27 February 2013

Namibia: Big Idea Needs Some Tweaking


A longtime proponent of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) says it may need to be modified from its current model where all Namibians would supposedly qualify to receive a monthly grant, so as to benefit only the working poor, the unemployed and children.

Uhuru Dempers, former coordinator and member of the BIG Coalition Secretariat, said this yesterday when approached for comment on the current status of the initiative and the Otjivero residents at Omitara who were the first BIG pilot project beneficiaries.

BIG was introduced to the small community in 2009 where each resident received a monthly grant of N$100 for two years. The coalition continued to fund the community after 2011 by giving them a reduced N$80 per month in order to sustain the project and to prevent the community from sliding back into abject poverty.

But without a committed donor, the coalition struggled to solicit money locally and internationally to keep the initiative afloat. "It has been difficult to get funds. We need at least N$80 000 per month to give the (Otjivero) community a payout," he said, adding that they explained to the community that the project could go national if government decided to bail it out.

But to date, government has not bought into the universal social grant idea. Dempers said the residents of Otjivero did not receive anything for the past six months, because the coalition has not been able to accumulate enough money to continue the payments.

However, he is optimistic about BIG's future since the Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob, who is most likely to become the next president, had shown his support for BIG, on condition that it is modified. Dempers said the National Planning Commission has also expressed interest in BIG and had been asking questions about the initiative.

"My main concern is starvation and poverty that is rampant all over and not only in Omitara," he pointed out. According to Dempers the BIG Coalition needs to meet urgently and very soon to discuss the food crisis that is being felt all over the country.

Dempers said they are still in touch with the Brazilian Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), which visited Namibia at the invitation of Bishop Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) in 2011 to advocate the BIG idea.

Brazil was the first country in the world to introduce a basic income grant for its close to 200 million people in 2004. "The grant has helped reduce poverty and income inequality in that country," according to Dempers. He added that although the Namibian government introduced free primary education, if children were hungry, it would keep them out of school.

The staunch BIG proponent has in the past said that unless government comes up with better alternatives to alleviate poverty, it must endorse and adopt the BIG idea as the only viable tool through which many poor people could be reached.

He referred to a study conducted by the University of Stellenbosch in 2008 through the National Planning Commission, which he says proved that cash has an impact on getting people out of degrading poverty.

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