For the last two months National Union of the Disabled People of Uganda (NUDIPU) has been embroiled in mitigating effects of a fraud case in which, Persons with Disability’s (PWD) saving groups lost approximately Ush 200m.
The funds are accumulated savings by groups of PWDs in Mbale district over a period of 2 years. NUDIPU with support from the Norwegian Association of the Disabled (NAD) has for the last five years been implementing a savings and credit model called We can Manage credit and savings groups that aims at promoting income levels among PWDs.
The Groups’ Savings Project has proved to be a very successful model which has provided the best response to PWDs needs given testimonies from different districts. The project operates in the 13 districts of Mbale, Sironko, Kumi, Ngora, Busia, Bugir, Tororo, Soroti, Pallisa, Serere, and Manafwa and Bulambuli.
The project supported the formation of 850 groups with a membership of over 25,500 persons with disabilities including their families, with a saving value of shs 2,865,040,000, and a Loan value of shs 3,490,784,150.
Monitoring reports indicate high level of participation and achievement among the beneficiaries with majority indicating how they have been able to pay school fees for children, acquired decent accommodation, met basic needs and initiated business.
This level of achievement cannot be compared by any standards with regard to other programmes that NUDIPU or government has since implemented. In fact, one of the beneficiary noted that he had never received a lump sum of shs 300,000 for the 50 years he has lived all his life, but that through the We Can Manage (WCM) Project, he is now able to not only feel and touch the money, but also spend it.
According to the project model, PWDs, caretakers and well-wishers of PWDs in a given locality come together to form a group. Usually they are 30 members.
Members determine the share value (normally UGX 1,000-2,000) each member contributes every week as a saving. With the savings, members are able to borrow and return what was borrowed with interest. At the end of every cycle (52 weeks) the money is shared out. Just imagine how a simple act of saving has made life meaningful for persons with disabilities in the rural areas of Eastern Uganda!!
An unfortunate incident, however, nearly threatened the aforementioned success. Early this year NUDIPU noted with concern that one of the staff based in Mbale, who was charged with overseeing and supporting managing the project abused his office when he reportedly fleeced beneficiaries under pretext that he would help them bank their savings, only to discover that all funds entrusted to him by the unsuspecting and innocent groups members were actually being diverted to his private use.
This is the first time in history that NUDIPU has been involved in such a fracas. It therefore, did not only take leadership and management of NUDIPU and development partners by surprise, but nearly destroyed the project, and leaving many of the beneficiaries in despair and demotivated, to say the least.
Some though kept believing the suspect was still a good man who was being framed by other people. To them, it was unthinkable that the person who supported them with the project, who they trusted could fleece them of their hard earned savings. To others, this is a reality they have to live with.
Following this incident, a lot of questions have been asked regarding what NUDIPU is/will do to redeem the situation. The damage this incident has caused to NUDIPU and entire disability movement is insurmountable and requires systemic and carefully thought out remedies. With profound concern NUDIPU thus regrets the incident, and deeply regrets the unfortunate occurrence with the affected beneficiaries.
NUDIPU’s role as an organisation is to advocate for the rights of PWDs ensuring that they are mainstreamed in development processes at local and national levels. Any act such as the foregoing incident is contrary to NUDIPU’s vision, mission and values. The suspect’s act is totally unacceptable and not part of the norms and values cherished by NUDIPU.
In lieu of the above, NUDIPU supported the process of apprehending the culprit, who was subsequently arraigned in courts of law. He is currently facing 26 counts of embezzlement in Mbale Magistrates’ Court. NUDIPU has also hired the services of a lawyer to represent the affected members in court. NUDIPU is determined to follow the matter to its logical conclusion so as to ensure that the affected PWDs access justice.
NUDIPU is also working around the clock to ensure the remaining groups are not affected. Our monitoring systems have already being beefed up. We are also working towards strengthening the financial management skills of the group leaders.
Meetings have been held with different district leaders to ensure the project continue as planned. We have also held meetings with affected groups in order to restore their confidence in the projects’ objectives and goals, and rejuvenate their enthusiasm towards the project. As a result, all the 26 groups affected have agreed that they would continue the savings’ scheme despite the setbacks met, as the process of ensuring justice is being pursued in Courts of Law.
