7 October 2009

Sierra Leone: MPs May Reject Disability Bill

Freetown — Member of Parliament representing the ruling All Peoples Congress, APC, has said that members of the disabled community will reject in its entirety the new disability bill drafted by the ministry of social welfare, gender and children's affairs.

Hon. Julius Nye Cuffie, a disabled himself, said he will lobby his colleague MPs to resist any attempt by the gender minister to table the bill in parliament as according to him the document is only paying lip-service to disability issues rather than seeking to address their welfare.

"I am speaking on behalf of the disabled community because I am also one of them. It is unacceptable. We will reject it in its entirety and resist any attempt by the minister to bring the bill to parliament," the MP vowed.

Hon. Cuffie described the new disability bill as a water-down version to the one he drafted and validated in 2008.

He told a cross section of journalists at parliament building that the bill which he singled-handedly drafted made provision for the setting up of a national commission for persons living with disabilities while the new one only makes provision for a council.

"In the bill that was validated at a consultative conference on December 3, 2008, there was provision for the president to appoint the chairman for the disabled commission. I consider the new bill as a water-down version," he said.

According to Hon. Cuffie, the members in the council are to be appointed by the minister on nobody's advised, adding that disabled persons were not represented in the council.

"Members in the council comprise the ministries of social welfare, finance, health and sanitation, education, local government, labour and the attorney general and minister of justice," he maintained.

He said other members in the council include three from non-governmental organizations, one each to be recommended by the Sierra Leone employers' federation and labour congress respectively.

However, minister of social welfare, gender and children's affairs, Dr. Soccoh Kabia told Concord Times that the reason for the drafting of a new bill was because lots of issues on the bill that was validated were unclear and can create problem.

"The new draft bill makes provision for a commission and not a council. All shades of disabilities in the country are represented in the commission," he said.

The minister further pointed out that all stakeholders, including people living with disabilities, were invited to take part at the initial stage of the drafting, adding, "It makes no sense not to include them because it is their bill."

Dr. Kabia disclosed that a consultative meeting with stakeholders will be held today and that disabled persons are also invited to make their own input to the bill.

"I have special interest in disability issues. I singled-handedly pioneered the ratification of the UN convention on people living with disability," he maintained.

But Hon. Cuffie said the fact that the ministry has derailed the bill that was validated indicated that they were paying lip-service to disability issues.

The MP said there was great disparity in the new bill and that it was a deliberate act by the ministry and not inadvertent.

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