UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities Country Report & Fifth Conference: Deputy Minister briefing
The Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities briefed the Committee on preparations to date for the upcoming UN CRPD Fifth Conference for State Parties. She answered questions on the composition of the delegation, the criteria for selection and who would be covering the costs. The second part of the Deputy Minister’s presentation was about the Country Report to be presented at the conference. This was supposed to be compiled by using data pertaining to disability provided by all government departments, but it had become clear that the information was mostly not available, and was likely not regarded as important by departments. What also came up was that the Department of Women, Youth and Children and People with Disabilities was not taken seriously, and the issues were not properly understood by people in government. Public hearings and interactions with civil society had shed much light on the difficulties facing the disabled.
Fifth Conference of States Parties to Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
The Deputy Minister, Ms Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, said the purpose of the presentation was to ensure that all Committee members were on the same page and were brought up to speed on the preparations for the conference, and also to give an update on the progress of the Country Report for the CRPD. The theme this year was “Making the CRPD count for women and children”. There were nine vacancies to be filled on the UN CRPD, and South Africa was, for the first time, submitting a candidate, Ms Sebenzile Matsebula, to be considered for nomination to the Expert Committee. The only other African candidate who had been endorsed by the AU was the candidate from Algiers. The Deputy Minister made the point that it was not necessarily a matter of how good the candidate was, but rather it was a political issue, and depended on how much lobbying had been done to secure one’s position on the Convention, so the Department had invested a lot of time, resources and energy on the matter. South Africa’s policy on disability was self-representation, and not speaking on behalf of the disabled, and Ms Matsebula was an example of this. During the conference, delegates would also be focusing on the issue of accessibility, and participating in various roundtable discussions. South Africa would be hosting the roundtable discussion on children with disabilities. There would be an informal session on women with disabilities, and an interactive dialogue wherein member states held the UN system and its agencies accountable for their policies on disability. The Special Rapporteur would be presenting a report on the UN Standard Rules and looking at how the member states had complied with them. The Special Rapporteur was a South African. Additional resource material had been supplied to the Committee to give it more background on the issues. Letters of invitation to the conference had been sent out to the Committee and the premiers of the provinces, but no replies had been received, so the closing date for replies had been extended until mid-August. The composition of the Department’s delegation had to reflect the UN’s requirements in terms of including a disabled woman and a disabled child (in South Africa’s case it would be a youth) from civil society. Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu took the Committee through the programme for the conference, noting that the expected outcome for the first day was the development of a uniform system for all the countries for Monitoring and Evaluation of disability rights. After the conference, the South African delegation would be having a special sitting with UNICEF focusing on oversight and M&E for children with disabilities, which would be like a training session.
The Chair asked about the size and composition of the delegation, and the criteria for their selection.
Ms H Lamoela (DA) commented on how sad she was that the Committee had only received the documents that day, and requested that documents be sent out timeously, and had a similar question to the Chair regarding the delegation and who would be liable for the cost.
Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu replied that the two civil society members were prescribed by the UN, as in previous years politicians had attended the CRPD and left the disabled people behind while they spoke about them. The disabled had complained, and so the UN’s rules reflected this. The themes of discussions were women and children, and so dictated the composition of the delegation. South Africa was taking a young person instead of a child, as children would be writing exams at that time. Other delegates were herself, her guide, her PA and the head of her office, one director from the M&E unit from the Department, and the Director General, as well as the candidate, and her assistant, as she was a paraplegic. The civil society component had not yet been finalised as there were various organisations involved who had to nominate people and ensure there was not an oversupply of the same disability. The Department would be covering the costs.
Ms Lamoela asked about the payment for premiers and provincial delegations.
Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu explained that the Department would only be paying for its own delegates, and everybody else who had been invited and wished to attend would be covering their own costs and making their own arrangements. The Department had only brought the invitation to their attention.
Mr D Kekana (ANC) congratulated the Department on its good work and the broad composition of the delegation. He was happy that the disabled were being actively involved. His question was about technological assistive devices for the disabled, and whether technical people would be involved in the conference, so that the disabled could speak directly to them about their needs.
The Deputy Minister replied that international intellectual property rights made it impossible to innovate, and that prices of assistive devices remained high and innovators could not get into the market, as it was locked. In terms of trade relations, the DTI had issued only two licences for accessibility devices and the USA was dominant.