As an organisation, we are aware of the negative effects the acts of our staff member inflicted on the beneficiaries. We are however undertaking all relevant measures to ensure that the project gets back on course as was previously planned and hope that the whole situation shall be resolved. As much as this incident brings with it negative effects, it also has provided opportunities for reform.
The writer is a Comunications Manager at NUDIPU
By Edson Ngirabakunzi
Have you ever taken time to reflect on what the term justice means in its real sense? Ordinarily, one would imagine it refers to fairness, impartiality, righteousness, reasonableness, even-handedness, honesty, integrity and uprightness. The list is endless.
Sufficing to note that, that inference of the term is largely general, but its application may fall short of its reality, depending on an individual’s interests. For instance, while most of the interpretation may favour persons without disabilities, it does not apply to those with disabilities.
Experience from NUDIPU’s work, as an umbrella organization of persons with disabilities has shown that the term Justice is farfetched from PWDs’ livelihoods, and may not hold water by any standard.
A baseline survey commissioned by NUDIPU early this year to assess the legal aid needs of persons with disabilities in Uganda indicates that 54% of PWDs whose rights were violated did not report their cases to any authority for various reasons including lack of awareness of their rights to access to justice.
Of those who reported violation of their rights to court for legal redress, only 34% were satisfied that they had received justice while 66% were unhappy with court verdicts.
The survey, which was conducted in the districts of Lira, Gomba, Kampala and Iganga to inform the implementation of Access to Justice Project, funded by Democratic Governance Facility, also revealed that there are few cases of public interest litigation on disability handled by courts.
Three cases— Electoral democracy for PWDs 2010, Physical inaccessibility to public infrastructures 2010 and Mental Health petition on abusive laws 2012, are still pending. It is not even clear when these could probably be handled.
The survey notes further that the human rights violations against PWDs was majorly on aspects such as freedom from exploitation that stood at 31.7% against Equality and non-discrimination that stands at 23%. The right to education was equally reported to have been violated.
It notes the non- implementation of the existing laws and policies as a major reason explaining why PWDs’ rights continuously get violated without or with minimal redress.
For instance, the survey generally revealed that across the country, District Service Commissions have not considered employment of PWDs. Those who find their way into the employment are denied promotion.
“I have been in public service in my ministry for 20 years and was denied promotion to senior position on grounds of disability,” the survey quotes a respondent from Kampala, as saying.
PWDs leadership at the district unions especially in Iganga district said sexual abuse against women with disabilities accounted for 80% of the injustices they face.
Where the perpetuators are arrested, they are hardly prosecuted because it has become a tradition for parents of the victims prefer settling such cases, out of court regardless of the victims consent. Interestingly, it is the local council leaders who often convince the parents of the victims to settle the matter out of court.
One other interesting issue to note is that confinement of PWDs as a means of protection by their care givers is equally rampant. This many times causes the person to develop other disabilities.
With such despondency, it is rather unlikely that the term justice applies in the life of a PWD. In fact, in every bit of their life literally exist an element of injustice— bit it in mobility, education, economic rights, let alone a right to have a family.
It is these, scenarios that prompted NUDIPU to develop a project ‘Access to Justice by PWDs,’ which is apparently helping PWDs realise the practical meaning of the term Justice. And already, results are yielding.
Already a number of PWDs have been supported in resolving family disputes as well as land matters among others. A number of advocates have been trained in disability equality and management. It is our prayer that a number of the advocates will appreciate and support disability related cases.
We would therefore, like to call upon government to among others ensure that the judicial systems recognise the challenges faced by PWDs while accessing justice and find appropriate strategies to addressing the bottlenecks.
Some of the strategies could include orienting the Judges, lawyers and police on disability rights, reform the laws to be disability friendly, ensure physical accessibility to court of law, access to court information and decisions in friendly formats among others. Too, PWDs should be sensitised on their legal rights and mechanisms for redress.
It is only then that PWDs will receive appropriate legal support hence making the term justice more meaningful to every Ugandan.
