Coalition responds to Geingob’s Basic Income Grant claims
By Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition of Namibia.
It was very disappointing to hear Geingob say that he is yet to be convinced why government should implement universal BIG as the concept and rational behind it doesn’t make sense to him. Geingob was present at the launch of the Otjivero BIG Pilot Project in 2007 which was an initiative by the Coalition to gain scientific evidence that BIG was viable and affordable for Namibia. Geingob was the first person to pledge financial support towards the project.
In 2007, he called on government to implement BIG. As a person who was also present at the Bank of Namibia’s Social Protection Symposium in 2013, at which economic professor Karl Widerquist, laid down all the facts and benefits of universal BIG to Namibia, and the many ways through which BIG could be financed. The Coalition has for the past 18 years been tirelessly and widely explaining the concept and rational of universal BIG to the entire Namibian population. After all this, you would expect Geingob to be knowledgeable about BIG as a learned person.
It is alarming that Geingob still doesn’t seem to understand universal BIG and its positive impact on the reduction of poverty and inequality, which indicates a denial of the large-scale poverty and inequality rates that continues to plaque Namibia and an unwillingness to tackle the problem.
There are many good reasons why a universal BIG programme is better in comparison to a means tested programme. Classic welfare programmes that use means-test to target beneficiaries have been proven to be more expensive, wasteful and ineffective at reaching indented beneficiaries – just like what happened to the N$750 Emergency Income Grant that did not reach all intended deserving beneficiaries. If targeting is applied by means of added administrative requirements, the poorest are actually those who are least likely to benefit from the programmes as they by nature are the most disadvantaged in terms of access to information, infrastructure, and administrative services provided.
Universal BIG should also be considered in term of Namibia’s extremely precarious labour market and lack of income predictability. Many Namibians who are in the work force are on “unspecified duration contracts”, or on “limited duration employment contracts” – making them vulnerable due to precarious income conditions. More than half of the people in the work force are employed in the informal economy and they too endure precarious income conditions.
It will be administratively impossible for the government to identify vulnerable intended recipients of BIG if it would be on means-tested terms as people constantly move in and out of poverty due to the highly precarious labour market. Means-tested BIG will make the identification of the proposed beneficiaries challenging, socially problematic and administratively expensive.
It will discriminate against people, who live in precarious conditions such as subsistence farmers or informal employees. Accurately tracking those in temporary and seasonal employment or those engaging in subsistence activities will almost be impossible as it incurs significant costs in terms of determining beneficiaries. As demonstrated with the universal old age pension, such problems can be avoided with the introduction of a universal grant as proposed by the BIG Coalition.
Also, the identification of unemployed beneficiaries might lead to the unintended exclusion of some who might not be able to access the grant due to remote locations or lack of information which goes against President Geingob’s promise that nobody in the Namibian house should be left out which he reiterated at his presidential inauguration in 2015 whereby he promised to eradicate poverty.
Given the extremely difficulties of implementing means-tested BIG it is more efficient to introduce a universal BIG scheme of N$500/month/person for those aged 19 – 59 as there is no scheme available to protect them from the hardships of poverty. By giving everyone a grant, one can be sure that all people in need receive support. Universal BIG is self-targeting without having to rely on an administratively difficult means-test with adverse economic incentives.
The universal BIG will have the advantage of being cheaper to administer in a country like Namibia where there is inadequate income and other data as large numbers of people are engaged in informal work or are unemployed. It is rather the vulnerability of individuals that should be considered than means-testing income as a qualification criterion. This will eliminate the errors and costs associated with means-testing.
The costs of universal BIG can be accompanied by an income tax adjustment so that higher income earners will immediately repay their BIG through the tax system. This should be arranged progressively so that higher income earners effectively subsidise the BIG paid to low-income earners and the unemployed. This could be arranged fairly easily and thus become a wealth redistributive initiative that will significantly contribute towards Geingob’s promise of eradicating poverty.
When making the choice between a means-tested and universal BIG, Geingob need to consider that the initial costs will be offset to a significant extend by improved health and educational outcomes as well increased economic activities and falling crime rates as is proven by the Otjivero Pilot Project.
Geingob says only those in need should receive the grant. One could easily say that entire population is in need. Two-thirds of the Namibian population live below the poverty line of which 800,000 are stressed about where to get their next meal from. Namibians are poorly paid whereby 75% – 80% of the population earn less than N$1,400 per month. Namibia is among the countries in the world with the highest living expenses whereby Windhoek is regarding 34% more expensive than Cape Town in South Africa. And BIG has been scientifically proven by the Otjivero BIG Pilot Project and many other international studies to be by far the fastest and cost-efficient way through which to reduce poverty and inequality which is a prerequisite for economic development for any given nation.