Ms M Tlake (ANC) echoed the congratulations. She wondered if the invitation could not have come directly to the Committee, who could then have decided who would attend, as she felt that it was often an automatic assumption that it was the Chairpersons who had the liberty to attend overseas meetings, even if their participation in the issues was minimal.
The Deputy Minister replied that the Committee, and not the Chairperson, had been invited, but the invitation had been sent to the Chair. Guided by the UN prescriptions, they had identified the necessary Ministries and Portfolio Committees.
Ms Lamoela reiterated the importance of documentation to decision making, and the necessity of the Committee receiving them in good time in order to be able to partake in discussions. She had questions about the reports included in the documentation, regarding who partook in them, and who wrote them.
The Deputy Minister responded that these documents needed to be looked at in context, which was to assist with understanding the broader UN system. The Country Report would be dealt with in the second part of the presentation, and the rest were documents from other agencies, such as the UN Secretary General and the Special Rapporteur, and were included as additional information. She went on to point out that the date of the Portfolio Committee meeting had been brought forward by a week, and so some of the documents had not been signed off. But she took note of the point about documents sometimes arriving late.
Progress on Country Report on CRPD
The Country Report was coming along, albeit very slowly, and the deadline was 3 December. There were only two people in the Department to do the work of compiling the report, and no resources to employ additional people. The Deputy Minister expressed frustration at the lack of response by to requests to submit information. Five provinces’ reports were still outstanding, and no reports had been received from any district municipalities. A questionnaire needed to be drafted and sent out to civil society to follow up on incomplete information given by the Department of Social Development on funding disbursed. The Deputy Minister mentioned several instances of one-on-one conversations she had had, and promises she had received from various departments that the information would be submitted, but it was going very slowly, and there were many gaps and information not received or requiring verification, but the second draft was 80% complete. She went through the Articles of the CRPD and indicated what progress had been made on each, and gave some examples of the shortcomings within departments in terms of disability awareness. On the issue of accessibility (Article 9), the Department of Public Works, despite being the custodians of accessibility, had not submitted and the information that was available was only by virtue of the fact that the Deputy Minister had formerly been the Deputy Minister of Public Works. The Department of Education had been providing non-braille textbooks to blind learners. The July public hearings in Parliament had been very useful in terms of providing information and bringing to light the frustrations of parents of disabled children. Civil society, who provided many services to the disabled, would need to verify much of the information required for the report, as the necessary support from government departments was not forthcoming. Stats SA did not have disaggregated information in terms of data on disability. Stats SA would try to correct this in the future, but the necessary information was not available for this report.
The Deputy Minister concluded that government officials and the focal people who were supposed to deal with disability issues do not understand them; that government did not have the knowledge management systems necessary to be able to supply the correct information; that government’s reporting mechanisms had never required them to provide disability data, so they had never worried about it before; and that government did not see disability as a sector to focus on, and so there was no data available.
The Chair commented that many issues from the first part of the presentation had been clarified by the analysis given in the second part. It showed how far there still was for the government to travel, and the public hearings said a great deal about the disabled community’s disappointment and frustration. She wondered what the Deputy Minister meant when various departments had been given 100% for their information, and whether this meant it was perfect, or simply adequate?
Ms P Petersen-Maduna (ANC) congratulated the Deputy Minister for the hard work that had been done and commented that it was the duty of members of the Committee to check whether issues of disability were being dealt with.
Ms C Diem (COPE) agreed that members should check on the outstanding deadlines with other departments and provinces. She felt that Public Works should not have been given any percentage for the status of its submission as they did not submit. She asked if there was a fine or other penalty for municipalities that did not submit, and felt something should be done, as they clearly did not respect the Department of Women, Youth, Children and People with Disabilities.
Ms Lamoela agreed that nobody took the Department seriously, otherwise there would not be so many challenges. She thought most of the challenges arose from the line departments, who did not know what they were supposed to implement, and were not properly monitored. She wondered if any workshops had been held with them. She mentioned that there obviously was some data, such as the figure of 5 000 000 people with disability, but it needed to be gone more deeply into. She asked if there would be penalties for those who did not comply with what was expected of them, and mentioned again the importance of receiving information prior to Committee meetings.
The Deputy Minister responded that there had been delays from the Department’s side, such as the very establishment of the Department in 2009, and also because of vacancies in the Department, but many deadlines had been extended to allow for this, and still the information had not been forthcoming. The 100% did not reflect whether or not the departments had responded, but just that the best that could be done in terms of drafting had been done. It had been decided to submit the Country Report as it stood, with all its gaps, to Cabinet, and whoever had not submitted would have to answer to the President. She did not know about penalties, but left that to the Cabinet to deal with. The Country Report could not be submitted to the UN until the Cabinet had signed it off.
