Public administration re/form – availability of public services or administrative stumbling?

Public administration reform is aimed at introducing necessary changes in order to enable accessibility of public services to all the citizens, i.e. participation in decision-making process based on transparency, removal of administrative and other barriers, faster business, available prices and equal conditions for all. This is certainly a multifaceted and interconnected process and citizens must not only be an objects of rights and passive users of the reform outcomes.

Persons with disabilities should be in focus of the public administration reform and all its principles, particularly within the principle of service delivery for marginalised groups, not only because they the public services beneficiaries, but also their financiers.

In a special focus on reform of public administration and all its principles, and so with regard to the principle of public services of a marginalized groups, in this case persons with disabilities must be in focus, not only because they are users of public services, but also and their financiers.

However, if we consider segments of public administration in terms of accessibility of public services in the context of Montenegrin administration or even legislation, we must not leave out the fact that jurisdiction for providing and accessibility of services for persons with disabilities is not defined. Attempts to determine jurisdiction for this issue when passing the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities, and later preparation of the Analysis of the compliance of Montenegrin regulations with the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (1), were reduced on discussion without the conclusion – nothing was defined. Even more, accessibility as a specific right (2)  guaranteed for people with disabilities was reduced to accessibility of physical environment and traffic, while information and communication remained narrowly defined, while services have been simply omitted because none of the persons responsible for providing them understood what this principle and right means in practice.

In the context of the rights of persons with dissabilities, it is important to understand that all public services could be available to disabled person, but not simultaneously accessible, if accessibility as a precondition for their use is ignored or omitted (3).

I will explain this on the example of realization of one of the basic citizens’ rights in democratic society –  right to elect and to be elected, i.e. right to vote, the most powerful democratic mean and weapon of citizens, the one from which representatives of the people we elect should be afraid of us, and not, conversely, us afraid of them. Not so low number of disabled persons are deprived of this right, while for others it is limited, and I can conclude that there is almost no disabled person who is entitled to this right without any barriers.

For disabled persons to which this right is guaranteed and to some extent enabled, in practice the process looks like a “good” night mare.

To exercise the right to vote it is necessary to have personal documents: identity card and/or passport. This implies going to the local security center  in our residence town, where the following application should be submitted: application completed on the prescribed form, excerpt from the birth register, certificate of citizenship and photo taken on the spot. However,  the security centers’ premisses are not accessible for most of disabled persons, the application form must be completed with ballpoint pen, while the form itself is not adjusted to a certain number of people with disabilities. Experiences show that some disabled persons are being photographed in front of the security centers’ premises, where they also fill out the necessary forms and take over their identity card. Still, they pay the same price for that service like all other citizens, and are treated as being provided with “additional service”.

For visually impaired persons or persons with one or without both hands, the process of filling the forms and signing the papers when taking over their identitiy cards is a special procedure. Some desibled persons were not aloud to sign the papers in a way which is suitable for them, nor to, if they can, put  a finger print. In such cases, officers of the security centers have put and they  continue to put the label of illiteracy. In that way someone with university degree is being marked as illiterate.

All this, indeed, persons with disabilities can also do at home, but only by paying additional service. Besides the fact that they have not been given the equal and unobstructed services and procedures, they need to pay additional services, compared to other citizens.  Therefore, “procedural or reasonable adaptation”, in this case, represents discrimination based on disability because they predict different and unfavorable treatment for persons with disabilities, thus creating a false impression that they contribute to the exercise of procedural rights. The State, avoiding responsibility for existence of barriers, states that: “services within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) are carried out at home and with the help of mobile teams, due to the inability of the clients to personally submit requests, including the proxy of the person who will take actions on behalf of the client”.

The same goes for electoral right on election day – inaccessible polling stations, polling booth and box, followed by incredible violations of the law, such as “enabling” voting in front of pooling station, violating secrecy and immediacy of voting, inserting a ballot on behalf of the voter or lowering the box, either way violating the law. Though this right we can perform from our homes too, rested in the armchair all the day waiting for electoral board who already knows for who we are going to vote in advance, and it lasts and lasts until the reforms passes, and we get stuck in processes that should bring us closer to a modern, faster and more efficient administration. Nobody bothered to calculate our time, while our dignity was reformed by others.

Marina Vujačić

Activist for rights of persons with disabilities

The blog is produced within a project “Civil Society for Good Governance: To Act and Account!” implemented by Institute Alternative, Bonum, Natura, New Horizon and Center for Investigative Journalism, funded by the European Union within Civil Society Facility Programm  and the Balkan Trust for Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (GMF). The contents of the report are the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the donors.

(1) The Analysis of the compliance of Montenegrin regulations with the Law on Prohibition of the Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is produced as an obligation of the Government of Montenegro regarding the Conclusion of the Parliament of Montenegro adopted upon passing the Law on Prohibition of the Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities, at a session held on June 26, 2015.

 (2) Accessibility is the special right of persons with disabilities guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and includes accessibility of the built physical environment and facilities, information and communication, traffic, ITC and services.

 (3) Availability of services implies developed and ensured public services used by all the citizens, or special services designed for persons with disability, while accessibility implies possibility of access and use of this services by persons with different types of disabilities in the place, time and form, as well as to the extent which suits them most.

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