I. The Government Programme 2020-2024 - “Towards an Inclusive, High Income and Green Mauritius Forging Ahead Together” claims its thematic agenda on the concept of Inclusiveness. Surprisingly, a thorough reading and understanding of the Programme starkly reveal that it is, in fact, a point-blank non-inclusive one. I believe that this Programme should rather be re-titled within its exclusiveness. Empowerment, Inclusion and Life in dignity for the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) cannot be tailored through its exclusive discourses. The proposal, tone and pace of the non-inclusive debate disrupt the undertones of inclusivity. Except for a few generic mentions to sustain the State undertaking towards inclusiveness which are listed below:
i) Inclusiveness at the Heart of the Nation
ii) Enhanced social inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity to achieve an inclusive Mauritius
iii) Empowerment, enhanced social inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity
II. There is no ‘real’ commitment towards the inclusion of our Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). In this line, my main argument stands from the non-inclusive postulations of the Government Programme 2020-24, which are non-inclusive in all its stipulations. Imagine the governmental advocacy of 'inclusion at heart' WITHOUT inclusivity in all its specifications, except for the blurry mention of:
Page 5, Para 6: “A country that values its population as its main asset, through empowerment, enhanced social inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity” and,
Page 9, Para 12: “Government’s priority is to harness the collective efforts of the population to achieve an inclusive Mauritius.”
The Programme rests on pertinent exclusionary statements in which it fails to enact upon its inclusive principle. Therefore, rather than progressing towards the national agenda of inclusion, we witness mostly a regressive stand which seems to be ignorant of the conditions and existence of this vulnerable group. This is to say, the Government has commendably failed the most susceptible community – PWDs, within its premises of inclusivity.
III. The terms ‘inclusion’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘disabilities’ and ‘PWDs’ are not only extensively appropriated by the governmental policies, but most importantly, are in vogue within the political discourses of integration. Once more in 2020, the philosophy behind the Government Programme 2020-2024 advocating for, as its title suggests, “Towards an Inclusive High Income and Green Mauritius Forging Ahead Together” appears to be hazy when it comes back to the integral human rights of affinity, accommodation and inclusivity to the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Mauritius. The Government seems to have missed out over the quintessence of what they assert – ‘Inclusive Mauritius’.
IV. My methodical reading and keen observation of the stipulated paragraphs in the ‘Discours Programme’ 2020-2024 of the present Government highlight the theorisation of disability inclusion rather than its practice.
In short, the very gist of ‘inclusion’ materialises into the radical omission of the differently-abled. It is disquieting and shocking at the same time that the Government falls short in their effort to embrace each citizen in the island-state.
V. The constant brushing on ‘inclusion’ as a mere terminology in the Programme, NO-WHERE and NOT EVEN ONCE, deliberates on the well-planned strategies proposed and their implementation to ensure the real sense of inclusion of the PWDs. Once more, it leads us to the United Nations which is systematic in its approach and stands on integrating the PWDs within the mainstream society. They are equal contributing agents to the welfare, well-being and progressive Mauritius. Progress is undeniably incomplete without embracing the differently-abled within its functional structure and mindset.
The conceptualised Programme 2020-2024 inevitably debunks what the UN recognizes as:
“human rights, peace and security, and sustainable development for all can only be enjoyed if persons with disabilities in all their diversity are included in society on an equal basis with others, and as both agents of change and beneficiaries of the outcomes of the work of the United Nations system. It is therefore imperative that disability inclusion is systematically mainstreamed in the work of all United Nations entities.”
The Government has deviated from the UN stipulation in its “sustainable development for all” on an “equal basis with others.”
VI. I would like to now discuss the Programme 2020-2024 from its loopholes in its multiple provisions keeping in mind the other international disability-inclusive protocols.
With reference to Chapter 2: Education and Skills for the World of Tomorrow
Page 13, Para 24: Education is at the core of Government’s inclusiveness agenda. It will therefore take measures to ensure a fair access to high quality education for all.
Page 13, Para 26: Starting from academic year 2020, textbooks and e-books are being provided free of charge to Grades 7, 8 and 9 students attending state and grant-aided private secondary schools.
Page 13, Para 27: Access to educational facilities to students with disabilities will be improved.
Page 13, Para 28: Government will continue to invest in facilities to promote dual and vocational training in order to provide learning and work-study opportunities to our youth in non-academic fields.