On the issue of workshops, she said that these had been held, but had not been very effective, as there was not any standing capacity in government regarding disability issues. More workshops needed to be run, and she hoped for resources and assistance from the UN, but she made the point that departments knew what was expected of them.
Mr Kekana said that the beauty of what was being done was that it grounded and raised awareness of disability issues in the country. It was critical that it be followed up, and he wondered if Parliament would be prepared to provide more researchers to assist with such follow up. Key areas to follow up would be SALGA, Public Works, the provinces who had not yet submitted, tertiary institutions who could provide training on disability issues, DTI, Labour and Planning, as well as Directors General to beef up Ministers’ efforts.
The Deputy Minister mentioned that much of the data available was estimates, but that this was not good enough. Accurate figures were necessary, and needed to be built into the data capturing mechanisms of the departments. She added that this was not only a South African problem; all the countries had the same issues.
A visiting MP, Mr D. Smiles (DA), shadow deputy Minister of Basic Education, was not mandated to speak on behalf of his Committee, but attended the meeting to find out what the Department was doing to ensure that DBE complied on the issue of planning and budgeting adequately for learners with disabilities, as they could no longer be dealt with as an afterthought. The whole budget for inclusive education was R750 000, which he felt was insensitive and unplanned. He stressed the need for a concerted effort to ensure that the rights of disabled learners were complied with.
The Deputy Minister agreed that there were serious problems in the Education and Social Development departments: problems such as teachers in schools for the blind who did not know braille; teachers in deaf schools who did not know sign language; learners in hostels with no one to look after them; vacancies going unfilled; no relationship between the two departments responsible; only three people in the Education Department to deal with inclusive education; no money allocated by the Department of Social Development to monitor what was happening in the hostels; no assistive devices; children with disabilities being 18 months behind their able-bodied counterparts; bursary monies returned to Treasury because nobody know what to do with it. The whole system had to be overhauled, and it was a huge job. A Cabinet memo on the issues was due to be submitted the following week.
The Chair thanked the Deputy Minister. She commented that a lot had been said, much of which had been raised in the public hearings. She spoke about the importance of education in fighting poverty and unemployment, and the need for some departments to improve their understanding of the needs of the disabled.
The Portfolio Committee would have a process whereby it engaged with the various departments on the issues raised, and even if it was seen as a repetition when both the Department and the Portfolio Committee were engaging with the ministers, it still needed to be done. She expressed her hope that the Portfolio Committee would be hands-on and demonstrate a real awareness of issues that had been neglected for so long. She was very worried about the problem of data, and said she did not know how they would get the information they needed, but they would fight very hard for it.
The Deputy Minister mentioned that a proposal had been submitted to the UN Disability Fund to put a knowledge management data system in place. The Statistician General would be running a disability census to identify the country baseline, to be completed in May 2013. The UN would also be helping with training and a toolkit.
Ms I Ditshetelo (UCDP) was excited that the meeting was ending on a note of good news.
Mr Kekana mentioned that stigma would only be removed when disabled people were respected, and that this could only come about when the disabled were able to make a life for themselves. He requested that Ms H. Malgas (ANC), Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, who was present, be allowed to speak, as she was familiar with the issues, having come from this Committee. The Chair allowed this.
Ms Malgas spoke about her disappointment about disability issues and inclusive education, and how, even though the White Paper on Inclusive Education had come out in 2000, the national department was still in the planning stages. She mentioned the tragedy of four children burning to death at a school for the blind and deaf, but was encouraged because this had prompted action, and CCTV cameras had been put in place. She said that the Department nationally would hold discussions with people with disabilities to find out what was in place and what was still missing. She felt that money for the disabled needed to be ring-fenced. She offered to assist with data collection on issues of inclusive education.
The Chair thanked the Deputy Minister for the information she had supplied, which had been valuable in helping to understand why the situation was in the state that it was – because the sector was not taken seriously.
The Deputy Minister said that she was also responsible for HIV/Aids, so the Committee would be getting training on that and on anti-poverty programmes. She asked the members to take note of the date of 9 October, when the President would be visiting special schools, and requested that they track that visit.
The Chair thanked everyone, and the meeting was adjourned.