The fine for illegal parking in spaces for people with disabilities is increasing to €500.

The discussion on the proposed law submitted by the EDEK Member of Parliament Andreas Apostolou begins in the Transportation Committee of the Parliament. The law suggests an increase in fines for those who illegally park in spaces designated for people with disabilities.

Specifically, according to the proposed law, if someone illegally parks in a disabled (accessible) parking space for the first time, the fine increases from €300 to €500. However, in case a person repeats the offense, a fine will not be issued, but the individual will be subject to prosecution under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations, which stipulate that anyone violating them is guilty of an offense and is subject to imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of €1,708.

In the rationale of the proposed law, Mr. Apostolou states that “the modification is deemed necessary for the strict enforcement of the legal framework, in order to address problems related to the right of unhindered movement of persons with disabilities, which is a fundamental prerequisite for their participation in public life. There is an increase in the phenomenon of vehicle parking in spaces designated for disabled individuals by unauthorized persons.”

Apostolos: We need to also consider the issue of inspections by the police.

Andreas Apostolou stated: “I consider the current framework regarding checks and complaints about these violations to be inadequate. Organizations for people with disabilities, who have been invited to and will participate in today’s session, agree with me. The phenomenon of individuals illegally parking in these spaces is unfortunately observed very often, even in vital services such as hospitals. It is unacceptable for people with disabilities or parents with disabled children not to find parking spaces because of some irresponsible individuals who do not have the right to park.”

“We must note, however, that besides increasing fines, we also need to consider the checks conducted by the police. It seems that the checks are inadequate. We will try in Parliament to do what we can, to change the framework for penalties. At the same time, other measures need to be examined and implemented so that checks are increased and become more effective. That’s why we invited the police to participate in the discussion for a broader conversation. I contacted the Minister of Transportation, who supports the proposal I submitted. I believe there will be a good discussion to examine what we can do about this serious issue.”

The President of the Organization of Paraplegics in Cyprus, Dimitris Lambrianidis, stated regarding the issue: “The proposed law is in the right direction. However, as an organization, we consider it necessary to increase supervision by both the police and traffic wardens because the main problem is inadequate monitoring. People feel that they will not be punished, so they easily park illegally in disabled parking spaces.”

Source: offsite.com.cy

The important work being carried out in supported living accommodations in Cyprus.

Every individual, without exception, has the right to life. This should be considered a given. In recent years, significant steps have been taken regarding people with disabilities, as society tends to become more informed about these issues, developing greater sensitivity and understanding.

What many may not know is that in Cyprus, there are supported living residences for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. To shed light on this significant work of social integration taking place in these residences, Litsa Charalambous spoke to CITY. We met her at a residence for individuals with autism located in Limassol. Ms. Charalambous studied occupational therapy, pursued a postgraduate degree in equality and education issues, and later completed her doctoral thesis, which focused on the assessment and training of individuals with disabilities for their inclusion in the labor market. Subsequently, she attended numerous European conferences abroad but felt that the knowledge she gained couldn’t be effectively utilized in Cyprus.

Every individual, without exception, has the right to life. This should be considered a given. In recent years, significant steps have been taken regarding people with disabilities, as society tends to become more informed about these issues, developing greater sensitivity and understanding.

What many may not know is that in Cyprus, there are supported living residences for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. To shed light on this significant work of social integration taking place in these residences, Litsa Charalambous spoke to CITY. We met her at a residence for individuals with autism located in Limassol. Ms. Charalambous studied occupational therapy, pursued a postgraduate degree in equality and education issues, and later completed her doctoral thesis, which focused on the assessment and training of individuals with disabilities for their inclusion in the labor market. Subsequently, she attended numerous European conferences abroad but felt that the knowledge she gained couldn’t be effectively utilized in Cyprus.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a milestone in global history. It clarifies how all the rights and freedoms apply to these individuals with the aim of ensuring the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights. It also outlines the obligations of United Nations member states and suggests measures to satisfy the rights of persons with disabilities. Following an evaluation of Cyprus on how well it complies with this convention, approximately 70 negative points were identified, leading the Cypriot government to essentially establish supported living accommodations. From 2014 to 2020, eleven new supported living accommodations were established in all the provinces of Cyprus. After a new announcement, another seven accommodations were put into operation in March 2020. Then, in September 2021, four more homes were opened, two for individuals with autism in Limassol and one home for five individuals with intellectual disabilities in the Larnaca province. “We bear full responsibility from the beginning to set up these homes, but the state covers the financial support through European funds. The organization is closely monitored and supervised. Every month, we provide a report on each individual, their visits, when they leave the house, and the therapies they receive. The social inclusion department of the Ministry of Labor also visits the homes twice a week to ensure the proper functioning of the residence.”

