Nothing About Us Without Us
“I got injured and everything changed overnight. I found myself on the other side of society, in that segregated segment which, in my understanding, was a place forothers.” These words belong to Giorgi Akhmeteli. Giorgi uses a wheelchair and currently leads Accessible Environment for All, one of the most active organizations focusing on persons with disabilities (PWD). “The environment in Georgia actually offers no chance to reintegrate into society the way you are, as numerous barriers prevent that,” said Giorgi.
Like representatives of other PWD organizations, Giorgi also thinks that the services provided by the state are insufficient and of low quality. “The money allocated for particular services is not enough because it is impossible to provide quality services with this money. The provision of services is not monitored and programs intended for PWDs often fail to actually serve the aim of inclusion,” said Giorgi.
Alex Cote, an expert in PWD issues who has been invited by Europe Foundation, believes that the solution lies in building the capacity of PWD organizations. According to him: “PWD organizations should conduct needs analysis themselves, prioritize issues and budget necessary initiatives in order to conduct effective advocacy and have the national legislation and budget meet PWD needs.”
Alex Cote works on PWD issues in many regions of the world and is well-aware of the specifics of many countries. Europe Foundation invited him to Georgia to prepare a report within the framework of the Engage and Monitor for Change program. This program has worked for many years on improving public finance management and budget transparency in Georgia.
“When the program was launched our aim was to train the civil sector, as part of a checks and balance system, in issues of public finance management in order to enable them to effectively monitor and control budget means,” said Nino Khurtsidze, the Vice-President of Europe Foundation. According to her, during these years, a number of steps were taken in this direction: trainings for civil sector organizations were conducted on the issues of public finance management; projects on engagement in the budgetary process and budget transparency were funded; an advocacy campaign was launched on the national level, et cetera.
“After years of systemic work we decided to find a thematic area that would be interesting for our partners and at the same time, would help identify the main problems which plague public finance management,” Nino Khurtsidze said.
It was thus decided to bring together the PWD community and to monitor public expenditure and budgeting process from their perspective. It is towards this end that Alex Cote arrived in Georgia and met with members of the PWD community to jointly look into the situation. This implies determining the compliance of the country’s budget with relation to the convention on the protection of PWD rights, which Georgia joined in 2013.
“The convention implies the full integration of PWDs and the protection of their rights. As Georgia committed itself to conform to the main principles of the convention, the country’s budget must also be designed so as to implement these principles,” Alex Cote said.
A two-day intensive training on PWD integration, conducted by Cote, was attended by 15 NGOs all working on the integration of PWDs. “We must jointly identify problems in public finance management in terms of PWD engagement. We look at current expenditures – how much is being spent, where the shortfalls are, which sectors do not have any expenditure for PWDs; or, for instance, if the budget is not enough, how much it would be; if it is enough, whether it really serves the objective of inclusion; we also evaluate whether the system allows PWDs to engage in in public finance management,” Cote said.
His first dialogue with the PWD community was not an easy one. On the one hand, 15 NGOs each of which works on various types of PWD needs, find it difficult to achieve agreement, while on the other hand, the level of disillusion among this community is very high. “This is not characteristic of Georgia alone. The PWD community encounters numerous barriers across the world. This might be a result of poor government activity, but PWD organizations must be better prepared to succeed in having their interests reflected in the country’s budget,” Cote said.
It is well known that, in any country on the world, PWDs and their families are poorer than those without disabilities. It is easy to guess why this is so – disability affects not only a person but also the people around him/her, family members, and a PWD can change the daily life of the family.
“In reality, poverty results from the fact that PWDs fail to fully integrate into society; that there are problems in the access to opportunities, no inclusive environment, so on and so forth. However, dissatisfaction about these issues is a good sign that there is progress and that Georgia is on the right track,” said Cote.
The key message conveyed by Cote to PWD organizations is that they need to clearly establish their goals and wishes. “It is much easier to say what does not work than to figure out what to do to make things work better. This requires the knowledge of the system and the competence,” Alex said.
In Georgia, Cote works together with budget specialist Mikheil Kukava. With his assistance, Cote will evaluate the conformity of Georgia’s central and local budgets to the convention on the rights of PWDs. “We will look at data to identify possibilities and issues for advocacy by PWD organizations; then I will come back in November to share these main findings with the organizations and to jointly draw up recommendations concerning the more intensive integration of PWDs in public finance management,” said Cote.
The method applied by Alex Cote in his consulting activity matches the PWD slogan “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US.” He wants to engage PWD organizations operating in Georgia in the project. “They should know why these issues are so important - not because a consultant said so, but because this is done for their own interests. Advocacy must be conducted by the organizations themselves; no one can do that for them; it is therefore important to prepare recommendations together with them,” Alex said.
Europe Foundation has bigger plans after Cote finishes the report. “The main work starts after Alex completes this report. The report must identify those general and main factors that prevent the public finance management system from working properly. If these are identified, we will try to replicate this activity in other areas as well to enable, in addition to the PWD community, organizations working on other issues to also engage in public finance management and to advocate their interests,” Nino Khurtsidze said.