We cannot rely on the Food Bank as it is has failed at reducing poverty, inequality or hunger among the two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line of which 800,00 are stressed about where they will get their next meal. There is no evidence on how many people are receiving the Food Bank, where it is being distributed, and what impact it has had on poor Namibians.
Universal BIG implementation is a political will. It is not a matter of cost or limited understanding of the concept. A person who says they do not understand the universal BIG concept have vested interest or are happy with the levels of poverty and inequality in order to maintain the lavish lifestyle of the rich, the ruling black elites and their cronies. If Geingob does not understand the facts that have just been laid down in this response than it becomes a matter of not having any interest in eradicating poverty and inequality.
For the past 15 years, the Basic Income Grant Coalition of Namibia has campaigned to have the universal BIG introduced in Namibia as a way of addressing poverty and inequality alleviation to ensure a dignified life for all Namibians. The coalition led by the Economic & Social Justice Trust (ESJT), consists organisations under the umbrella body of NGOs NANGOF, such as grassroots social movements, community-based, faith-based, women’s, labour, students, youths and children’s organisations. The aim of the coalition is to fight for a decent living standard for all Namibians and to work with government to realise the implementation of BIG. The Campaign must be supported by all Namibians and the political office bearers who represent them.
About Otjivero-Omitara BIG Pilot Project
To demonstrate the effects of BIG, the BIG Coalition carried out the first universal cash transfer pilot project in the world. From that study that was conducted in Otjivero-Omitara (about 100 kilometres east of Windhoek) during 2008, whereby all residents below the age of 60 years received BIG of N$100 per person per month, we learned of the positive effects of BIG which were scientifically evaluated by international scientists:
-Household and food poverty dropped significantly which resulted in a huge reduction in child malnutrition. Families could afford nutritious food;
-Families accessed health services more which increased the income of the local clinic;
-Economic activities increased as residents who started their own businesses or engaged self-employment activities e.g. brick-making, baking of bread and dress-making increase). BIG gives people an opportunity to contribute to society as it helps them unleash their creative and entrepreneurial potential;
-Household debts decrease and savings increased;
-Households’ buying power increase;
-School attendance increased as families could afford to pay school fees and buy uniforms;
-The local police station recorded a significant reduction in overall crimes;
-Gender equality improved as BIG provides income security to homemakers whose unpaid care work is important to society;
-Residents reported an increased solidarity amongst themselves as they helped each other to face life’s challenges; and
-Happiness increased through the restored human dignity by being able to afford basic human necessities.
These findings contradicts critiques who claim that BIG leads to irresponsibility, laziness and alcoholism. On the contrary, the study shows that most people make good use of opportunities presented to them and take initiative to improve their own livelihood. BIG, which only covers people’s basic necessities, is a human right as it eases pressure on people through providing them with the opportunity to afford basic human necessities so that they can live life worthy of human dignity. BIG reduces poverty and hunger. It eases pressure on individuals who are burdened with financially supporting their many family members as a result of them being sole earners of income, condemning them to poverty and deprivation. BIG offers economic freedom and an opportunity to people to pursue their life choices and fulfil their potential, leading to happiness.
It offers breathing room for not having to stress too much about where your next meal will come from. BIG offers an opportunity for homemakers to be compensated for the important unpaid care work that they carry out. BIG also reduces crime. Poverty and the extreme differences between the rich and poor is a threat to our country’s peace, security and stability, as evident in the wave of crime engulfing our country.
BIG can protect us from poverty and stop our society from spiralling into chaos. The study also proves that BIG is the most effective human development investment initiative and not a liability, as it results in a healthier and happier society due to people being able to afford basic necessities. BIG increases buying power, stimulates consumption and helps keep the free economy resulting in increased economic growth. If measures to tackle the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic fail to protect income and livelihoods, poverty and inequality will intensify. The economy will not survive without BIG as it helps boost buying power which is good the country’s economic wellbeing.
BIG helps alleviate poverty leading to reduced crime for a better society. It is a well-known fact that poverty breeds criminals. Less societal problems associated with poverty equals less expenditure on public health and correctional services, saving the government money. Crime reduces as people worry less about the provision of basic necessities. Studies have proven that poor people who constantly are under financial stress and worry about their basic necessities provision have a reduced IQ. One cannot build a productive state and succeed in a modern economy with the majority of the population having a reduced IQ.
