Namibia: Opposition Rejects N$500 Grant

(File photo).
21 September 2020

Two opposition parties last week opposed a proposed basic income grant (BIG) of N$500 per month.

The Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Landless People's Movement (LPM) were not moved by the Basic Income Grant Coalition's motion.

In a statement issued last week, the coalition urged the government to introduce a monthly grant of N$500 for all Namibian citizens between the ages of 19 and 59 - 11 years after a pilot project in the Omaheke region was completed.

The proposed grant would be available to both the employed and unemployed.

"We demand that the government meets its obligation as per Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution and in line with president Hage Geingob's promise of eradicating poverty by urgently implementing a BIG through a cash payment of N$500 per person per month to people between the ages of 19 and 59," coalition member Rinaani Musutua said in the statement.

Musutua said the grant is needed now more than ever due to the severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A proposal for the grant was first made in 2002 by the government-appointed Namibian Tax Consortium.

Founded later that year, the coalition comprises various churches, unions, youth organisations and non-governmental organisations, including the National Youth Council and the National Union of Namibian Workers.

Under the chairmanship of the former minister of poverty eradication, Zephania Kameeta, the pilot project was implemented at Omitara's Otjivero settlement in the Omaheke region in January 2008.

Through the project, roughly 1 000 registered residents below 60 at the settlement received N$100 monthly for two years.

The coalition's research found that with the grant, residents made use of the local clinic more, average household debt fell from N$1 215 to N$772 per month, and the overall crime rate fell by 42%.

Thereafter, the government was meant to roll out the grant to the rest of the country.

Musutua said despite support from top government officials such as Kameeta and Geingob, the government did not adopt the grant after the findings of the study were submitted.

"They lied to us. Kameeta said he would adopt the grant when he was appointed to the ministry, but he never did," she said.

No policy or parliamentary act exists on the initiative.

In 2019, the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, however, announced a draft social protection policy which included a basic income grant.

The ministry's proposed grant was applicable to unemployed Namibians between 30 and 59 years old.

Ministry spokesperson Lukas Haufiku last Tuesday said the ministry was still finalising the policy for submission to the Cabinet.

PDM leader McHenry Venaani last week said the party would only support a grant targeting citizens under the poverty threshold.

"It must be intended to reduce hunger and the country's Gini coefficient," he said.

PDM member of parliament Elma Dienda reiterated this, saying the grant should be for those who need it most.

She said it would likely be unsustainable to allocate a monthly grant to all.

The LPM have been pushing for a monthly grant of N$750.

"We already tabled in parliament a N$750 grant for the next three to five years to assist . . . those who have lost their income due to Covid-19," LPM leader Bernadus Swartbooi said.

Musutua said the gender equality ministry engaged the coalition on the grant last year, but they disagreed on the ages and employment status of proposed beneficiaries.

"It should be a grant guaranteed for everybody. It's cheaper to give it to everyone than conducting a study to determine who should receive the grant, because so many Namibians are employed in the informal sector," she said.

Dienda, however, says information on employment is available from the private sector and public institutions such as the Ministry of Finance's inland revenue department and the Social Security Commission.

According to the coalition, the net cost of the BIG would be between N$1,2 billion and N$1,6 billion per year - equivalent to 2,2% to 3% of Namibia's annual gross domestic product.

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