The Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare believes the proposed universal Basic Income Grant (BIG) 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, yesterday said this was concluded after the finalisation of the government feasibility study meant to determine whether the country can introduce a basic income grant (BIG) to benefit roughly 1.2 million unemployed people.
“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 National Social Protection Policy which was submitted to the Cabinet for approval,” she said.
This policy, she added, provides a comprehensive framework for the delivery of efficient, effective and equitable social protection in Namibia to address the risks and vulnerabilities faced by citizens at different stages of their life cycle.
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.
Lusepani said the current Namibian socio-economic challenges illustrate that unemployed persons, majority being women, have no safety net owing to the absence of unemployment grant.
“Many of them take care of children and other family members in under precarious circumstances,” she said.
“Given the high levels of unemployment and realising that the current social assistance programmes coverage do not extend to all the poor and vulnerable persons, many of the households and individuals are in a vulnerable state and need intervention to assist them,” she added.
Also, she said the NPD5 social transformation pillar articulates the strengthening of social safety nets and legal frameworks for reduction of poverty and inequality, as well as improved coordination of sectoral social protection programmes.
Similarly, the Blueprint on Wealth Redistribution and Poverty Eradication articulates the need to strengthen social protection programmes to address the exclusion and inadequate coverage of some poor and vulnerable people by the existing social grants.
Furthermore, she said, the ministry is committed to strengthening and expanding social protection to those who are vulnerable through increased coverage and creation of a more effective and efficient social protection system.
The BIG was first introduced in Namibia 10 years ago as a pilot project by the BIG Coalition, which consisted of individuals, churches, non-governmental organisations and so forth.
Recently, Rinaani Musutua from the Economic and Social Justice Trust told New Era in an interview that the proposed N$500 BIG was calculated on the current national budget.
“What the BIG Coalition of Namibia proposes will take roughly 7.5% of the national budget, less than the 10% that the defence ministry takes without offering any tangible results. As much as the cost of living in Namibia is extremely high due to our dependence on imports of basic goods – and therefore, the ideal amount being N$1 000 to help Namibians afford the basic cost of living and live decent human lives, we have to meet the government halfway by considering what it can afford at this current state of Namibia’s economy,” said Musutua.
She was adamant that government can afford a BIG, saying: “Affordability is a matter of political will and shifting of priorities. The proposed N$500 BIG cash payment is little asked in comparison to the extremely high cost of living in Namibia,” said Musutua. She also bemoaned the fact that government keeps pumping a large chunk of taxpayers’ money into maintaining politicians’ lavish lifestyles, unproductive state-owned enterprises and infrastructural projects such as the construction of costly government office blocks and the airport dual carriageway, which she said do not contribute to any human development.
“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. The costs of a universal BIG scheme can be accompanied by an income tax adjustment. This should be arranged progressively so that higher-income earners effectively subsidise the BIG paid to low-income earners and the unemployed,” Musutua added.