Liberia: Weah Gov’t Not Supporting The Disabled Community?
MONROVIA – People with disabilities in Liberia find themselves in a precarious existence. As a West African country with nearly five million people, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) reports that the disability prevalence in Liberia is about 20 percent of the population; meaning some 800,000 persons suffered from varying forms of disabilities.
Report by Rita Jlogbe Doue, Contributing Writer
The 14 years of violent armed conflict in Liberia, SIDA suggests, contributed to the incidence of disabilities in the country. For instance, SIDA statistical analysis shows that 48,800 Liberians, that is, 61 percent of the total disabled population struggle with problems of mobility; while 192,000 (24 percent) are visually impaired. Moreover, 56,000 (7 percent)of the total disabled population are deaf; whereas 64,000(8 percent) have an intellectual or psychosocial disability.
Human rights Activists say in order to live a dignified life in any society, people with disabilities should have access to services and devices that facilitate their participation in the community on an equal basis with others.
All people with disabilities have the right to access the physical environment, including buildings, roads, schools, housing, medical facilities, workplaces, and other facilities. Such access rights, gives them the chance to live independently, ensuring a sense of being included in the social life of their communities.
But this is rarely the case in Liberia. People living with disabilities often complain of marginalization and discrimination which make it difficult for them to access education, job, and health services. According to some members of the disabled population, their rights as human beings are being violated.
The Liberian Chapter of the Christian Association of the Blind (CAB), first founded on April 28, 1985, and re-established in 1992, was incorporated by an act of the Legislature in 1993. It is a nongovernmental organization created to advocate for the rights of blind and partially sighted individuals within the Liberian society.
Visually impaired Elijah Mayon is an advocate at CAB.
Mayon said for the past budget years (2018/2019, 2019/2020, 2020/2021 and 2021/2022), the Association has not been captured directly in the National Budget and neither has it been supported by the National Budget through the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD).
According to him, the organization has been managing with donations from some other nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic individuals, which he said is not enough for the wellbeing of persons with disabilities.
He asserted that money allotted to the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) is not used for the well-being of persons living with disabilities but to operate the Commission.
“What becomes of those resource assessment centers, those institutions of learning that have children most of whom have been abandoned by families and left with the institutions to take care of? The government must capture such institutions separately in the budget apart from what they are giving the NCD”, Mayon noted.
Mayon attributed the poor living condition of persons living with disabilities to lack of support from the government, claiming that the livelihood of disabled people have worsened under President George Weah’s regime.
“We are not being supported by this government. The Pro-Poor Agenda promised to pay special attention to vulnerable people; to those who are at the margins of society. Unfortunately, this framework has to a significant extent failed to benefit persons with disabilities”, Mayon lamented.
Like Mayon, Simon Outland is visually impaired. He is a leader of the disabled community in River Cess County, a remotely rural county located in south-central Liberia.
The government, in the view of Mr. Outland, is not treating disabled people as citizens of the country. Instead, he claims the government is treating disabled people as a whole “like a step-child”.
The George Weah administration, in the words of Outland, is not “disabled friendly”. According to him, during President Weah’s visit to River Cess County in April 2021 as part of his county tour, the disabled community presented to the Liberian leader a proposal of about US$9,000to initiate a “soap making project” aimed at empowering people living with disabilities in the county.
“In the gathering he [President George Weah] told us that before I leave, this money will be given to the disabled community so that they will start something to stop them from begging on the streets all of the time. Since he [President Weah] left from this county, we have done all that we can, but we can’t get any result”, Outland lamented.
Apart from not being captured in the national budget as asserted by Elijah Mayon, Outland said the disabled community in River Cess County is yet to receive full disbursement of money allocated for people living with disabilities during the last County Council Sitting held in 2019.
“The money that was allotted during this gone county sitting was US$5,000. [It was] to be given to the disabled community. Unfortunately …, the money came down [that is, was slashed] to 1000USD. That [was what] we received from the county authority”, Outland furthered.
River Cess County’s Assistant superintendent for Fiscal Affairs, Elijah Kaysaynee confirmed the assertion made by Simon Outland. According to Kaysaynee, the disabled community was not the only group that did not receive full amount that was budgeted for it. He said slashes were made from allotments of all institutions that benefit from the County Social Development Fund (CSDF) because the local government also did not receive what was expected for the County.
“We had the county sitting with the total amount of one million ninety seven thousand, eight hundred eighty eight dollars (US$1, 97,888). But then we only received two hundred thousand out of that money (US$200,000).” Kaysaynee disclosed.
President Weah’s vision for Liberia and those of the disabled community is best reflected in the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), a five-year National Development Plan of the government. Announced in 2018 as the second in the series of 5-year National Development Plans (NDP), the implementation of the agenda runs up to 2023 – the year Liberians are expected to vote in presidential and general elections. Embedded with the Liberia Vision 2030 framework, the Pro-Poor Agenda follows similar logic of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf era development model known as the Agenda for Transformation, which was implemented between 2012 and 2017.
The George Weah administration Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) is built on four pillars: Power To The People; The Economy and Jobs; Sustaining The Peace; and Governance and Transparency.
Pillar four of the Pro-Poor Agenda stresses the need to build a peaceful, stable, and inclusive nation by implementing policies and strategies that will ensure the participation of the entire citizenry in decision making and empowers all groups especially women, children, and people with special needs.