Page 13, Para 29: As our country enters the next phase of its development, Government will create an environment conducive to learning through modern digital technology and latest best practices.
A closer look at these paragraphs already speaks for themselves; the concepts of inclusiveness and disabilities are merely stated on an entirely superficial level. It extends to Page 14, Paragraph 30: Educator’s Council Bill; Paragraph 31: National Curriculum Framework; Paragraph 33: Institute of Technical Education; Paragraph 34: National Skills Development Strategy and Paragraph 36: ‘Afterschool program’ which at no point fervently include and debate the educational inclusion prospects and conditions of our PWDs.
The Government seems to exclude them systematically as well as negating their own inefficiency in empowering them on the socio-educational platform.
VII. ‘An inclusive Mauritius’ without its PWDs is a matter of serious concerns. From the above-listed Paragraphs, you can notice that ‘disabilities’ appears only once in Paragraph 27; the usage of the term exists within the restrictive realms of its ‘real’ essence and connotation. The blatant missing of its referrals within the Programme 2020-2024 with no reference to the PWDs is salient. It inevitably falls out to adhere to the UN provisions. In so doing, it incapacitated its plausible commitments to the most vulnerable group - PWDs.
Reading attentively through the stipulations is ambiguous to grasp the meaning and definition of “access”. The latter appears to be condescendingly restraining in its usage; what does “access” mean? The Government is unsuccessful in starkly explaining and developing what it calls ‘access’. Moreover, the question of accessibility is solely one key factor of its propositions which is subjective to questioning and confusion.
There is no mention of what kinds of educational facilities will be provided to assist and facilitate the educational integration of PWDs students. Here, I would like to refer to the case of a visually impaired student in a State School in the North who for 2 consecutive years - Form I and II, did not receive her Maths textbook in Braille leading her failure in Maths. Now, she is in Form III without her Maths textbook in Braille. For 3 consecutive years, the Government failed to deliver its educational inclusiveness to the visually impaired student mentioned, who ultimately could not cope in the absence of a textbook. And, I here am apprehensive and vexed about the condition of our visually impaired students in secondary schools who face the same predicament for Maths.
It is noteworthy to mention that there is a dearth of assistant teachers for Braille or Sign Language to accompany our students with disabilities in secondary schools.
The word ‘improved’ fails its purpose as you cannot enhance in emptiness, without a prior basis or action. Improvements are legitimate when the educational inclusiveness has been acted upon earlier, which in this case, is not.
Moreover, in the attempt to technologise our learning-teaching approaches in the colleges with the distribution of tablets to the mainstream students, the State once more seem to forget or ignore the fact that the same technologies can be of great assistance to students with disabilities in SEN schools. These learning tools are selectively prioritised within mainstream institutions. What about the SEN Schools’ students? Are they not liable and eligible to benefit from the technological learning devices? Technology in the form of these tablets should be available and accessible to all students, particularly as empowering tools for the disabled. IT tools can help the learners with special needs to learn better, enhance their performance and sanction the PWDs students with agency to contribute in Mauritius and abroad.
VIII. Another arresting factor of the Programme 2020-24 lies in the mode in which the Government self-stated its waning of the provisions and promises to cater for the PWDs.This declinatory approach relegates the PWDs to a state of invisibility pushing them more into the shadows of the island.
It is intriguing that the 2020-2024 Prospectus for Inclusivity, whose principles should have been a continuum of the previous Government Programme 2015-2019, excludes the mentioned proposals; the latter were not effectively implemented during the last mandate. The number of laudable proposals made for the PWDs in 2015-2019 Government Programme, which were not implemented fully in the previous mandate of this Government is as follows:
Page 6, Para 21: New legislation will be brought forward to provide more protection and security to the elderly, women, children and physically handicapped. Penalties for offenders will be substantially increased.
Page 7, Para 22: Government will set up additional recreation and activity facility centres for the elderly and the disabled.
Page 15, Para 64: Government will aim to deliver a high standard of academic education and skills for our youngsters. Education reforms will focus on curriculum review and performance improvement at all levels. Remedial education at an early stage of the primary and secondary education cycles will remain a priority in order to deal with learning deficits, early drop-outs and failures.
Page 18, Para 77: With a view to providing higher learning opportunities for those in need of fostering greater equity in the system, Government will encourage access to Tertiary Education for students from low income families and students with disabilities.
