President Hage Geingob yesterday reiterated his administration was committed to alleviate poverty even though there were strong reservations of implementing a universal basic income grant (BIG), which he said would be entirely misplaced. In his State of the Nation address yesterday, Geingob said, instead, the ongoing food bank initiative, marginalised grant and feeding scheme will be consolidated into a modified basic income grant, “with clear eligibility criteria to determine qualifying beneficiaries.” The implementation of a monthly basic income grant has divided opinions over the years. Proponents of the BIG initiative have been putting pressure on government to introduce the monthly grant through a proposed cash payment of N$500 for people aged 19 to 59. The coalition last year re-launched the universal BIG campaign, citing the grant will have long-term social protection relief to afford Namibians basic human necessities. Addressing a joint sitting of parliament, Geingob said the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have aggravated the citizens’ social deficits and threaten to reverse the tremendous gains made over the past five years. “We have not lost sight of the reality of countless Namibians who have lost their incomes and who are struggling on a daily basis to put a meal on the table,” Geingob said. Geingob also said the situation in informal settlements is a humanitarian crisis.
“While delivering urban land, housing and sanitation solutions are critical to social mobility and dignified life, providing adequate shelter remains one of the most daunting challenges,” he said. According to him, approximately 230 000 households live in shacks countrywide, while the ongoing rural-urban migration adds to this number daily. In light of these social deficits, Geingob said the delivery of urban land and housing is an urgent undertaking. “Our efforts will be intensified through innovative partnerships with the private sector. We commit to delivering 20 000 housing opportunities and 24 000 serviced erven across the country, during the Harambe Prosperity Plan II period,” he said.
He said government will also operationalise the rent control board to introduce regulatory measures, while a review of the national housing policy is expected to introduce mixed developments and improve the affordability of urban land by reducing the size of the standard pavilion from the current 300 square metres to a more affordable size. Furthermore, Geingob said 50% of this year’s budget has been allocated to the social sectors of health, education and skills training and social welfare, demonstrating government’s commitment and sustained investment into the sectors catering fundamentally for the country’s young people. Turning to public health, Geingob said his administration will relocate and modernise the Central Medical Store to guarantee pharmaceutical and clinical supplies as well as decentralise the dialysis and radiotherapy facilities from Windhoek to Oshakati and Walvis Bay and formulate the policy framework towards national health insurance. To address the plight of the youth, Geingob said government will undertake to establish a teachers’ professional regulatory body to improve the quality of training of educators and prescribe minimum standards for the profession. Also, he said, government will finalise the national human resource development strategy and implementation plan to determine priorities and allocate commensurate weights to funding allocation. Similarly, Geingob said government will conclude the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) sustainability model to improve fund administration, coverage and loan recovery. Furthermore, Geingob said the interventions of the Harambee Prosperity Plan, which included the increase in the old age social grant by 100% and the rolling out of food banks and drought relief programme to all 14 regions, helped to avert starvation for many Namibian families at risk. Moreover, Geingob said government has progressively improved the quality of life for citizens. In the last financial year, Geingob said government spent N$6 billion on social grants which include the old age social grant, food bank, disability, veterans, marginalised, funeral benefit, orphans and vulnerable children and the school feeding programme. During his SONA, Geingob also revealed the school feeding programme, which currently benefits over 430 000 learners, will be extended in coverage to secondary schools and early childhood development centres. “Improving nutritional content and education for malnourished children and lactating mothers is a long-term investment in human capital. Social grants are intended to support those who are vulnerable or unemployed,” Geingob said.