Wheelchair quest spurs reform

Wheelchair quest spurs reform

In a remarkable display of resolve, Monthon Phetsang manoeuvred his wheelchair through highway traffic for hundreds of kilometres to reclaim his rights as a disabled citizen. By doing so, the 48-year-old man has single-handedly exposed the bureaucratic hurdles endured by millions of disabled people in Thailand.

Last week, he captured media attention as he journeyed from his hometown in Sukhothai to Bangkok in his mechanical wheelchair, protesting welfare cuts and fighting to regain his disability allowance.

The sight of a disabled man navigating his wheelchair on an arduous journey for justice stirred public sentiment, prompting swift action from the sluggish bureaucracy to rectify the embarrassing situation.

Injured in a work accident, Mr Monthon began receiving 800 baht monthly as part of state welfare benefits for people with disabilities last year. However, his entitlement was abruptly revoked in October.

He was informed that his eligibility for the disability allowance was rescinded because his name was listed in the Central House Registration, which prohibits members from engaging in legal transactions. Consequently, the Comptroller General's Department, responsible for welfare support, revoked his allowance.

Despite his genuine disability, local authorities declined assistance, prompting Mr Monthon's wheelchair odyssey to reclaim his rights.

According to the law, all Thais must have identification cards and house registration with real physical addresses. However, many no longer reside at those registered addresses, have become impossible to locate, or have found no new addresses.

For this group, their names are transferred to the virtual central house registration system. As elections approach, individuals with no-show records or those not residing at registered addresses are also relegated to the Central House Registration record to ensure accurate voter representation.

However, individuals in this central registration system lose many legal rights, including the ability to obtain ID cards upon their expiration, certified copies of house registration for legal transactions and the right to vote -- fundamental rights for all citizens.

In essence, they become second-class citizens -- all 210,239 of them in the Central Household Registration system. To regain their rights, they must register with a physical address, insist the registration authorities. However, this solution still discriminates against vulnerable groups like the homeless who lack an official address to register, so they continue to miss out on many legal rights and welfare benefits.

For those living on state land or in forests, the authorities give them temporary household registrations. Despite possessing the same rights as individuals in regular households, their "temporary" status often results in discriminatory treatment, such as higher electricity charges.

Depriving citizens of equal legal rights solely based on their registration status violates Section 27 of the constitution, which mandates equal rights and prohibits discrimination. Mr Monthon was reportedly transferred to the Central Household Registration due to his arrest in 2020, resulting in the loss of his legal rights and welfare benefits. This practice must be abolished as it violates citizens' constitutional rights.

Currently, access to universal healthcare requires only an ID card. The Interior Ministry, responsible for household registration, and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, responsible for disability allowances, must collaborate to enable ID cards to serve as access points for disability allowances.

Following the media frenzy, Mr Monthon expeditiously received a new ID card, was reinstated into the regular house registration system and had the 800-baht disability allowance returned to his bank account. Unwavering, he continued his protest, determined to reach the Comptroller General's Department to demand changes.

The primary goal of his protest, he said, was beyond personal concerns. It was a crusade to expose injustices and bureaucratic hurdles faced by countless others with disabilities, and demanding reform to restore their rights.

One essential reform is to authorise the Comptroller General's Department to directly transfer disability allowances to recipients without intervention from local administrative officials. People with disabilities are entitled to welfare allowances, regardless of their place of residence. Additionally, the Interior Ministry must cease depriving individuals listed in the Central Household Registration system of any legal rights.

Monthon Phetsang's ordeal underscores the urgent need for reform of Thailand's registration system. In light of the injustice and systemic inequalities that affect hundreds of thousands of people, the government must amend laws and practices that deprive disabled people of their rights.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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