[WATCH] Justyne Caruana says disability hub focuses on much needed services

Parliamentary secretary for persons with disability Justyne Caruana says focus of the proposed disability hub is to provide services and that it does not breach United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability

Parliamentary Secretary Justyne Caruana • Photo by Ray Attard
Parliamentary Secretary Justyne Caruana • Photo by Ray Attard

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Parliamentary secretary for persons with disability Justyne Caruana said that the focus of the proposed disability hub was to provide those with a disability with services that were still considered lacking in the community.

Caruana further stressed that the hub did not go against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and that it did not promote segregation of persons with disability from the rest of society.

Speaking at the end of a conference on the convention and independent living, Caruana said that the hub would include respite and rehabilitation services, and that it would also fight the idea of institutionalisation for those with a disability.

“There are currently persons with disability residing in institutions like Mount Carmel hospital, St. Vincent de Paul and even homes for the elderly,” she said, adding that the homes in Mellieha and Mtarfa were currently home to a number of persons with disability.

“These people are being institutionalised because they have nowhere else to go.”

“The hub will be tackling this idea of segregation and immersing people with disabilities into the community,” she said, adding that the hub would also offer those with a disability job opportunities and social enterprise initiatives that would help them to co-operate in the running of businesses and empower them to do more.

Caruana added that the site selected for the hub further stressed the aims of inclusion.

“The site chosen is in central Naxxar as opposed to the originally proposed site, which was in a very remote and secluded part of Siggiewi,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the hub is being criticised by someone who was involved in the process to come up with the idea for the project,” she said referring to former KNPD chairman Joseph Camilleri.

Camilleri has publicly condemned the project and said that it would introduce “segregation by stealth” instead of promoting inclusivity for persons with a disability.

“It is indeed a sad and tragic day when the KNPD, which is supposed to be an autonomous national human rights institution and a champion of Maltese disabled people’s rights, expresses itself in favour of a project which totally contradicts the spirit and word of both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and our own Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act,” Camilleri said in a letter to MaltaToday.

Camilleri also categorically denied that he was part of the same committee that proposed the hub, and insisted that he was always against the hub.
“I was part of discussions held in early 2014 and prior to my retirement from public life in March of the same year. At the time an almost identical proposal was put forwarded by Philip Rizzo – then advisor to the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity,” Camilleri said. 

Caruana said that Camilleri had resigned in October 2014, and that an initial report, proposing the hub in Siggiewi was submitted to her in April 2014.

“The proposal was for an isolated location, and for the hub to cater for 64 persons but I did not agree. This would have gone against the UNCRPD,” Caruana said, adding that she had been opposed to the project.

Caruana further explained that the projected hub would cost some €12 million, but that the government would apply for EU funds for the project.

“The hub isn’t the only proposal that will support the idea of independent living,” she said referring to the subjects discussed throughout the conference.

“The feedback we got during the conference indicate that out projects are so far going well,” she said, adding however that a greater focus on services was essential to the sector.

“To that end, and to meet the needs expressed by the people here today, the government has secured a larger budget than ever to Agenzija Sapport, and to two projects that will give financial aid to those with disabilities and allow them to live more independently,” she said.

KNPD director Rhoda Garland also spoke about the needs for more services for such as rehabilitation services and independent living skills among others.

“So far we have seen many positive developments and schemes to support employment for those with disabilities,” she said, adding that the 2% disability quota had resulted in some 24 new posts a month for those with disability.

Garland commended the introduction of a disability pension for those who continue to work beyond a certain age and said that concerns about the levels and amounts paid would be addressed in subsequent budgets.

During the conference, Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Arnold Cassola also spoke about disability pensions and recommended that pensions were issued in the person's name rather than that of their parents. 

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