The writer is the Executive Director NUDIPU
It all appeared like he had staged comedy show, yet he was critically articulating issues affecting persons with disabilities. His audience kept laughing to their ribs. The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Gen Kahinda Otafire was once again at his best displaying public speaking frolics.
I bet you; this gentle man knows pretty well when and how to apply his choice of diction depending on the situation. On August 29, at a public lecture on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) held at Imperial Royale Hotel, the out spoken army general gave a thrilling display that endeared every one including the sceptics, as he pointed out the insensitivities the community often tosses at the persons with disabilities in all measures.
It turned out that Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum (visually impaired), a Professor of law at the University of Sydney, Austria, the main speaker at the public lecture was not provided with a microphone- stand— forcing professor’s assistant to stand holding out a microphone all through his (professors) presentation.
The theme of the public lecture was: ‘CRPD in a developing country opportunities and Challenges for domestication.’ This oversight, did not go well with the minister. “Should I appreciate the hotel for being insensitive to the Professor, blame them or just pity them!” said a jovial minister as he discussed professor’s presentation.
Underscoring issues raised by the professor in his presentation such as disability insensitive laws and policies, limited access to services among other barriers to the full realisation of PWDs potential as enshrined in international instruments, Otafire said the challenge of domesticating the CRPD lay in the leaders’ lack of mental stability needed to address disability issues. “Why would PWDs become refugees, if their leaders are not mentally ill?” he asked.
His argument points out critical insights as we attempt to understand why PWDs continue living as second class citizens in their own countries despite the existence of both local and international legal instruments. The most obvious of all the many reasons that could explain the scenario is non prioritisation of the interests of the people they serve-including those of persons with disabilities. Often, it is difficult to achieve any results where issues are not prioritised.
It is therefore, obvious that it may as well be difficult to address concerns of persons with disabilities unless they properly put in plans both for government and other development partners such as civil society. From the minister’s assertion, it is clear that a myriad of interventions are required from the government and other stakeholders in ensuring that PWDs realise their potential as well as address what the minister terms as ‘mental illness.’
His (Otafire’s) reference by implications, could mean that the negative community attitudes and lack of knowledge regarding disability issues by the leadership central in policy formulation and decision making process, are real. Secondly, the fact that many stakeholders are still insensitive to the needs of PWDs is a clear indicator that we are yet to live to expectations of the international instruments such as UNCRPD that require state parties to sensitise the community on matters of disability.
It would also be interpreted to mean the laxity among the leadership in fighting corruption— a vice that keeps entrenching PWDs in abject poverty as well as frustrates government efforts in promoting the rights of PWDs —continues to bite. The minister rightly notes it when he said we should collectively reject graft. According to the minister, persons with disabilities should not settle for less than equal enjoyments of human rights.
To walk –the- talk, the minister pledged his support to the disability movement. He pledged to join the struggle by first setting up a disability desk at his ministry to scrutinise all the Bills and Laws at their initial development—this would ensure that all the policies and laws —are disability sensitive.
The disability movement has received this information with great enthusiasm and is keen to see the promises come to pass. Many times pledges such as this have only remained politically motivated. None-the-less we have faith that his promise will disprove that notion. And for this, the minister surely deserves an applause for drumming up such tremendous support to the cause.
Equally, Hon. Suleiman Madada, State Minister for the Elderly and Disability was very appreciative of the gesture exhibited by Hon. Kahinda as well as Professor McCallum for reminding government of her obligations. Of all, what Madada said; what struck me most was his swift action to instruct the Director Social Protection at the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MOGLSD) to take note of the Otafire’s pledge and see how it could be followed up for results.
If only, we could have all ministers act swiftly on matters concerning PWDs as Hon Kahinda and Madada did, probably the disability movement would have a reason to smile. On this note, I would like to once more salute the General.
The writer Joseph Malinga is a Communications Manager at NUDIPU
The National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) is an umbrella non- governmental organisation of persons with disabilities in Uganda formed in 1987 to advocate for equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities in Uganda by working in collaboration with government, NGOs and the public.
The aim is to bring PWDs together, create a common and unified voice, break the traditional divisions along social -medical lines, raise awareness on problems and issues affecting persons with disabilities and mobilise their efforts in developing strategies and implementing courses of action to address identified needs.