Government Fails Disabled, Says Civil Society

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By Mohammed Ali

Kweku Appiah, 45, sits in a wheelchair around the airport begging for alms. Paralyzed in both legs, he suffered his disability at the tender age of six through a disease. Appiah earns his livelihood and supports his three children from the alms he gets from passersby. He complains about government’s inaction to assist people with physical disabilities.

He says he has been to the government social welfare office, but hasn’t gotten any assistance. “They take our personal details and ask about jobs we are interested in, but when we eventually make a follow up we are totally ignored.”

Appiah is just one of thousands of disabled people who have given up on the government to make his situation any better. While a disability law passed in 2006 makes provisions that will strive for the entire welfare of people with disabilities, a vital legislative instrument to operationalize it has yet to be passed. The law makes provisions to economically empower people with disabilities. But civil society groups say that the government has forsaken its responsibility to the physically disabled, by not passing the legislative instrument. And while a portion of the common fund was set aside by the government to help people with disabilities, they have difficulties accessing it.

The Persons with Disability Act, passed in 2006, aimed to create an enabling environment for the full participation of people with disabilities in national development, to educate and train them and to promote their employment. However, almost seven years down the line, an instrument to operationalize the law has yet to be passed.

Alex Tetteh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Center for the Employment of Persons with Disabilities (CEPD), says he has serious concerns about the delay in implementing the legislative instrument to make the disability law effective. “The government’s inability to pass the legislative instrument to ensure that people with disability get their fair share of the national cake has become a hindrance to the development and capacity building of persons with disability.”

“The law has it in broad terms: that an employer who employs an incapacitated person will receive a tax rebate (but) that statement is vague,” says Tetteh. “What kind of tax rebate would a company get and what number of disabled people will the company employ and what benefits will it make, the legislative instrument, when passed, will spell out all these in clear terms.”

Tetteh believes that when the law is passed it will make it easier to educate employers on the benefits of employing people with disabilities. “We as an NGO will take it up to inform the employer on the benefits of employing disabled people, and we will put pressure on the government to get those benefits for the companies.”

Because of government inaction, civil society groups like the CEPD are forced to take the initiative to help solve the unemployment problems of people with disabilities themselves. The center works with other disability organizations as well as Ghanaian employers to find jobs for people with disabilities.

Tetteh believes that government social protection programs like the Ghanaian Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty Program (LEAP) are not enough. He adds that the government, through collaboration with RLG, has trained some disabled persons in ICT skills and mobile phone repairs. However, the program has not achieved the desired result since it has not been able to generate jobs for the participants.“The training should facilitate a way to absorb and support the disabled in the company or enable them become self-employed after they graduate,” says Tetteh.

Disability organisations have also complained about the difficulty in accessing the district assembly common fund for their members. 2% of the fund from central government is to support activities of persons with disability. The funds will assist people with disabilities in skills training, small scale-businesses and education. But Tetteh says there are difficulties in accessing the funds. “Sometimes the funds come late in the year or sometimes they don’t come at all.”

However, Max Vardon, the executive secretary of the National Council on Persons with Disability (NCPD) disputes the assertion that government is not doing enough to support persons with disability. He feels that the government is doing its best to support disabled persons given the limited resource of the country.

Vardon says the legislative instrument that will provide clarity on the disability law is at the latter stages of consultation with stakeholders and disabled peoples’ organizations. He says the government is waiting for their feedback. “The ball is now in their court.”

Vardon further disputes the assertion that nothing can be done without the legislative instrument. He explained that portion of the law that talks about discrimination against persons with disability does not require a legislative instrument. “The legislative instrument is intended to provide clarity to areas of its corresponding law which are ambiguous or not sufficiently detailed for specific implementation….. (But) much of the disability act is fairly clear,” he says.

As for the RLG program, the government has yet to determine the effectiveness of the training program. “We asked RLG for a report on the outcome of the training and we are yet to receive the report,” says Vardon.

On accessibility of the common fund, Vardon says he is aware of the challenges. Although there are published guidelines from the central government for the disbursement of the fund, the district assembly appoints a fund management committee to oversee the disbursement of the fund. He however cannot rule out the possibility of low level corruption in the disbursement of the fund, which may account for the inconsistent and late release of funds to beneficiaries. He explains that the council follows up on complaints about difficulties in accessing the common fund. “If and when we get a complaint, we follow up and we try to correct whatever situation obtained on the ground.”

But while Vardon says, the government is doing its best on this issue, disabled persons like Appiah are yet to receive any support. “The little I get from (passersby) is what I make use of,” says Appiah.

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