Proponents of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) say government has been paying lip service to the idea of implementing the initiative.
“Government saying that it will implement BIG in Namibia has been nothing but lip service. We can only get excited once the government adopts the social protection policy, gazette it and set a date for implementation,” Rinaani Musutua of the Economic and Social Justice Trust told New Era yesterday. She said government has, for the past 15 years, promised to implement BIG but never did. “In June 2019, Bishop Kameeta (former poverty eradication minister) attended the biannual German Evangelical Church Assembly (Kirchentag) in Duisburg under the title:
‘If I was not poor, you would not be rich’. There, Kameeta announced ‘I am so happy that probably from next year, we will be able to pay a Basic Income Grant in Namibia’,” she said.
“Yet, in Namibia, there is no visible sign of a concrete move towards a universal basic income. Once BIG has been budgeted for in the 2021 national budget, then we will get excited because then we will know that the government will implement BIG.”
Her comment came as the poverty eradication ministry announced on Monday that it believes the proposed BIG initiative for unemployed Namibians between the ages of 18 and 59 is indeed feasible, albeit at a less than N$400 a month.
The ministry’s executive director, Esther Lusepani, said this was concluded after the finalisation of the government feasibility study, meant to determine whether the country can introduce BIG to benefit roughly 1.2 million unemployed Namibians.
“The study proposed that the BIG can be feasible at a proposed amount of N$389.00 monthly (lower bound poverty rate). Nevertheless, the BIG forms a part of the draft of National Social Protection Policy, which was submitted to the Cabinet for approval,” she said.
The BIG Coalition of Namibia, spearheaded by the Economic and Social Justice Trust, has proposed a monthly grant of N$500, which economists estimate could cost the country as much as N$13 billion per annum, assuming a population of 2.35 million up to the age of 60 years. Musutua said government always knew that universal BIG is feasible.
“This was proved by the Otjivero BIG Pilot Project that was carried out in 2008 and 2009 and was scientifically evaluated by international scientists, which President Hage Geingob was a firm supporter of by donating money towards the project,” she said.
“What we need now is the implementation of BIG to help ease Namibian’s daily struggle for survival, which has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to delay the implementation of BIG any further.”
However, Musutua said she is glad that the government has taken up the BIG debate.
“We are more than willing to sit with the government to clarify a couple of things that don’t seem to be clear to the government, such as the importance of making BIG universal, meaning a-no-strings-attached payment scheme for all Namibians aged 19-59 regardless of their background, just as how the old-aged pension works,” she said.