Jordanians with special needs say customs reject exemptions

(Photo: ARIJ)
AMMAN — Um Yazan was surprised when a government committee rejected her request for a customs waiver on a vehicle she uses specifically for her epileptic and disabled d daughter.اضافة اعلان

“I regret to inform you that your request has been denied, since the conditions for granting you an exemption as stated in the regulation related to exempting vehicles of persons with disabilities from customs duties have not been fulfilled,” Um Yazan said, reading the refusal.

She described the response of the Exemptions Committee to grant her the customs exemption as “disappointing and unexpected”.

Her 14-year-old daughter, Hala, suffers from chronic epilepsy, a brain tumor that causes an 85 percent disability rate, and an intellectual disability, which does not respond to treatment. 

Persons with disabilities and their parents have been complaining that their applications to obtain customs exemptions for their vehicles have been declined, without the government clarifying the reason for the rejections.

They say that the customs waivers are covered under a 2019 regulation, which exempts the vehicles of persons with disabilities from customs duties. According to the 2015 General Population and Housing Census, the number of persons with disabilities in Jordan is 737,000 people.

Law (20) of 2017 on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities guarantees their right to obtain a total exemption for a single medium of transportation, dedicated for their use. The exemption covers customs duties, general sales taxes, special taxes, import stamp fees, and any other fees.

Despite this, the total number of customs exemptions issued until 2021 is approximately 40,000.

Nuha Abdullah, 53, said she applied for an exemption in 2019, but her application was put on the backburner in the wake of lockdowns due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Eventually, it was rejected without giving her an explanation.

Abdullah suffers from chronic schizoaffective disorder with an 80 percent physical disability rate, and a severe intellectual disability. This diagnosis is included in regulation No (27) of 2019, and its amendments related to exempting disabled people’s vehicles from customs duties.

Medical reports show that Wajdi Al-Dababi has a congenital deep arterial and venous malformation, and severe weakness in the left side of his body caused by a haemorrhagic stroke he sustained in 2018. But his ailments were insufficient to get his application a customs exemption.

“My father uses his car to go to work, so he cannot make it available for my trips, and I also need a newish car,” Dababi said, and complained about the failure of the department to explain their decision specifying the conditions that have not been met, so that the applicant’s files could be rectified.

Lawyer Enas Zayid, a human rights researcher in the field of persons with disabilities, explained that laws are issued along with regulations, but problems arise when new regulations are issued with conditions that invalidate the original legal text.

The general rule states that “it is not permissible to have a legislation that contradicts a higher legislation”.

However, some groups that fall under the category of persons with disabilities are sometimes excluded due to organizational reasons.

Zayid believed that a person with a disability has the right to know why their request has been rejected. She added: “It is a matter of transparency and integrity to ensure that people in charge are not abusing or overriding their authority.”

“A person has the right to know the reason from the department itself in order to be able to appeal the decision before the administrative court within 60 days of the rejection issuance,” the lawyer maintained.

“The lack of clarity in the decision is one of the pretexts a lawyer can use to challenge the decision before the court,” she noted. 

The following disabilities qualify for exemptions:

* Permanent deficiencies and functional impairment, including complete impairment in the lower or upper limbs; or in one of them; or due to the loss of any of them.

* Size stature provided that the person applying is not taller than 121cm for females, and 131cm in the case of males

* Blindness or severe visual impairment whereby the person’s visual acuity is (6/60) or worse in each eye independently with the use of therapeutic correction.

* Deafness or severe hearing impairment whereby the person’s auditory acuity is below 70 decibels in each ear independently, on each of the audiogram’s frequencies and with the use of hearing aids, including the cochlear device.

* Disabilities due to autism and Down syndrome

* Moderate or severe neurological, psychological or intellectual disabilities, which render the persons unable to drive vehicles by themselves.

* Advanced multiple sclerosis that does not respond to medical treatment and which renders a person unable to drive a vehicle by himself.

Doctors are the decision-makers
According to Raafat Al-Zitawi, spokesperson for the Higher Council for Persons with Disabilities, a person is granted exemptions from paying customs duties on a vehicles as a compensation for the lack of public transportation, and the high cost of using private transportation like taxis.

Zitawi believed that the exemptions are granted to afford disabled people mobility that would help them exercise their rights to education, work and social integration.

The Customs Exemption Committee is usually headed by a senior customs employee appointed by the director-general, and its membership includes a representative of the Disabilities Diagnostic Center at the Ministry of Health, and four doctors specialized in types of disabilities listed in the regulation.

The physicians, in turn, are appointed by the minister of health, the director-general of the Royal Medical Services, and a representative of the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee examines the applications and verifies the conditions for granting the exemption. It also confirms the eligibility of the applicants and examines them to approve the diagnosis report.

Then, a recommendation of approval, denial or withdrawal of the exemption is filed to the director-general of the Jordan Customs Department who issues the final decision.

The Director of the Irbid Health Directorate Shadi Bani Hani said that “filing for customs exemptions electronically became possible a year and a half ago, and medical reports can be uploaded in a way that has facilitated the process during the pandemic”.

The medical report is a diagnostic report that determines the type, nature and extent of the disability and is usually issued by one of the hospitals of the Ministry of Health or the Royal Medical Services, and is approved by the specialist doctors serving on the Customs Exemption Committee.

The policy of the Customs Exemption Committee in accepting or rejecting applications varies, and depends on the patient’s conditions. The percentage of disability is determined per organ deficiency, and not the whole body.

Moreover, this percentage is not a criterion in itself as the functional performance of the body and the extent of the disruption caused by the disability are taken into account too.

Bani Hani explained that all this is determined by the doctors in the Customs Exemption Committee.

Maher Al-Rawashdeh’s son application for exemption was rejected. “Everyone was surprised when we got a rejection, including my son’s doctors. This is his right. Why would he get a rejection? I don’t know!”

He explained that he son suffers a “permanent disability by 70, 80 or even 100 percent”. The medical committee in Irbid diagnosed him as suffering from an intellectual disability, severe attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder that require a lifelong treatment, he said.

The reporter reached the Jordan Customs Department for clarification, but it responded saying it cannot offer responses at this time, promising to publish a report that answers the reporter’s inquiry, along with that of Jordanians who were denied a waiver.

The Jordan Customs Department did not set a date for its reply. In the meantime, persons with disabilities who applied for exemptions have no choice but to wait. They are hopeful that the report would explain the reasons for the rejections, so they could appeal the decision or re-apply, as it is their right to get an exemption under prevailing laws.

This article is published in collaboration with ARIJ.

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