However, some stewards within the disabled population claim that the Pro-Poor Agenda is not being implemented as envisioned. This is despite the fact of the existence of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) of Liberia. With the mandate to exercise jurisdiction over all matters involving the welfare, wellbeing and education of disabled persons within the Republic of Liberia, the NCD was established through an Act of Legislation in 2005.
The creation of the NCD was in line with the Constitution of Liberia, which guarantees the rights of every Liberian, including people with disabilities.
Article 6 of the Constitution states that, “The Republic shall, because of the vital role assigned to the individual citizen under this Constitution for the social, economic and political wellbeing of Liberia, provide equal access to educational opportunities and facilities for all citizens to the extent of available resources.”
Notwithstanding the constitutional guarantees and the establishment of the NCD, the disabled community holds the view that the National Commission on Disabilities is not working in the interest of the disabled community.
To verify these assertions, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request was filed to the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) on October 26, 2021. The FOI requested the following information:
- Total money disbursed to the Commission through the national budget for the fiscal periods of 2018-2019, 2019-2020; and 2020-2021
- Expenditure reports, to include monies spent on operation and welfare
- A summary of specific welfare activities undertaken during the periods and names of beneficiaries, individual or organizations.
- Total money received from any other sources, including Nongovernmental Organizations and other donors specifically regarding the fight against COVID-19.
The FOI request was filed directly to the Chairperson of the NCD, Daintowon Domah Pay-Bayee. In response to the request, madam Pay-Bayee disclosed that her office has no record of budgetary allotments and expenditures for the periods 2018-2019, 2019-2022 and 2020-2021.
“Just a kind reminder that Amb. Daintowon Domah Pay-Bayee, Chairperson / Executive Director of the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) was appointed June 15, 2021 and confirmed by the Legislature August 5, 2021 with Turnover Ceremony on the 9th of August and we just requested for our Lines within the Special Budget as Liberia will be moving to a Period like the rest of the World January to December instead of July I to June 30. Kindly research as the FOI is used from evidence based legally”, Pay-Bayee explained.
Though she was appointed on June 15, 2021, confirmed on August 5, and inducted into office on August 9, 2021, Madam Pay-Bayee, a public official occupying an important position in government is not absolved from providing the necessary information on the institution which she heads.
Section 3.1 (Accessibility of Information) of the FOI law states that:“All public information held by public bodies and those held by private entities in respect of public funding received or public services provided shall be accessible, and may be inspected, requested, provided, reproduced and retained as provided in this Act.”
But up to the time of this publication, Madam Daintowon Pay-Bayee did not adhere to the FOI Act despite many follow ups with her on both social media and email exchanges.
Madam Daintowon Pay-Bayee did not adhere to the FOI Act despite many follow ups with her on both social media and email exchanges: Screenshots by Rita Jlogbe Doue.
In further efforts to ascertain allegations of limited or no support to the disabled community, on October 27, 2021, an FOI request was also filed to the Office of the Comptroller and Accountant General of Liberia at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, requesting information/records on:
- Total money disbursed to the national Commission on Disabilities through the National Budget for the periods of 2018-2019, 2019-2020; and 2020-2021.
The FOI request was filed to Janga Kowo, Comptroller and Accountant General of Liberia. Six months after the request, with so many back-and-forth exchanges of emails and WhatsApp messages, Mr. Kowo on May 18, 2022, responded with a “Vendor Analysis Report” of allotments made to the National Commission on Disabilities.
Wrote Kowo: “The vendor analysis report is the standard report generated from the IFMIS (Integrated Financial Management Information System) for agencies. The figures represent amounts allotted and disbursed for payroll and good services for the National Commission on Disabilities.”
According to Mr. Kowo, the NCD received a little over two hundred twenty-two thousand United States dollars (US$222,030.47) in 2018-2019; close to two hundred thousand United States (US$199,319.30) in 2019-2020; and over one hundred ninety-one thousand United States dollars (US$191,445.35) in 2020-2021 national budgets.
This means during the three budgetary periods, the NCD received over half a million United States dollars; that is, over six hundred and twelve thousand United States dollars (US$612,795.12).
From the figures provided by Mr. Kowo, there is a pattern of decline in support to the NCD. From 2018/2019 to 2019/2021 budget year, the Commission experienced nearly twenty-three thousand United States dollars (US$22,711.17) budget cut. Another slash of close to eight thousand United States dollars (US$7,873.95) was undertaken in the budget years of 2019/2020 and 2020/2021. No explanation has yet been provided over the cuts.
As it stands though, it is almost impossible to verify if the above budgetary allotments and disbursement figures match what the National Commission on Disabilities received because the Executive Director of the NCD said her Office has no record on what the NCD received during the periods 2018/2019, 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 budget years.
In 2012, Liberia signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Article 24 of the Convention stipulates that countries must take steps to ensure that persons with disabilities access an inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also stipulates that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedom without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status including disabilities.
However, concrete support inclusive of legal protection of the rights of disabled persons in Liberia is still very weak. Is it that the Weah administration has abandoned the Disabled community of Liberia? Or is it the case that people living with disabilities are not benefitting from provisions made for them through the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD)?