Difficult cases

These homes were called upon to manage the most difficult cases. Authorities had in mind three specific individuals who were very challenging to handle; they were moved from place to place, and no solution could be found. “We are proud that these individuals came to us, and despite there being no way to manage them, we succeeded. These are individuals who have not learned to have functional relationships. Families reach a dead end, and with our supervision, they consider it a miracle because they now see a different person. The change in their behavior is staggering. It is a great joy for us, albeit with a lot of effort, to help individuals with autism,” emphasized Ms. Charalambous. The approach they use in these homes is called ‘positive behavior support.’ In other words, there is no punishment; you set aside the negatives, ignore them, and focus only on small, positive behaviors to reinforce. With this model, you highlight positive communication methods, which, as it seems, works in such cases.

Their daily life

People with autism living in these homes follow a routine, which is very important for them: for example, they wake up in the morning, take a shower, and brush their teeth. Furthermore, there are person-centered programs. Sessions with psychologists or visits from someone involved in the arts, for instance, are conducted to work with each individual separately. Activities are provided by specialists as well as by the staff as part of socialization. In some cases, staff members accompany individuals outside the home to eat at a place they like. “We want to make their lives as normal as possible. Of course, this changes depending on each person’s psychological state. When someone doesn’t feel so good psychologically, the decision is made to go outside for a walk. We look at each individual separately, their mood, and their desires,” noted Ms. Charalambous. As Ms. Charalambous mentioned, the many organized activities resemble an institution, something they want to avoid. In general, the goal of these homes is to transition from Institutional Care to Care in the Community, which means deinstitutionalizing people with disabilities, many of whom lived in closed care units.

In the home where individuals with autism reside, 95% of the activities that take place are individual. However, sometimes they can all be together, always under the supervision of the staff, for example, in the living room of the house to play a group game.

“The fact that they are housemates does not mean they have to become friends. We certainly have the goodwill for them to have good relationships with each other. However, we will pursue a group activity only if they themselves desire it and if such a group activity brings them joy. If it causes them stress, why should they do it?” is what it states.

“The house is quite spacious, with several rooms, and each person has their own room. ‘Now, after years, they know each other, they know who their housemates are, but they don’t bother each other,'” is what it says.

On the contrary, the situation in the homes for people with intellectual disabilities in Larnaca is entirely different. There, they live like a family and all have their coffee together. However, as mentioned to us, this is not the primary goal. “‘The main concern is to have a good quality of life and to do things they themselves desire,'” emphasized.

The goals

Asked about the goals she has set, she mentioned that regarding the professional aspect, the goal is for this organization to grow, as there are thoughts to take on more homes. “I am someone who loves what I do very much, and I like to meet needs wherever they exist. I certainly study things thoroughly before taking any action so that when the time comes to implement them, I know I can accomplish them in the best possible way, as I committed from the beginning,” she said. Her desire is for the “transition” program to become a recognized educational college. “I don’t believe I will change the world. But we all have an obligation in our own field to do whatever we can to take a step to change our surroundings,” she emphasized.

Message for the future

Ms. Charalambous views positive developments regarding the rights of people with disabilities but expressed her dissatisfaction with the promotion of models for children with “special abilities,” which she considers discriminatory. “It’s not about special abilities. These are individuals like us who have some disability. This is how we should say things. It’s called a disability; they are not people with special needs. In conventions and records recognized worldwide, the terms used are these. We say intellectual disability or physical disability. And certainly, you don’t characterize people by their disability but by their personality,” she concluded.

Source: City.com.cy

NGOs – Myths and Realities

The establishment of a legislative framework for institutionalized, regular dialogue between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the state, for a strong civil society in Cyprus, meaning a potent organized social action of groups or individuals for the common good, is the primary goal of the Civil Society Advocates Foundation, as stated by its president, Eleni Karayianni, to “Φ” newspaper. In her message stressing the need for dialogue and cooperation, Dr. Anastasia Michaelidou Kamenu, the head of the Department of Associations, Clubs, and SMEs at the Ministry of Interior, promptly expressed her willingness to comment on the views and positions of Civil Society Advocates as presented in a recent document titled “10 Myths and Realities about Non-Governmental Organizations” released by the Foundation.

The document was prepared within the framework of the European project “For a Strong Civil Society: Practicing Politics and Strengthening Skills for the Empowerment of Civil Society” in Cyprus. The project is funded by the Active Citizens Fund Cyprus program, which is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

It should be noted that the Civil Society Advocates group has been registered as a Foundation since 2018, in accordance with the relevant law of 2017 for Associations and Foundations. As emphasized by Ms. Eleni Karayianni, the group’s president, they aim to contribute to the empowerment of civil society organizations and the improvement of the framework in which they operate through their voluntary actions. The founding members of the group, along with President Eleni Karayianni, are Marina Vasilara as Vice President, Maria Tsiarta as Secretary, and Klairi Papazoglou as Treasurer.