Basic Income Grant Coalition Campaign Declaration
This Declaration summarises the shared consensus, critical demands and commitment to Basic Income Grant implementation.
1. For the past 30 years, far too many Namibians have been living under inhumane and degrading conditions. We have been struggling to meet our basic human needs but were confronted without a decent income, decent roofs over our heads, clean water and sanitation. Our human rights are violated by our leaders who have failed to improve our lives after independence. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Namibia continues to be among the countries in the world with the lowest living standards and extreme differences between the rich and poor without genuine efforts being made to tackle the problem. No leader of high values should overlook and tolerate such failures.
2. The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse for us. It has added to our burden of day-to-day struggle for survival. Many of us have lost our jobs due to the pandemic. Many Namibians are employed in the informal sector which they desperately depend on as their only source of income. The lockdown has cut us off our only source of income since we have not been allowed to operate in order to sustaining ourselves. It has increased our poverty and hunger and has robbed us of the ability to provide decent lives for ourselves as human beings. Our leaders do not offer us long-term relief as we continue to struggle daily for survival, even though we have put our trust in them hoping that they will safeguard our wellbeing.
3. For the past 15 years we have fought to have the universal Basic Income Grant (also known as BIG) 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. In his inaugural speech in 2015, President Geingob declared ‘war on poverty’ with the aim to eradicate 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.
4. We are tired of living in poverty. Otwaloloka, E //ui, Shitwa Kangwi, Tsau da go, Ons is moeg, Tuaurua, Lukatezi, Twaroroka. We demand that the government meets its obligation as per Article 95 of the Namibian Constitution, and in line with President Geingob’s promise of eradicating poverty, by urgently implementing BIG through a cash payment of N$500 per person per month to people between the ages of 19 and 59, in order to eradicate poverty and provide decent living standard for all Namibian families.
5. Young people, who are mainly affected by joblessness, are the majority and most important people in our country. Therefore, their future needs to be secured. Our leaders must commit to implementing BIG as a youth centred social protection scheme to support young people who are jobless and promote youth development.
6. It is not true that BIG leads to irresponsibility. It is not true that BIG leads to laziness, or alcoholism. Findings of the BIG pilot study that was conducted in Otjivero-Omitara show that all residents below the age of 60 years who received BIG payments made good use of the opportunities presented to them. They took the initiative to improve their livelihoods. BIG is much more economically and socially sensible than the Food Bank which is haphazard, degrading for the recipients and has not reduced poverty.
7. BIG is our human right as it eases pressure on us through providing us with the opportunity to meet our basic human needs so that we can live a life in human dignity. BIG has the potential to break the shackles of poverty and end hunger. It eases pressure on individuals who are burdened with financially supporting their many family members as a result of them being sole earners of income such as pensioners, condemning them to poverty and deprivation. BIG offers economic freedom and an opportunity to people to pursue their life choices and fulfil their potential, leading to happiness. BIG offers an opportunity for “homemakers” to be compensated for the important unpaid care work that they do. Poverty and the extreme differences between the rich and poor is a threat to our country’s peace, security and stability, as evident in the wave of crime engulfing our country. BIG can protect our society from being torn apart by social tensions.
8. We have been unnecessarily struggling to survive due to our leaders’ unwillingness to put long-term social protection schemes in place to end our suffering. Poverty can easily be prevented as proven by the old-age pension which is guaranteed to all people aged 60 and above regardless of their background, and the once-off N$750 Emergency Income Grant that the government rolled out in March to cope with the economic slowdown. Leadership is about empowerment and lifting others up. It is not measured by one’s own advancement, but how well one advances the lives of your fellow citizens. The role of a leader requires constant sacrifice for the common good.
9. It is time for government to ensure that we all benefit from the proceeds of our natural resources through the implementation of the BIG. It is time that Namibia’s mining and fishing industries that make billions of profits pay their due share of taxes. Tax evasion and illicit financial flows result in the loss of billions of much needed income that the government could finance the BIG scheme with which is a crucial step towards eradicating poverty. The old-age pension scheme and Emergency Income Grant has shown that the implementation of BIG is possible.
10. The fight for our rights is not over yet! Our leaders’ promises of protecting us from poverty and improving our lives have been nothing but lip service. We now demand the implementation of BIG as our human right! It is about time that all Namibians organised themselves to demand for the implementation of BIG. Silence will not win us anything. As the saying goes: “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing” Do you choose to live in poverty?! Get up and demand a better live.
And to our leaders: We only vote for those who are empathetic towards the suffering of Namibians!