1 August 2013, Keynote Speech by the Chief Executive Officer of Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mr Lopeti Senituli at the Opening of The National Consultation on Rights of People with Disabilities, Wednesday 31st July 2013 at National Emergency Management Office, MOI.
I am very pleased and honored to have been invited to deliver the Keynote Address at this national consultation on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I believe it is the right time for the Government to designate a specific Government Department or Agency to be solely responsible for the Rights of Persons with Disability.
Tonga has some disability-inclusive laws and regulations and these are shared primarily by the Ministries of Education and Training and the Ministry of Health. For examples, the current Education Act provides for compulsory education for everyone between the ages of 6 and 13 and the current Medical Services Act provides that the primary object of the public medical service is to provide accommodation and medical and surgical aid for all Tongan subjects without charge.
But there is no legally mandated Government Department or agency that is tasked for looking after the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, although the Ministry of Health is the focal agency for Persons with Disabilities.
The Government is indebted to the various Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations such as the Alonga Centre, The Ofa, Tui mo 'Amanaki, The Mango Tree Centre, The Naunau 'a e 'Alamaite Tonga Association and The Tonga National Disability Congress, to name a few, for the critical service they provide for persons with disabilities. I must of course also acknowledge the Ministry of Education and Training's Inclusive Education Class at Ngele'ia GPS. I must also acknowledge the Ministry of Health's work in looking after persons with medical disabilities.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs on the 1st of July 2013 inherited from the Ministry of Finance and National Planning the programme for the financial support offered to charitable organizations that include some the Disabled Persons Organizations I have referred to, but I am sorry to say it did not include any increases in budget. But I believe this could very well be the beginning of a long term mandate for the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Persons with Disabilities is defined in Article 1 of CRPD to include "those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others."
The purpose of the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherit dignity.
The General Principles of the CRPD are:
- Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons;
- Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
- Respect for differences and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
- Equality of opportunity;
- Equality between men and women;
- Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
I believe that we can work together to enable the Government to ratify the CRPD and to have Cabinet adopt a National Policy for Persons with Disabilities as it had agreed to do in 2011.
I think this Consultation is timely and appropriate. I hope that the outcomes of this training will guide us all to work together and to take responsibility in making a link between practical problems that our persons with disabilities have and fulfillment of their rights in the CRPD.
This means we must not continue to turn a blind eye to the many challenges faced by persons with disabilities and their organizations such as negative attitudes and prejudice that do not recognize the contribution people with disabilities make to society.
We must also acknowledge the limited funding, and lack of educational, training and employment opportunities available for them and commit ourselves to improving those conditions.
I believe that CRPD is an empowerment tool that we can all use as a guideline whether we are is government as duty bearers or NGOs as service providers or persons with disabilities as rights holders, to take us forward to ensure equal access to the enjoyment of rights and justice by all.
May I acknowledge the kind contributions made by Australian Aid, SPC - RRRT, UNESCAP, PIFS and other development partners in support of this initiative at the national level. Without their support we would not have been able to embark on this very important step towards strengthening the network, partnerships and awareness of all government ministries and key stakeholders to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and promote respect for their inherent dignity.
In conclusion and on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I thank you all for your participation and taking time to contribute to what should be a constructive and fruitful consultation that will not only benefit persons with disabilities and their families but also the development of the Kingdom of Tonga as a whole.
I hereby declare this Consultation open.
Ministry of Internal Affairs
31 July 2013