By Telnis Skuqi – Endri Keraj
Gjirokastra – The books and the computer are the greatest love for the 28 year old boy, Fatjon Puci even though he has lost his sight some 13 years ago. The eagerness to learn and the intelligence have made Fatjon to substitute the lost sight of his eyes with the endless light of the knowledge. He talks will a profound passion about the school, but he does not want to be prejudiced or underestimated by anyone.
Unfortunately he totally lost his sight by the beginning of the new century, in 2000, by the side of Drino river, while trying to catch fish with explosive. Fatjon has almost forgotten that event. It was the worst day in his whole life. He lost his sight due to carelessness, but, as he says, “the man does not have to give up in front of the misfortunes”.
It’s my dream to study law at the Tirana University. I like to be part of those who protect the law and give justice”, says Fatjon, adding that to get a diploma on justice is not so easy. But of course, the studies in law are not easy, but not impossible”, says Fatjoni, without dragging his hands from the keyboard of his computer, who perfectly speaks and writes three foreign languages, Italian, Greek and English.
Veledin Muçaj, the coordinator of the Blind People Association, says that the case of Fatjon is completely special, as he has gained all the goods by himself, only by studying. The Blind People Association in Gjirokastra, says Mucaj, has registered about 220 members, out of which 150 belong to the first category status and 70 in the second category. According to him, in the first category fall those people that have a zero sight, whereas in the second category fall those people who have a 0.09 percent sight.
“The people that fall under the first category benefit from the state the payment of a caretaker too, whereas the second category does not benefit, as they are considered capable and can take care of themselves”, explains Mucaj. The most concerning problem, according to Mucaj, is the life security in the town of Gjirokastra. “Many blind people have had accidents while walking on the streets. In general, the inhabitants are benevolent, but there also some ordinary cases of behaviors from some adolescents”, admits Mucaj. A problem that concerns them, highlights Mucaj, is the negligence of the local government, as according to him they are not considered to be on the priorities of this institution.
“Actually, there exists a law for the differentiation of taxes and tariffs for the blind people, nevertheless the local government does not respect it. To them, we are considered healthy people, even though we lack the sight of our eyes”, says Mucaj.
Different from Fatjon Mucaj, in the last years, the Gjirokastra blind people have been abandoned by the state. Everything started back in 2006. The right wing government that had just took the power, issued some bylaw acts which unfortunately weakened the existence of these people. Veledin Mucaj, assesses this situation as very concerning. The Association that he leads was established as a need in 1991 and up to 2006 it was functioning, as he says, wonderfully.
Veledin Muçaj, deputy chair of the Blind People Association
“After this year (2006) the things worsened. The government removed one by one some of our rights. It was the time when we were compensated for the taxes and we were also paid with 70% of the minimal salary. Nowadays, everything has changed negatively. The taxes are not different from the other normal tax payers, whereas the salary from 9870 that it was in 2006, it is currently 10,800 Leke”, says Mucaj.
The last stroke, continues Mucaj, came in 2011 with the compensation of the electricity bills.
“After CEZ Distribution privatized the transmission system of power, the Czech company in cooperation with the state “complotted” against the blind people. Before the privatization the blind were paying 20% of the electricity bill, the rest was compensated by the state. Now, the contrary is happening, 80 percent is paid by the individual and the 20 percent by them (state), admits Mucaj, who continues saying that during this “golden” period, the number of blind people was fictively increased from 220 in 1500 people.
“I fully understand the reaction of the state, but I cannot accept that together with the “dry hay to burn the wet one as well”. The government does have the structures that make the difference between the blind person and the swindler, – says Mucaj. He underlines that on regard to unreality of the membership they have asked support from the prosecutor’s office, something that has not been completed by the accuse organ , under the motivation that there were no abuses as far as the government has not reimbursed them.
Furthermore, Mucaj says that in 2007, with an order of the Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, (MPCSSHB), Spiro Ksera, there were removed the booklets of the blind people, whereas the status is released only by the State Social Service (SHSSH).
To him, the association has got four strokes by the state. Lack in the increase of the salary and the indexation of the payment for the blind according to the law, the removal of handing over the booklets of the blind in order to weaken the role of the association, the exclusion from the economic aid, and the return of the blindness payment from a social payment to an economic payment. The government allocates every year, continues Mucaj, a ridiculous fund, that are not enough even for the merest needs of the association.
“There are three branches in Gjirokastra region; that of Tepelena, Përmet and Gjirokastra. Every office minimally pays 3 thousand leke for the rent. In few words, the amout of money that the government has allocated for the association is simply ridiculious”, specifies Mucaj. He says that in January, this year, after some failed efforts for the compensation of the salaries, the association has registered the case to the judiciary institution for justice.
“Actually, the Association of Blind People has lawsuited some 13 local government units of Gjirokastra region. The trial was opened with only one,
Kristaq Lengo, Secretary of the Gjirokastra Regional Council
but we have seen that the court has become part with the state. They bring us around”, says Mucaj, while explaining that four are the criteria to gain the status of the blind people; the certification from the oculist, certification from the Commission of the Ability for Employment (KMC), the personal and family certification, and diagnosis from the family physician.
