By Matt Maura
Bahamas Information Services
NASSAU, The Bahamas – Former Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army in The Bahamas Lester Ferguson has been appointed Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the National Commission for Persons with Disability.
Mr. Ferguson was the first Bahamian to serve as Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army in The Bahamas and was also its longest serving Divisional Commander, having served in that capacity for ten consecutive years.
During his tenure, Mr. Ferguson oversaw “a period of significant expansion” for Salvation Army in The Bahamas and also had oversight of the Erin Gilmour School for the Blind and the Adult Blind Workshop.
“Lester Ferguson has a wealth of experience as an administrator; he is very knowledgeable of the issues facing the community of persons with disabilities and gave invaluable input at various stages of the development of the national legislation for persons with disabilities,” Minister of Social Services and Community Development, the Hon. Melanie Sharon Griffin said Friday in making the announcement.
“The position of Executive Secretary is extremely critical as this individual will be responsible for ensuring the execution of the functions of the National Commission in accordance with the legislation and also manage and administer the affairs of the National Commission.
“He is eminently qualified for this position having risen through the ranks of Salvation Army International and has served in several countries throughout the Caribbean.”
Minister Griffin said the Ministry has also identified two persons to fill the positions of Deputy Executive Secretary and Administrative Assistant. She said those appointments, in addition to the appointment of Mr. Ferguson, should result in the acceleration of the work of the National Commission in facilitating the implementation of the legislation “for the benefit of persons with disabilities.”
The 15-member National Commission for Persons with Disabilities was appointed December 2014, for a period of three years. Charles DeCosta Bethel was appointed Chairman, while Derek Nottage was elected Deputy Chairman in voting amongst the Commissioners.
Chairman Bethel said the National Commission has been meeting on a regular basis and has already identified a number of key areas for “immediate attention.”
“One of those is the assistance that is granted by the National Insurance Board at this point in time. All of the persons with disabilities receive assistance from NIB, however, if they were to obtain any employment – no matter how little remuneration that employment would provide, they would lose this assistance.
“And so we are currently working with National Insurance to provide a facility that would be similar to what they currently provide for persons who are on pension, whereby persons with disabilities can obtain work and receive some remuneration and still retain the assistance they receive from National Insurance until such time as both sources accumulate to the minimum wage.
“When these persons receive increased remunerations, they can then become contributors to the National Insurance Board so that when they attain retirement age, they can then officially receive a pension.”
Mr. Bethel said another area that has been marked high priority by Commissioners is the issue of ‘handicapped parking.’ He said there are a number of businesses throughout the country that do not have handicapped-designated areas and that where there are designated areas, those areas are being “randomly abused” by members of the general public.
“Consequently when persons with disabilities try to access these parking spaces, it is difficult for them to do so. We have made this a priority.”
The third area, Mr. Bethel said, is accessibility to businesses.
“A number of business places do not have comfortable accesses for persons with disabilities. For instance, a lack of ramps with the proper slope for a wheelchair to access the entrances to buildings, and there is also the problem of having a lack of facilities within those establishments as well with regards to heights of counters, lavatory access.
“We have been working very diligently to address these issues since our appointment in December and will continue to do so now that the Secretariat has been established and we have the Executive Secretary, a Deputy Executive Secretary and an Administrative Assistant in place,” Mr. Bethel added.
Mr. Ferguson categorized his appointment as “a wonderful opportunity to serve the Secretariat and the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.”
“I certainly look forward to working with the National Commission and supporting all of its endeavours as required by the new legislation. I know that much has already been done in terms of the groundwork and I am certain that as I, and the other members of the Secretariat, support and undergird the work of the National Commission that we will make great progress together.”