Page 27, Para 113: For patients needing home care, a system of domiciliary visits by specialised nurses will be established. Dedicated counters will be set up at the level of primary health care centres and hospitals to cater for the needs of the elderly and disable persons.
Page 27, Para 118: A Rehabilitation Centre is envisaged to cater for patients with disabilities following accidents and surgeries.
The Government has subtly eliminated several proposals and promises made for the PWDs. Consequently, the fundamental provisions for the disabled were neither acted upon nor brought back on board in practice.
My main argument rests within the stipulated concern that from its 2014 Electoral Manifesto, the Government did not execute and realise most of its commitments towards the PWDs community. The same lack of commitment to carry out the said laws and provisions is repeated in this current mandate. There is a governmental non-conviction to implement its postulations.
IX. Non-respect for promises in Electoral Manifesto and Government Programme
An Electoral Manifesto is a significant public undertaking where the Government makes a public declaration of their agenda, motives and intentions which holds significant intent. It also elaborates a set of policies on whose grounds the Government claims to act upon before a General Election. This document binds the State to its commitment towards the citizens and thrives to implement those provisions if elected.
Furthermore, the Electoral Manifesto 2019 – “Ensam Tou Possib” seems to have omitted the very mention of our most vulnerable group – the Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) which comprises of approximately 60,000 of our Mauritian society. There is a notable failure to act upon the programs set by the Government for the PWDs then and now. In the Electoral Manifesto 2014, the Governmental promise to introduce the Disability Bill has not seen the light yet. It is one of the key actions to enact upon the provision of gifting the PWDs their democratic rights and restore their human dignity in Mauritius. It was clearly stipulated in the Government Programme 2015-2019:
Page 7, Para 25: Government proposes to amend sections 3 (Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of Individual) and 16 (Protection from Discrimination) of the Constitution to prohibit discrimination and introduce a Disability Bill to providefurther protection to persons with disabilities.
The legislation for the consolidation and introduction of a Disability Act was not reiterated in the Programme 2020-2024. Consequently, our PWDs are excluded from legal measures. It, therefore, calls for an urgent need to review the legislative provisions advocating for the rights of Persons with Disabilities. There is no explicit legislation in Mauritius which specifically handles discriminatory and marginalising issues dealt by Persons with Disabilities.
It is surprising that within their 2 consecutive mandates, the Government did not make any attempt to fulfill its objectives towards the empowerment of the PWDs nor did it make an effort to put its words in practice to enhance the life of the differently-abled.
X. Ratification of UNCRPD and Reservations by the Government
The Government committed another political unwillingness to ratify the UNCRPD laws for the PWDs as well as in its judicious endorsement of the positive initiatives and promising convention; it opted to retain the reservation.
Among the other obstacles towards the rights of the PWDs is the ratified convention 2007-2010, which did not alleviate nor improve the life and conditions of the differently-abled. The Government upholds the reservations, which are hindrances in empowering the emancipation of the PWDs in Mauritius. For the PWDs to enjoy their life in dignity and freedom within the dictates of inclusivity, the stakeholders should have reconsidered the sustenance of the reservations, encumbrances to the empowerment of the Mauritian PWDs. Rather than maintaining the reservation, it would have ideally been better if the Government focuses on the reiteration of the provisions.
Article 13 of the United Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which has been signed and ratified by Mauritius in 2007 and 2010 respectively lays down the obligation of member states to ensure the effective participation of Persons with Disabilities in all legal proceedings including their capacity to witness.
In advocating the reservations, the Government has literally failed the PWDs in catering for them on multiple domains. These reservations have undeniably proven that the “full realization of the rights of Persons with Disabilities” is not taken into serious consideration. Simultaneously, the grievances of the PWDs are ignored by the stakeholders of the Government.
In the Initial Report submitted by States parties under Article 35 of the Covenant on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012, the Government of Mauritius committed to ensure the full realization of the rights of Persons with Disabilities. Nonetheless, at the same time, the State of Mauritius highlighted the following reservations on the UNCRPD:
Mauritius Reservations: The Republic of Mauritius has placed the following reservations on the CRPD -
i) During the signature of the Convention, a reservation was placed on Article 11 of the Convention which deals with situations of risks and humanitarian emergencies. However, the Government of Mauritius is considering removing the reservation on Article 11 in the short-term in view of the forthcoming Mauritius Disaster Management Bill.
ii) A reservation was placed on Article 9.2 (d) which calls on Member States “to provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understandable forms;” The reservation has been made in view of the costs involved in providing access through Braille signage in all public facilities. The Government proposes to remove this reservation in due course as further developments take place.
iii) During the ratification of the Convention, a reservation was placed on Article 24.2(b) which states that “persons with disabilities can access inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education….” This is because though Mauritius has a policy of inclusive education, given the current situation wherein educational provisioning for children with disabilities is largely taken care of through special schools, it is expected that special schools will continue to operate alongside inclusive education until there is total mainstreaming. The Government is working towards this goal and proposes to remove the reservation in due course.
