People with disabilities call for tax rebates, exemptions
For Lango Sinkamba, taking a ride on a public minibus is a huge struggle. Every time he gets into a public bus, he has to find someone to lift him and his wheelchair into the vehicle. He also has to find a place on the bus for his wheelchair.
In most cases, Sinkamba, who is chairperson of the Lusaka-based Disabled Initiatives Foundation (DIF), has to pay not only for himself but also for his wheelchair, which occupies up to three seats on the small Toyota Hiace buses that ply most intra and inter-town routes. In the case of the blind, even the escort has to pay the full fare for buses that are run by private operators.
In Zambia, service providers are not compelled by law to make provisions for disabled persons on buses and other modes of transportation and in buildings where it is very difficult for them, particularly the wheelchair-bound, to manoeuvre.
The plight of disabled people came to the fore at a recent workshop on tax structures and procedures and how they affect the living standards of people with disabilities. The workshop, held in Lusaka, was organised by DIF.
Participants who came from various Disabled People's Organisations (DPOs) felt that the government was not following the United Nations Standard Rules for the disabled, especially those that economically empower them.
Some of the DPOs represented at the workshop were the: Zambia Federation of the Disabled; Zambia Agency of Persons with Disabilities; Zambia National Association of Disabled Women; and the Zambia National Association of Adults and Children with Learning Disabilities.
The Standard Rules arose from the Decade of Disabled Persons, adopted in 1994 by the General Assembly on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.
Although not a legally binding instrument, the Standard Rules represents a strong moral and political commitment by governments to take action to give those with disabilities equal access to a range of opportunities. The rules are supposed to serve as an instrument for policy-making and a basis for technical and economic cooperation.
DIF legal director Chola Kafwabulula claimed that disabled persons constitute the poorest of the poor, who are alienated by most policies including tax laws and the budget.
Kafwabulula, a practising lawyer who himself is disabled, said that Zambia’s Disability Act contains various provisions to help the disabled, such as tax rebates for employers who employ people with disabilities. However, these provisions are rarely adhered to, he said.
One reason why employers don’t employ disabled people under the tax rebate programme is because the legislation fails to specify the exact amounts of the tax rebates that are supposed to go to employers, which discourages them from implementing the policy, he said.
"Disabled people are part of society but with special needs,” Kafwabulula said in his opening remarks at the function, officiated by Finance and National Planning Deputy Minister Felix Mutati. “We want government to come in and give us a kick start for the sole reason that we become independent. It must teach us to fish so that we have fish for the rest of life.”
Kafwabulula said the disabled had learnt that when others spoke on their behalf, they lost out and called for them (disabled persons) to be part and parcel of government.
People with disabilities always look for an opportunity to interact with government officials, said Sinkamba, who was happy with Deputy Minister Mutati’s presence at the workshop.
Sinkamba said disability and the rights of the disabled should not be ignored. He also charged that the Zambia government had ignored most of the international agreements pertaining to the disabled.
Sinkamba called on government to procure goods and services produced by businesses run by the disabled, and also urged government to allocate more money for programmes and services for people with disabilities.
David Mukwasa, manager of DISACARE, a Lusaka-based wheelchair manufacturing and repairing organisation run by disabled persons, blamed the disabled for not being as vocal as HIV/AIDS activists, whose plight is being recognised and included in every facet of life and policy planning.
"HIV activists are being more forceful than disability movements," Mukwasa said, charging that this contributed to disabled persons and issues not being adequately addressed by government and other bodies.
Equipment imported for use by disabled people and organisations is supposed to be exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT) and other duties. However, Zambia Revenue Authority officers at ports of entry and custom offices within the country tend to be difficult because they do not understand the issues, alleged Mukwasa.
Finance and National Planning Deputy Minister Mutati told the gathering that they should convince themselves that they are not disabled, but that what causes disability is the economy. He said that government recognises the importance of addressing the special interests and needs of persons with disabilities because of the disadvantage they find themselves in due to their disability.
This, he said, called for some preferential treatment of persons with disabilities in many aspects of government policies and laws.
Mutati told the workshop that in order to empower persons with disabilities in their productive ventures, K369.3 million (US$89,000) had been allocated to the National Trust Fund for the Disabled and a total of K1.85 billion (US$446,000) had been allocated to the Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities whose main objective is to address the various interests of disabled people.
The National Vocational Rehabilitation Centre in Ndola has been allocated K323 million (US$77,800) while the Zambia National Library for the Blind has been allocated K92.3 million (US$22,250) and a further K14.3 billion (US$3.4 million) has been allocated for the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme whose majority clients are people with disabilities.
"This brings the total amount allocated for persons with disabilities to K17.8 billion (US$4.2 million). This is besides other safenet allocations under the Ministry of Community Development and other social services, which are also accessible by persons with disabilities," Mutati said.
He also said that the deductible income for companies employing disabled people has been increased from K240,000 (US$58) to K500,000 (US$120).
The minister also disclosed that government was in the process of amending the Persons With Disabilities Act Number 33 of 1996 so that persons with disabilities could enjoy freedom of movement and other freedoms they were entitled to.
Mutati also said government was trying to remove barriers that people with disabilities face so that they could enjoy their freedom of movement and contribute to national development.
"We are beginning to provide an environment to encourage companies to employ people with disabilities," Mutati said.
Workshop participants resolved that there should be tax rebates for: parents or guardians who have children with disabilities; bus operators with buses that are accessible to the disabled; and tax exemptions on motor vehicles imported for their personal and domestic use.
They also proposed that there be tax exemptions on any appliance that compensated for person's disabilities. They also called for zero taxes on pay-as-you-earn income for people with disabilities.