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BIG Coalition questions calls for policy evaluation

2021-09-28  Staff Reporter

BIG Coalition questions calls for policy evaluation
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The Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition of Namibia, which has been advocating for the last 15 years to implement a universal basic income grant in the country, has questioned government’s invitation for the evaluation of national wealth distribution and poverty eradication. 

The coalition, which endorses a BIG as an economic stimulus package, noted with concern that an evaluation needs to be based on an actual programme that is already rolled out. 

Terefore, the organisation called on the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare to first roll out substantive programmes such as the universal child grant and the BIG – and then evaluate their redistributive and anti-poverty impacts. 

“The current call for a consultancy to evaluate a blueprint that has not resulted in visible new programmes seems a waste of scarce resources, which could be used in the fight against poverty,” read the statement from the BIG Coalition. 

In a statement issued late last week, the Coalition said it has taken note that the ministry is inviting proposals for the evaluation of the ministry’s policy framework, Blueprint on Wealth Distribution and Poverty Eradication 2017/18-2019/20. 

 “Evaluations need to be based on actual programmes being rolled out and we wonder if there are currently any substantive initiatives worth evaluating. When the ministry was established in 2015, the minister and some of the leading staff travelled to all the regions to learn about the ideas and proposals there. One of the issues that were continuously raised was the need to introduce a universal Basic Income Grant (BIG),” read a statement issued by BIG Coalition spokesperson Rinaani Musutua. 

  Musutua noted that following regional consultations, the ministry prepared the blueprint on ‘Wealth Distribution and Poverty Eradication’ but stated only one new initiative was taken – the introduction of the Food Bank. 

“This initiative was controversial from its inception in terms of reach, identification of intended beneficiaries and respect for their dignity. Following what seems an unpublished and internal evaluation of the food bank, it was converted recently into a cash grant for selected households in two regions,” Musutua stated. 

  The statement added that contrary to wishes and proposals emanating from regional consultations, the draft policy proposed a BIG for the unemployed between 30 and 59 years of age. 

However, Musutua explained: “This does not constitute a BIG at all and is merely an unemployment grant. This proposal is unsuitable for Namibia and is now being reviewed. We urge the ministry to follow the overwhelming evidence of the numerous social-economic benefits of a universal BIG which must be a central pillar of Namibia’s post-Covid recovery strategy”.

  The Coalition is adamant that BIG should be seen as an economic stimulus package that increases labour force participation as well as increasing buying power allowing individuals to become consumers of locally produced basic goods, particularly basic goods sold by informal traders. 

“BIG is not a liability, but an investment in the local economy as it creates an opportunity for money to circulate within our economy, thereby stimulating economic growth,” read the statement.  

 In terms of financing the BIG initiative, the Coalition is adamant that government can afford BIG to cover all vulnerable Namibians in need. 

“We believe that there are enough resources to finance BIG with. It is political willpower that is lacking. Government should cut wasteful spending, fraudulent and abusive activities within the government departments. The government keeps pumping a large chunk of taxpayers’ money into maintaining politicians’ lavish lifestyles and unproductive State-Owned-Enterprises. The government needs to shift its priorities. When the government stops spending taxpayers’ money on unproductive activities, there will be enough resources to finance BIG. We need good governance policies to ensure that state funds are not lost to wasteful spending, fraudulent or abusive activities to be able to finance BIG”.

  Proponents of the grant also feel that BIG will pay for itself in the long run. “Parts of the BIG costs will be recovered through Value Added Tax (VAT) as the recipients of the grant will use parts of the money to purchase goods and services on which VAT is levied. Thus around 10% of the BIG payments will be recovered through VAT. BIG can be a long-term scheme as it will pay for itself through the gradual recuperation of the money invested”. 

The Coalition further recommends that Namibia consider a natural resource dividend fund model by using natural resources such as mining and fishing taxation revenue to finance BIG, arguing that Namibia has valuable under-taxed resources. 

“In addition, Namibia can also use part of the amount of revenue it receives from its membership in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) to finance the BIG,” the statement read. 

2021-09-28  Staff Reporter

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