Differences, mode of operation, and independence

As emphasized by Eleni Karayianni, non-governmental organizations, meaning the organized civil society, play a crucial role in a society, as they represent the voice of independent active citizens and engage in various fields, providing services, programs, and policy recommendations. However, there are many myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions about NGOs, some of which are addressed in this document, while also presenting their role and significance in a contemporary society.

Myth 1: There is no difference between the terms “non-governmental organization” (NGO), “charitable organization,” and “civil society.”

Reality: While there are some commonalities, these terms are not synonymous. There is a general impression that NGOs mean “Non-Profit Organizations” and that these organizations mainly consist of charitable organizations. However, the acronym NGO stands for “Non-Governmental Organization” in English and “Μη Κυβερνητική Οργάνωση” in Greek. NGOs are inherently non-profit and independent of government services and structures. Charitable organizations are NGOs that, due to their nature, are approved by the Ministry of Finance. Not all NGOs are charitable organizations. All NGOs are part of civil society (Κοινωνία των Πολιτών – ΚτΠ), a term that has now been established and refers to all forms of social action carried out by individuals or groups not connected to the government or governed by it. Often, politicians, journalists, and ordinary citizens refer to “civil society” when they want to refer to “the general public” or even to voters, indicating that there is still a long way to go for a proper understanding of what civil society truly means and to use the term correctly in Cyprus.

Myth 2: All non-governmental organizations operate under the same regulations and regime.

Reality: NGOs have different legal forms in Cyprus. They can be Associations, based on their members, with at least 20 members and a five-member Board of Directors. They can be Foundations with a three-member Board of Directors but without members. They can be Unions/Federations, where their members are other legal entities, i.e., other NGOs. Finally, they can be Non-Profit Companies and Beneficiary Foundations. This translates into different modes of administration and decision-making, as well as different legal obligations.

Myth 3: Non-governmental organizations do the same work as the government, so why should they exist?

Reality: NGOs contribute to the well-being of society and strengthen pluralism and democracy, but they never replace the government. Many NGOs provide services to citizens that are not adequately offered by public services, such as social benefits, healthcare, and specialized support for specific groups (e.g., people with disabilities). NGOs are independent entities that often pressure the government to improve the well-being of society while offering specialized services and expertise. They also play a significant role in important social and political issues, where an independent voice is necessary, such as human rights, poverty reduction, gender equality, environmental protection, as well as cultural and artistic matters. In every modern state, efforts are made to empower the independent voice and action of NGOs, and there is often dialogue and close collaboration between the state and these organizations in shaping policies. In Cyprus, there is still progress to be made in this area.

Myth 4: Non-governmental organizations should rely on volunteering and not employ people.

Reality: Although most NGOs in Cyprus rely solely on volunteers, it is commonly accepted that employing staff enhances an organization’s ability to achieve its long-term goals. Employing people does not mean that an organization ceases to be non-profit. Furthermore, when an organization employs staff, it has the flexibility to offer even more specialized services to the public, contributing to a more effective implementation of its goals.

Financial oversight, funding, and transparency

Myth 5: Non-governmental organizations make significant profits, and there is no financial oversight.

Reality: By law, NGOs are entitled to have a surplus in their accounts, which, however, should be used solely for their purposes. What they are not allowed to do, as it would result in losing their non-profit status, is to distribute profits to their members or Board of Directors. All registered NGOs have a legal obligation to submit annual reports, including their financial accounts. Those who fail to meet these obligations can be removed from the relevant registers.

Myth 6: Non-governmental organizations secure significant funding from Cyprus and abroad.

Reality: The majority of NGOs rely heavily on volunteerism and contributions. Only a small number of organizations are able to obtain and utilize funding, either from the Republic of Cyprus or from highly competitive funding programs to support their actions. In the case of funded NGOs, their financials are strictly monitored to ensure the funds are used for the intended purposes. Moreover, all NGOs are now required by law to submit annual financial reports and, in many cases, audited accounts. The government and international organizations stress the need for transparency and accountability both in the operation of NGOs and the use of their financial resources.

Myth 7: Non-governmental organizations operate unchecked, and their role in Cyprus is suspicious.

Reality: NGOs often engage in political pressure and criticism on various issues, which can make them targets on different levels. However, the legal framework ensures sufficient transparency and control. Reports from Moneyval in 2019 and 2022 on NGOs in Cyprus indicated that the government’s control measures may discourage or hinder NGOs, as all organizations are treated as “high risk.” These reports recommend the establishment of proportional and objective risk criteria, along with close cooperation between organizations and the government to develop good practices. Our position is that the government’s practices may pose a risk of stifling NGOs and violating their rights.

Myth 8: Foreign governments and organizations fund NGOs to promote their own interests.