These reservations prove to be commendable impediments for the legal rights of the PWDs.
XII. World Bank and UNCRPD
Mauritius, being one of the funded nation-states by the World Bank, is now under the obligation to address the conditions, rights and empowerment of the PWDs within the stipulated. It is high time now that Mauritius pledge for the World Bank Group Commitments on Disability-Inclusive Development which are listed below:
Commitment 1: Inclusive Education
We aim to make all the World Bank financed projects/programs in education disability inclusive by 2025.
The World Bank welcomes the opportunity to host the Initiative for Inclusive Education (IEI).
For private sector projects, IFC is committed to promoting an inclusive agenda.
Commitment 2: Technology and Innovation
All digital development projects will be screened to ensure that they are disability sensitive.
IFC will consider initiatives that could facilitate the deployment of assistive technologies in emerging markets.
Commitment 3: Data Disaggregation
Commit resources to support strengthened disability data.
Commitment 4: Women and Girls with Disabilities
The WBG commits to exploring opportunities to focus more deliberately on the economic empowerment of women and girls with disabilities.
Commitment 5: People with Disabilities in Humanitarian Contexts
Our projects financing public facilities in post-disaster reconstruction efforts will be disability-inclusive by 2020.
Commitment 6: Transport
By 2025 all new urban mobility and rail projects supporting public transport services will be inclusive in their designs so as to incorporate key universal access features for people with disability and limited mobility.
Ensuring that equity considerations, including access to persons with disabilities, continue to remain at the forefront of the Sustainable Mobility for All initiative (SuM4All).
Advocate for enhanced road safety outcomes, given that road crashes are one of the most significant public health issues of the century, causing both death and disability.
Commitment 7: Private Sector
Enhanced due diligence on private sector projects.
Commitment 8: Social Protection
Three quarters (75%) of Social Protection projects will be disability inclusive by 2025.
Commitment 9: Staffing
Increase the number of staff with disabilities in the WBG.
Commitment 10: Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework
Promote the Disability Inclusion and Accountability Framework among World Bank staff.
XIII. India has established its comprehensive Disability Act in 2016; Why does Mauritius refuse to do it?
India consciously ratified the Disability Act to implement the new provisions towards empowering of Indian PWDs. Through this Act, the India society has not only enhanced the lives of many but most significantly, has empowered the differently-abled within its social, political and educational inclusive concept.
One year after the enactment of the Disability Act in India, the Global Rainbow Foundation recommends to the Government and the political parties of Mauritius to support the enactment of such an Act to empower and ensure the rights of Persons with Disabilities are respected for them to lead their life in dignity.
We have stricken multiple bilateral relationships with the Indian Peninsula; however, we still lag behind in terms of PWDs inclusiveness. Mauritius has grown and to learn from India in the way it ratifies and dismantles the provisions made for the inclusive Mauritian consciousness.
The State has maintained the reservation with no commendable changes to the Constitution to implement the inclusivity for our PWDs. The Government has again failed to act upon its promises of inclusion towards the PWDs in Mauritius.
In maintaining the legal provisions unchanged, the State has rather contributed to incite and endorse serious consequences. If they had reenacted the legal provisions of Article 3 and 16 of the Constitution through the initiation of the building of an inclusive society, they would have resolved the reservations.
Had the Constitution been amended, the State would have complied by the UNCRPD provisions by shattering the constraints and barriers existing right now for the PWDs inclusion.
GRF hopes that the newly elected members of the parliament will take this matter seriously and ensure that in 2020, we have the Disability Bill incorporating UNCRPD and drawing from the Indian experience will see light.
It is only then that Mauritius can claim that its policies are ‘inclusiveness at the heart.’
Prof. Armoogum Parsuramen
Global Rainbow Foundation