By Yusufu S. Bangura
With funding from Shared Vision Organisation based in the United Kingdom, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) have called on all political parties to award them symbols to contest the June 24th general elections.
They made the call on Saturday, 18th March, during the launch of the Persons with Disabilities Agenda for the 2023 Multitier Elections at Campbell Street in Freetown.
The said agenda captures what persons with disabilities desire political parties to include in their manifestos before, during and after the 2023 elections.
“As disability organisations in Sierra Leone, we are calling on all political parties to award symbols to us in winnable areas. Also, political parties should make commitment for the appointment of PWDs in cabinet and other parastatals after the 2023 elections, to make the inclusion and participation of PWDs in all political parties visible,” they pleaded.
Speaking to pressmen during the launch, Executive Director for Shared Vision Organisation, Mohamed Sanusie Sesay, said the organisation was set up to assist building the capacity of disable people in Sierra Leone.
He added that his organisation works with smaller charities and social enterprises that consider sourcing of funds to help disables achieve their mission.
He cited political violence and discrimination meted against PWDs in Sierra Leone and called for action that would stop or minimise discrimination.
Sesay said Sierra Leone is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and one section of the law speaks against discrimination of PWDs.
He continued that both the former and present government have done a lot to make sure that persons with disabilities are respected; adding that without the implementation of the PWD Act, discrimination against disable people would still continue to hinder their progress.
“Discrimination against persons with disabilities is still flourishing in our country despite the fact that laws have been enacted to minimize it. We want to give reason why they have failed to implement the laws on discrimination because the National Commission that was set up to take that responsibility is under-resourced and under-funded,” he said.
He said they have also failed to implement the laws because there was conflict among leaders of the disable community.
“I am calling on all Sierra Leoneans, government, political parties and development partners to support our PWD manifesto agenda for people to take our demand to end discrimination seriously because you can be born as a man and remain so for the rest of your life, but there is no grantee that you can be born as able body and die without experiencing disability,” he noted.
Speaking on the gains and challenges PWDs experienced over the years in the implementation of the PWDs Act of 2011, Acting President of Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), Salieu Turay, said the government has introduced livelihood support with direct cash transfers to PWDs, includes disability issues into the Mid-Term Development Plan document, among others.
He said PWDs are still faced with challenges that are yet to be resolved wherein the governance process is not disability inclusive, as nobody with disability is appointed into ministerial or ambassadorial and other parastatals.
He continued that PWDs lack permanent Disability Certificate to prove their disability which is a violation of section 7(1) (a) 2011, as they continue to struggle to benefit from the free health care services as provided for in section 17 of the PWD Act of 2011.
SLUDI’s Acting President added that in Section 14 (1) of the PWDs Act of 2011 dictates that, all persons with disabilities in tertiary institutions should be entitled to free tertiary education, but noted that such has not been fully achieved as only tuition fees and other charges from the tertiary institutions are paid.
“We are proffering the following recommendations for all political parties’ manifestoes commitments that permanent Disability Certificate be given to all PWDs as evidence of their disabilities, to create disability units in all government ministries, as provided for in Section 39 of the PWDs Act of 2011 among others,” he recommended.