Reality: NGOs seek funding from both local and international sources for their programs. Funding is provided based on competitive criteria, and the financial accounts of NGOs receiving funds are submitted annually to the relevant authorities, providing information about their objectives, funding sources, and amounts. There is no evidence to support the claim that NGOs use their funds for purposes other than their intended activities.

Myth 9: Many NGOs are funded by organizations that also finance terrorism and/or launder “dirty” money.

Reality: To address this concern, both foreign and Cypriot governments have increased their scrutiny of NGOs. International organizations stress that control measures must be proportionate to the type of activities each organization conducts. The latest Moneyval reports for NGOs in Cyprus showed that the government’s control measures might discourage or hinder NGOs, as they are all treated as “high risk.” The reports recommend establishing proportional and objective risk criteria, as well as close cooperation between organizations and the government to develop good practices. Our position is that the government’s practices may pose a risk of stifling NGOs and violating their rights.

Myth 10: There are too many NGOs in Cyprus compared to our population.

Reality: The operation of NGOs is protected by the human right to associate, recognizing their contribution to the common good. Internationally, there are no criteria determining the number of NGOs in a country relative to its population. Furthermore, this right is protected by Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which Cyprus has ratified), as well as other international agreements and conventions that Cyprus has ratified.

Friendly environment and non-profit organizations

“I agree with what has been mentioned in the ‘Myths 9 and 10’ by the Civil Society Advocates Foundation,” states Dr. Anastasia Michaelidou Kamenu, Director of Associations, Foundations, and SMEs at the Ministry of Interior, in her note to ‘F’ newspaper. Regarding ‘Myth 1,’ she emphasizes the following: “I would start by saying that I consider the term ‘non-profit’ more representative of these organizations since their core existence is based on ‘not seeking financial gain.’ I do not agree with those who claim that NGOs can engage heavily in profit-seeking activities to support their purposes. Revenues should come from auxiliary activities; otherwise, NGOs would turn into companies that merely express their social programs through activities known as ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).’ On the contrary, unlike companies that aim for profits for their shareholders/owners but also demonstrate sensitivity through CSR programs, NGOs allocate their resources and efforts to non-profit but beneficial activities and may occasionally support their work with some income-generating activities. The purposes of non-profit organizations can be philanthropic, activist, environmental, social, and other beneficial goals.”

Regarding ‘Myth 2,’ she highlights that “there are indeed different types of non-profit organizations.” Regarding ‘Myth 3,’ she notes: “Non-profit organizations often assist the actions of the state. Other times NGOs act as the voice that discusses with government bodies or authorities, or they challenge certain decisions. In one way or another, they are an essential part of society and have a crucial role to play. Therefore, the state, in general, and the government should facilitate their action, allowing them to operate in a friendly environment.” Regarding ‘Myth 4,’ she underlines that “going back to the concept of ‘non-profit,’ NGOs indeed heavily rely on the action of volunteers. However, they can also employ staff, provided that this personnel performs beneficial activities based on the organization’s goals. In the legislation, Foundations are prohibited from paying salaries to their Board members. Therefore, we have purely voluntary action in this case. The same does not apply to Associations, although this is desirable. Generally, when the Ministry recognizes that the salary expense is a significant part of an NGO’s expenditures, it may consider that there is a business entity beneath the NGO’s facade. This is not absolute, but an indication.”

The very important role of NGOs

Regarding ‘Myth 5,’ she states that “a non-profit organization cannot have a surplus for several years. This could indicate that something may not be going well and that we might be talking about ‘profit-seeking.’ Logically, a non-profit organization does not want to have a surplus, as it could immediately use it to expand its beneficial actions. There are, of course, cases where savings help build a project over a few years, such as a medical center. Everything is related to the goals.”

Regarding ‘Myth 6,’ she notes that “many government departments provide grants to NGOs, and NGOs certainly rely on the contributions of their volunteers and donors. As the Ministry of Interior, we are responsible for the licensing of fundraising events. Fundraising events are one way for NGOs to collect funds to support their specific purposes.” Regarding ‘Myth 7,’ she observes that “there are NGOs worldwide that play a very significant role, and there are NGOs that use the legal environment offered to them to engage in illegal or criminal activities. We must consider this normal and everyone should operate based on this reality. Controls are, therefore, necessary. “Finally, commenting on ‘Myth 8,’ she states that “funding NGOs through European programs is a very healthy way of functioning. On the other hand, the movement of capital abroad should take place through the banking system of the countries of origin and destination of the money. Not only NGOs can be used as vehicles for financing terrorism and money laundering, but also companies, trusts, etc. That is why NGOs, as legal entities, have obligations to maintain a register of their actual beneficiaries, which, in this case, are the members of the Board of Directors, but also significant donors or beneficiaries.”

Source: Philenews