The Basic Income Grant Coalition of Namibia has again called on government to start pushing for the urgent implementation of the universal basic income grant (BIG) through which a proposed cash payment of N$500 will be paid to people aged 19 to 59 every month.
The coalition last week Tuesday re-launched the universal BIG campaign, citing the grant will have long-term social protection relief to afford Namibians basic human necessities.
The BIG initiative was first piloted at the village of Otjivero, Omitara, in Omaheke region in 2008, where each inhabitant received a monthly cash grant of N$100. However, government did not implement BIG, and the coalition failed to ignite a mass campaign. “Namibians continue to struggle to survive due to recurrent poverty and inequality exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,
which has led to massive job losses and salary cuts, especially within the informal sector on which many poor Namibians depend as their only source of income,” the Economic and Social Justice Trust said in a statement.
The proponents of BIG added the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic has also added a burden of increased poverty and hunger, while it has robbed many Namibians of the ability to maintain a decent living standard.
The coalition believes without long-term social protection interventions to safeguard livelihoods, the continuous job losses and salary cuts due to shrinking economic activities will intensify poverty and inequality in the country.
“For the past 15 years, we have fought to have the universal Basic Income Grant introduced in Namibia to protect us from poverty and ease our day-to-day struggles for survival, and to make it possible for all Namibian families to live dignified lives,” the statement reads further.
“In his inaugural speech in 2015, President Geingob declared ‘war on poverty’, with the aim to eradicate and not just reduce poverty. Comparing the Namibian nation with a house, he said that under his rule ‘Nobody in this house must be left out.’ As a person, who out of his pocket financially contributed to the Otjivero pilot study, carried out during 2008 and 2009 in Otjivero-Omitara, there was widespread expectation of President Geingob implementing BIG as the key to achieving his poverty eradication promise.”
Political commentator Ndumba Kamwanyah yesterday said given Namibia’s small population, a cash payment of N$500 to each unemployed Namibian is feasible.
“The question is how will we fund it? This is also easy because there are a number of approaches we can use, including asking the financial institutions to fund it through tax or some special arrangement,” he said.
He also said for this to be achieved, new taxes will have to be introduced.
Another approach, he said, is through a wealth tax where the rich pay for it.
“The list is endless. What will also make it possible is political feasibility in terms of the willingness of politicians to support it,” he added. Former minister of poverty eradication Zephania Kameeta was one of the advocates of the basic income grant and served as former chairperson of the Namibian BIG Coalition. In 2016, the ministry of poverty eradication held consultative meetings in all 14 regions to debate possible interventions to eradicate poverty and distribute wealth more equally in Namibia.
“We picked it (the widespread support for BIG) up during the national dialogue when we visited the 14 regions on wealth redistribution,” Kameeta said at the time.
“In all the regions, people mentioned they want the implementation of BIG to eradicate poverty. We are compiling a report, which will be discussed during the national conference, scheduled for end of this month.”
Many critics say the introduction of BIG would be an act of charity, rather than an economic right and method to break the shackles of poverty that trap so many Namibians.
Others feel the universal grant would lead to laziness among Namibians, especially the youth. At the time, Kameeta said the ministry was compiling a detailed report with all the suggestions on issues of BIG, water, unemployment, housing and electricity, among other critical suggestions gathered from the regions. However, the report has not seen the light of the day.