Former Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin.
By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Ministry of Social Services is in a “complete crisis,” according to former Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin.
Mrs Griffin made this assessment while speaking with The Tribune about the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) and general state of the ministry. She questioned whether the ministry is being “allowed” to operate as it should.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act was passed unanimously in the House of Assembly in 2014. It mandated that every public building in the country be easily accessible to those who are blind, deaf, use a wheelchair, or have other disabilities requiring particular accommodations. These buildings must also have sufficient accessible parking spaces.
Ultimately a deadline of December 31, 2017 was set to do this. That deadline has passed and a great number of public spaces, including government buildings, have not complied. Despite repeated requests, officials in the Minnis administration have not said if the regulations will be enforced.
When asked her perspective on how the government is handling the enforcement of the disability law, Mrs Griffin said although the regulations came into place “automatically” at the end of last year, as far as she is aware “really nothing substantive has been done with regard to the provisions of the act” since the Minnis administration assumed office last May.
“(But) there are some questions to be asked with regard to the total situation at Social Services,” she added.
This includes the disability law and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
Mrs Griffin said: “We do know that there is a secretariat where the executive secretary and the assistant executive secretary have both resigned.”
When asked what the Ministry of Social Services did previously to ensure compliance with the law, Mrs Griffin said: “From when the act came in we would have publicised it. The commission - through the executive secretary - they would have been moving around the country and dialoguing with persons. And so some places would have come in (line).
“The last provisions that would have come in were supposed to be the provisions whereby there would be penalties or... repercussions with regard to the enforcement of persons not parking in disabled parking spots. And then of course, accessibility of buildings.
“Inspectors were supposed to be in place who were supposed to be responsible for moving around to different public places and trying to ensure that they were accessible. And the commission has carried really the implementation for the act in conjunction with the secretariat.
“And whether they have been allowed or…. enabled is another question that ought to be asked— whether the secretariat with the commission has been given what they need to ensure that the provisions of the act are brought into force (by the government).
“All I could say is I do not think that they’ve been able to carry out their duties as they ought to.”
She also spoke about the importance of her former ministry.
“You will find that Social Services is one of the most important ministries in the country because it speaks directly to the social welfare of the most vulnerable amongst us,” said Mrs Griffin.
“You’re talking about the elderly, indigent persons or persons in need of social assistance, persons with disabilities, and you’re talking about children. And you will find that right now Social Services is definitely not operating the way it ought to. If you go on the streets, there are persons complaining about not being able to get social assistance.
“You’ll find that all of these social workers, they know what to do. But are they being allowed to do it? That’s a question you need to ask.
“But we have a serious crisis at Social Services. And there’s a whole lot (of issues). For example… the RISE programme has been aborted. That is the programme that we had in place… to combat poverty in families and to break the cycle of poverty in poor families. And that programme has been stopped.
“The multi-purpose building for persons with disabilities, developmental disabilities, that we were just in the final stages of going to build, that has been aborted.
“There’s a whole lot not happening in Social Services.”