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Parliament structure inconveniences disabled

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — The Principal Chief of Taung, Moeketsi Moletsane, took his Senate oath of allegiance in the public gallery of Parliament because of his physical incapacitation which continues to hamper his movements.
The chief was involved in a car accident in 2002, which severely injured him.
He has not been able to access the Senate without being carried by workers in that chamber.
On Friday, he could not reach the “well of parliament” portion of the House where members stand to take their oath.
Instead, the President of the Senate, Chief Letapata Makhaola, broke the tradition and allowed Moletsane to read his oath from the public gallery after first imploring members to bear with the injured chief as his injuries made it impossible for the Chief to reach the “well of parliament” position to read his oath.
Chief Moletsane could also not reach the well area to cast his vote for the deputy president of Senate.
He instead sent his trusted man to insert his ballot into the box.
This is not the first time that the architecture of the House has proved highly inconvenient for disabled MPs.
In February when MPs crossed the floor to join the Democratic Congress (DC), the then Thabana-Morena MP Sello Ntšinyi was fetched from Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital to vote but he could not reach the well of parliament area because he was wheelchair bound.
Leaders of other parties then complained that it was wrong that Ntšinyi was counted as being present because he was not in the well of parliament area in line with tradition.
However, then Speaker Ntlhoi Motsamai, ruled that Ntšinyi was present.
Earlier in 2010, the Taung MP Keketso Rantšo who is now Minister of Public Works in the coalition government, spent the better part of the year sitting in the press gallery after she had a car accident.
Rantšo could not participate in parliament debates because people outside the “well of parliament” are not allowed to speak.
Inaccessibility of parliament by disabled people is expected to come to an end when the new parliament building atop the Mpilo Mountain, built with the aid of the Chinese government, is handed to the government.
Last week the new parliament speaker Sephiri Motanyane and his deputy Lekhetho Rakuoane took parliament staff on an inspection tour and hoped the handover would be done soon.
“We had hoped that the eighth parliament would be opened in this building but it seems things have not been according to our wishes,” Motanyane said.
This building has all that is required to be accessible to all.
For the last decade, the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD) has engaged in a campaign to lobby the government to pass laws and policies that will allow disabled people to access all public buildings.
This year LNFOD complained that some disabled people voted by proxy because they could not access polling stations.
“Most of the polling stations were located in areas which were not accessible to people with physical disabilities. Many disabled voters had to vote by proxy or forego their right to vote,” Nkhasi Sefuthi, spokesperson for the LNFOD said.

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