Forced evacuation coming
The Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) is being given powers to direct persons to leave any particular premises and to move out of areas declared as disasters.
At the same time, the director general is being given prosecutorial powers, and will be able to institute proceedings under the new Disaster Risk Management Bill, which is before the Parliament.
The bill, which repeals the Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Act, makes new provisions for the management and mitigation of disasters and the reduction of risks associated with disasters.
Being head of ODPEM, the director general has overall responsibility for disaster management and risk mitigation, and will be able to recommend to the responsible minister that an area be declared a disaster area or a threatened area. The minister, in turn, reports to the prime minister, who can order that actions be taken to mitigate, as far as possible, any hazard.
The prime minister, however, must be satisfied that extraordinary measures are necessary to prevent or minimise the loss of life, prejudice to safety, or harm to health. Extreme actions may also be taken to minimise or prevent destruction of or damage to property, and destruction of or damage to any part of the environment.
CONSENT NOT NECESSARY
In the execution of his duties, the director general, or his nominee, may enter premises, with or without the owner's or occupier's consent, to take action that may be necessary in the public interest.
In addition, the director general, if he believes it is necessary in the interest of public safety or public health, may control the movement of persons, animals or vehicles within, into, out or around a declared disaster area. He may also direct the evacuation of the area, enter any place in a declared area, and require an animal or substance to be contained within the declared area.
Additionally, the power of the director general is extended to remove or destroy any vegetation, substance or other thing within the declared area where such removal or destruction is necessary in the public interest.
He may also seal, close off, remove, dismantle, demolish or destroy a vehicle, or a building or other structure in a declared area if the property is likely to cause harm to persons or damage to property or likely to cause loss of life and property.
Angela Brown Burke, a government senator and mayor of Kingston, said that while there are regulations governing where people can build, the State has to be actively engaged in monitoring and mitigation works to minimise the impact of disasters.
"My experience has shown me that we are a country that tends to lawlessness. Our practices tend, wherever we can, to push the limit of the law," said Brown Burke.
She noted that while provisions exists in law for building enforcement, the process is time-consuming and "takes so long to be dealt with that many serious breaches occur way before the court has been able to deliver a verdict that even says that this building is illegal".
The government senator, while supporting the bill, said it would have been good if it had provisions to assist the enforcement efforts. She noted that in addition to people breaching building codes, there are some who build those houses over public drains, making it very difficult to clean.
"We have found places where the drain is actually in an individual's home, and to clean that drain you have to go inside someone's house ... and not to mention those who build so close to the banks of the gullies," Brown Burke said.
"This is the kind of society in which we live, and so we have to be mindful that when we have a bill such as this we put in place provisions that can help us to enforce a little more easily and effectively than we currently can," added Brown Burke.