The International Social Security Association defines social security as “any programme of social protection, established by legislation or any other mandatory arrangement that provides individuals with a degree of income security when faced with contingencies of old age, survivorship, incapacity, disability, unemployment or rearing children”.
These programmes can include social insurance, social assistance and universal programmes, amongst others.
Social Security is recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a basic human right. Additionally, Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution provides for the promotion of the welfare of the people and this is the basis for social security in Namibia. Furthermore, Namibia is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and adheres to key international Conventions and Recommendations of the ILO.
The social protection landscape in Namibia, of which social security is a component is highly fragmented with several social protection programmes having been established by several laws and programmes, some overlapping.
Hence, the government has crafted a Social Protection Policy to provide a solid framework to deliver social protection in a coherent, consistent, effective and efficient manner. The policy has since been approved by Cabinet and implementation is currently underway.
The Social Security Commission as established by the Social Security Act 34 of 1994 was mandated to administer social insurance funds and further provides for the establishment of maternity leave, sick leave and death (MSD) benefit fund, a national medical benefits fund, a national pension fund and the development fund. To date, the MSD benefit fund and the development fund have been operationalised.
Furthermore, the Social Security Commission (SSC) is also mandated to administer the Employees Compensation Fund (ECF) which is established by the Employees Compensation Act 30 of 1941.
Maternity leave benefits form the largest percentage of claims at 77% of total claims incurred, which causes a misconstrued school of thought that social security benefits are only for women; however, the payment of maternity leave to women should be lauded as it removes gender discrimination for women, who in the past were left to fend for themselves as they got unpaid leave.
However, both genders greatly benefit from social security programmes offered by SSC through the sick leave (6.5%), death (2.5%) and retirement (14%) benefits under the MSD fund, the administration of bursaries, study loans, and labour market interventions through the development fund; while under the ECF through the payments of medical expenses, temporary disability, permanent disability, and burial, as well as transport costs and accident fund pensions, extend coverage to all workers irrespective of gender.
The importance of registering employees for social security cannot be overemphasised. For example, a pregnant hairdresser I came across in 2019 had to return to work two weeks after giving birth as she was driven by her economic needs despite still undergoing the after-birth healing and baby bonding process. However, if she had social security coverage, she would have been receiving an income replacement benefit for 12 weeks.
Another example is a beneficiary who inhaled highly toxic fumes from drainage sewage in the call of duty. As a result, he ended up in a coma and incapacitated for life. The Employees Compensation Accident Fund then paid him temporary disability benefits at first and then permanent disability benefits when his situation failed to improve.
It is evident that social security is a means to reduce poverty and inequality and improve socio-economic development. However, we are also cognisant of the emerging realities brought about especially by the Covid-19 pandemic which has changed the way we work - for example, the employment relationship with employees working from home; how to administer Covid-19 claims under the Employees Compensation Fund; income loss as a result of job losses or reduced income; improvement of benefits, increased use of digital technology, etc. These are emerging factors that need to be taken into consideration by policymakers to ensure that social protection in Namibia is relevant and valuable.
*Nambata Angula is the General Manager: Business Development at Social Security Commission. She is writing in her personal capacity.