I have been all up in my feelings for the past two weeks over the proposed “Disability Levy.” When I first read the above article I was rejoicing doing cart wheels and all. FINALLY there was proposed funding for people with disabilities. After the joy had died down and I was back to my senses I started to ponder on the impact that this would have not just on people with disabilities (PWDs) and also the nation at large. And I have to say that excitement has since faded completely.
The proposed Disability Levy will definitely be the answered prayer for people with disabilities. Finally there will be a consistent source of income or funding for them. Can you imagine what the money could be used for? Building more schools for children with disabilities, building recreational centres, proper maintaince for already existing facilities for people with disabilities, a source of income for PWDs …etc. PWDs’ lives would significantly improve. This levy will ensure that PWDs are given the same opportunities in life as everyone else. Imagine how many children with disabilities will be able to go to school because the government is paying for them? The possibilities are endless. This levy has the potential to change the face of disability in Zimbabwe. Considering all the possibilities it is enough to make one happy right? But sadly happiness is far from what I am feeling about this proposed disability levy.
Before the government approves this “Disability Levy” there are certain concerns that need to be addressed. Educating society on disability issues has to be the top priority. Yeah sure the levy comes into play but what happens if the family of the child with a disability still refuses to educate that child? What happens then? What measures is the government going to put in place to ensure that the money is used for what it was intended for, what accountability system will be used? For all we know parents or guardians of PWDs will pocket that money and people with disabilities will continue to suffer. The tax payer will of course foot that bill but on the grass roots the money is not used for what it was intended for.
Who will be the custodian of this levy? At the moment there is no separate ministry for people with disabilities which is very concerning. I think PWDs fall under the social welfare ministry. I am unsure as I keep being told different ministries PWDs fall under. Create a separate ministry for people with disabilities. Employ PWDs in this ministry, conduct workshops, research on what PWDs want, need, their challenges…etc instead of assuming what they need. Make sure PWDs are in charge of the levy and use it in the way best fit for them not what the government thinks or feels PWDs need. From there on PWDs are held accountable for the levy and what they do with the money.
Another area of concern to explore is the exploitation of PWDs that will potentially increase as a result of this disability levy. Imagine how many PWDs will be taken advantage of? Already as it stands there are people who exploit PWDs by placing them on street corners to beg and then pocket all the money that would been donated to them. Imagine the number of “not for profit disability organisations” that would be created in order to gain access to this disability levy? As it stands there are currently some disability organisations which receive international funding but do not in any shape or form employ any PWDs. In fact I know of one disability organisation where there was only one PWD and the project he was running was funded by the EU itself but he was the most ill-treated member of staff in that organisation and when his contract expired, they refused to renew it. The implications of that decision were he became unemployed and 3 years later he is still unemployed, the project he was running was stopped and all the PWDs who were benefitting from it were affected. Not to even speak of people who go to schools for children with disabilities and “use” them to source funding and donations but those children never benefit from the funding or donations. There is definitely potential for this kind of exploitation to increase should the government approve the disability levy.
In light of these three concerns that I have raised educating society on disability issues, who will be the custodian of this levy and the potential increase of the exploitation of PWDs, I still do think the disability levy is a fantastic thing. Whether or not the brains behind it have ulterior motives or not (it is yet to be seen), if it is to be implemented in the correct manner, it has the potential like I stated before to significantly improve the lives of PWDs and grant them the same opportunities that their peers are given. However instead of putting the burden of PWDs on the taxpayer who is already being taxed a lot, the government should find alternative ways to raise funding for PWDs. I am not a fan of international aid but if it means sourcing international aid to fund a “disability levy” so be it. After all has been said and done, the lives of PWDs matter and it is high time the government makes it a priority so that society can prioritize these issues too.