Inclusive development needs disability-friendly budget
Rokeya (pseudonym), a hearing-impaired woman who is facing mental illness, was advised by her doctor to take psychotherapy for six months. Rokeya and her family failed to find a therapist who knows sign language. Therefore, her doctor prescribed some medicines as an alternative treatment. Rokeya is now being addicted to the medicines that are causing other health issues. Rokeya has the right to access the best available health services according to laws and policies, but the government has no plan to allow her to exercise this right progressively by allocating a yearly budget that can ensure accessible health services for all persons with disabilities.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets out to ensure the realisation of all human rights of all persons with disabilities. As a State Party to this convention, Bangladesh has a responsibility to ensure inclusive development where meaningful participation of persons with disabilities will be ensured in the budgeting process, revenue generation and expenditures, implementation, monitoring and other stages of the public budget.
The interest of persons with disabilities has to be paid attention duly during the budget-making process. No national or international jurisprudence has prescribed a concrete and comprehensive guideline for CRPD-compliant budgeting, but we may identify some elements of CRPD-compliant budgeting in line with the general principles (Article 3) and general obligations (Article 4) of the CRPD.
The political will of a state for the development of a particular section of the population is demonstrated in its legal framework. Practically, the public budget statements reflect the real intention of the government.
Due to commitments made to the international communities, the governments of least-developed and developing countries may enact various laws and policies in consistence with the international human rights instruments, but the sincerity and diligence of the government in implementing these laws and policies is evident from the availability, reduction or increase of annual budget allocations in relevant sectors.
For example, if the laws and policies call for the government to promote an inclusive education system, it is naturally expected that the government will take steps every year to realise inclusive education progressively and allocate the budget accordingly. If the government does not allocate this money, it can be assumed that the implementation of a truly inclusive education system is not really on the government's priority list.
Therefore, persons with disabilities and organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), NGOs, international NGOs and donors should carefully follow and analyse the national budget statement. Based on the results of the analysis, the OPDs and allies should advocate with the government to influence the budget-making process.
How the budget is analysed is also important in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities. The enjoyment of the rights of persons with disabilities may be obstructed if the budget is not analysed through the CRPD lens, and the government is not negotiated on the basis of the findings of analysis.
Some considerations relating to the CRPD-compliant budgeting are as below:
FORMAL PRE-BUDGET CONSULTATION
According to Article 4.3 of the CRPD, the government has a responsibility to consult with persons with disabilities and OPDs in formulating the budget. Although this is a long-standing demand of the disability movement, to date the government has not developed a permanent and robust mechanism for scientific budget consultations with persons with disabilities and OPDs.
The government should meaningfully consult with the people with disabilities through the administrative units from the union council to ministry levels. These consultations may be led by the committees formed under the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as the RPPDA).
HARMONISATION OF LAWS AND POLICIES
It is not possible to implement the rights of people with disabilities unless the laws and policies of the state are harmonised in compliance with the CRPD. If there is any provision in the legal framework of the state that is inconsistent with the CRPD, the outcome must be negative in respect of the rights of persons with disabilities. Such a law would serve as a living tool for violating the rights of persons with disabilities.
For example, under the Contract Act 1872, which is in force in Bangladesh, persons with psychosocial disabilities are not eligible to sign the contract. Such a provision should be held void ab initio as it is liable to cause serious violation of the inherent basic human rights as well as the right to equal legal capacity. Such discriminatory laws curtail various rights including the right to life with dignity, education, employment, and marital rights of the persons with psychosocial disabilities, and they gradually become marginalised in society.
However, by abolishing such provisions and introducing a proper decision-making system, it is possible to turn this huge number of human beings into human resources. Similarly, the recruitment policies of the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC) and the Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission (BJSC) are discriminatory towards persons with disabilities, depriving the state of services of millions of educated youths with disabilities and depriving a large number of persons with disabilities and their families from livelihood opportunities.
As long as these anti-CRPD laws exit, people with disabilities will continue to be marginalised and unable to move forward. From this point of view, it is better not to have laws and policies than to have anti-CRPD laws. The CRPD wants the State Parties to repeal laws that discriminate on grounds of disabilities.
ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION THROUGH INVESTMENT POLICIES
It is the duty of the state to allocate a sufficient budget for the implementation of laws and policies that are consistent with the CRPD. The government enacted the RPPDA eight years ago. In the schedule of this law, the government has inserted an unprecedented list of 82 activities.
Subsequently, for the smooth implementation of this Act, the government formulated a detailed action plan in 2019 with a specific time-frame and responsible ministries or departments.
The ministries and/or departments are required to provide budget demand every year for the implementation of the activities as mentioned in the action plan and budget allocation has to be made accordingly. However, we have noticed that these ministries or departments are not acting as per the national action plan. Therefore, national budget statements do not reflect the interest of people with disabilities. As a result, people with disabilities are being deprived of the benefits of the laws.
It is advisable to cancel or reduce the allocation for all the organisations which discriminate on grounds of disabilities.
ENSURE MAXIMUM UTILISATION OF RESOURCES
In recent years, we have noticed that the government has invested a huge amount of money in social protection purposes. The government has taken a policy to provide allowances to all registered persons with disabilities whereas all persons with disabilities may not require allowance. On the other hand, persons with high support needs may need caregiver support or additional costs which are not covered by the allowance scheme.
The government also invests a huge amount of money for the salaries of government officials who are responsible for implementing disability laws. How these government officials are using their time and resources needs to be monitored.
INCLUDE PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN REVENUE GENERATION PROCESS
The budget should have a reflection on how the state will ensure access of persons with disabilities to the labour market. The government has enacted laws and policies aiming to ensure this access to the labour market, but the budget statement never includes progressive plans for the actualisation of these policies.
Every year, the government should announce what measures it will take to ensure access of a certain number of persons with disabilities to the labour market. Similarly, the government must invest in accessible transport, retrofitting the infrastructure, reasonable accommodation, accessibility and inclusive education to ensure equal access for persons with disabilities to the labour market.
The author is advocate of the Supreme Court and chairperson of the Disability Inclusive Justice and Legal Aid Association.