According to him, the KMC has been functioning in Gjirokastra from 1997 to 2000. After that is was located only in Tirana. “It’s now 13 years that the blind people travel to Tirana to benefit the status. It’s hardly for us to travel, at a time that the “strategists” abuse with our rights. We feel abandoned from the state”, concludes Mucaj.
Kristaq Lengo, secretary of Gjirokastra Regional Council, assesses as very concerning the problem related to the blind people, and he also accuses the central government in order to stimulate the local institutions , which in fact ‘has privatized” everything.
“Some years ago, it was the Gjirokastra Regional Council that defined the strategy on the categories in need, whereas the local government was allocating the fund. Nowadays is completely the contrary. These competences have been stolen from the central governance, says Lengo.
According to him, the central government considers the Gjirokastra Regional Council as an “intruder”. This institution is only spending papers to transfer in the account of the blind people some 60 thousand leke, the allocated fund from the state budget.
“The role of Regional Council is only on the administration. many competences have been transfered to the Prefecture and some others have been doubled”, says Lengo, who adds that this year the government has allocated a fund for the autic children with an amount of 10 million leke. This fund is now administered from a non profit organization, which from July has opened an autistic center in Gjirokastra city.
One of the most concerning problem that the Regional Council has, is the administration of blind people. Lengo says that it is rather impossible for this institution to interviene in their integration, even though there exists an office for the protection of this category. ” such a delicate structure can not function without the funds. The government has not allocated any lek”, emphasises Lengo.
Aurora Beçi, director of programming, development and public affairs to the Regional Council, underlines that this directory has interviened in only two serious cases, whereas for some hundred cases this directorate has not interviened due to lack of funds.
Aurora Beçi, director of programming in Regional Council
“The role of this directorate is to monitor, to inteviene and to rehabilitate the people in need. Up to now, we have privately solved everything with the help of the southern businessmen. We can not progress like that. It is unforgivable that in 2013 the people in need such as the orphans, Roma people or the blind to be treated without personality. The state has to show its power and not to abandon there categories”, adds Beci.
Related to the question why the regional council does not generate its own funds, Beci answers that this institution functions with the incomes that are generated by the 32 local governments, that unfortunately has been respected by only three local government units.
“The Regional Council does have funds only for the salaries and administrative expenses which are mainly stationaries and the institution does not have the right to deviate the budget without being approved in advance by the members of this council”, highlights Beci. Furthermore, Beci says that the institution has established the Commission for the Assessment of Needs (KVN) that is lead by the chair of Gjirokastra region, Sulo Mucobegaj.
“KVN has the legal obligation to conviene iys meetings two times in a year, but in the cases when the institution identifies the cases of violation and denigration, the seven members of this commission conviene extraordinary meetings” explains Beci, which clarifies that KVN has under its supervison even the abanadoned children, the orphan and Roma ones.
This year, conitnues Beci, there have been identified two cases of violence. These cases have been denounced by the victims themselves. The Police has reacted immediately. The State Social Service (SHSSH) has interviened for their rehabilitation, but has not given the final solution, due to lack of funds.
“Personaly I do not want to misjudge the amount of money that the state has allocated for the blind people, but I can not accept that these categories have been openly humiliated. Figures speak more than words. The government has “allocated” for this category only 60 thousand leke”, speaks Beci, who admits with sincerity that this is the first time that two investigative journalists discuss with her for such a subject.
Dhimitër Mejdi, the chief of the State Social Service (SHSSH) for Gjirokastra region, thinks that the state has to act on support of the category of
Dhimitër Mjedi, the chair of SHSSH-Gjirokastra
people in need. ‘It is true that the blind people have had “problems” in the last years from the reform that has been undertaken by the government. Nevertheless, they do not discuss about the bread, but on the standard”, specifies Mejdi. To him, the new government is expected to start the work in December as the system has to be clarified.
“Up to now, we do not have a clear system. We are talking about being a social state, but in fact no money has been allocated to protect the people in need. A blind person of the first group benefits by law the right for an accompainer, whereas the blind person that is clasified in the second group and his/her sight is 0.09 percent has the right to get a salary. In few words, we have two standards”, says Mejdi.
Sinan Tafaj, the chair of the Albanian Blind People Association, at the same time chair of the National Council of the People with Disabilities, explains all the reasons why the riformation of the “Status of Blind people” violates the rights of the members of this association.
“To the new law it is stipulated that the amount and the criterea of the benefit for the compensation of the electricity, urban transport and landline is defined by the Council of Ministers but in this project law it is not defined how much will be the amount of compensation, is expressed Tafaj , whereas he accepts that during the last years different people have abused with the “Status of blind people”. According to him, there have been identified abuses, this due to the lack of functioning of the state public adminsitration.
In fact this process brought the cleareance of the lists, especially for the former fictive beneficiaries. The number of the abusers goes to 25 thousand, at a time that the real number of the blind people and people with disabilities is 15 thousand, underlines Tafaj.
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