BY JORDAN SIMEON-PHIRI
The Malawi Union for the Blind (MUB) executive director Ezekiel Kumwenda has asked government to consider imposing a duty-free status on all braille materials to enable many visually impaired people to have access to reading materials and attain education.
In a statement released on Monday, ahead of the World Braille Day on January 4 which is also the birth day of a French national who inverted braille writing materials Lois Braille, Kumeanda said braille writing materials, printers and money identification devices are deterrent to attainment of education as most people cannot afford to buy them due to high taxes charged.
Reads part of the statement: “MUB regards braille as an essential tool for literacy and lifelong learning for the blind, their freedom of expression and opinion as well as social inclusion as enshrined in articles 21 and 24 of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 which focuses on inclusion and equitable quality of education and promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all.
“In celebrating the World Braille Day, MUB is congratulating the National Planning Commission (NPC) for providing the Malawi 2063 agenda document in accessible format to the blind and visually impaired people. MUB is also congratulating the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) for awareness campaign regarding the new K5, 000 bank note it is introducing in February this year.”
In an interview, Kumwenda said the call to impose a permanent duty free waiver on braille material is justifiable, saying braille materials are not manufactured locally thereby making them unaffordable to average blind and visually impaired people.
He said: “Equipment such as Perkins braille machine, money readers, embossing machines, braille papers, braille wrist watches are not manufactured in Malawi and they attract a lot of tax when importing them. Therefore, exemption of duty on these materials will be a milestone.
Kumwenda has also asked government to domesticate and ratify the Africa Disability Protocol to enable the blind and visually impaired to start benefitting from the protocol.
In an interview, a Karonga based journalist Lusekelo Mhango who is also a second year Communication Studies student at Mzuzu University said that is a straight forward issue taking into consideration that the machines are rare and very expensive to import and are used by very few people.
“The call is genuine because we are few in number but struggling. Imagine most of these higher learning institutions don’t have embossing machines to use to print braille examination papers for their students. It’s really hectic and the waiver can really help a number of visually impaired students,” he said.
However, government spokesperson Gospel Kazako referred us to Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati who urged MUB to follow procedures by engaging their line ministry’s directorate to come up with a paper to be tabled in Parliament for deliberation on the same.
She said: “Let MUB put that in writing by engaging their line ministry or the Ministry of Finance because this is the right time to engage the ministry so that they consider that proposal”.