipality yesterday, but municipal officials could not be reached for comment.

One month on from the Koh Pich disaster, only 24 people injured in the stampede remain at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, Mr Vanda said yesterday.

Chhe Chheng Hor, 21, still unable to leave her bed at Calmette, said she was still haunted by the night on the bridge where two friends were killed. “I still feel scared about what happened during the stampede,” she said.

Prey Veng province resident Chet Bophy, 48, said that despite having received $10,000 in donations over the past month, she still did not understand why her 20-year-old daughter Duk Srey Mom died on Nov 22.

“This money cannot make my daughter reborn,” Ms Bophy said.

  (Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)

 

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