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“Namibia’s democracy is incomplete because it violates the socio-economic rights and needs of many of its citizens” – BIG

“Namibia’s democracy is incomplete because it violates the socio-economic rights and needs of many of its citizens” –  BIG

By the Basic Income Grant Coalition.

The Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition has been warning all along that the poverty levels in Namibia would become a humanitarian crisis. That’s why the Coalition has been lobbying for the implementation of a universal/unconditional BIG for over 15 years.

It is shameful that a resource-rich country with a manageable population of 2.5 million has 1,6 million people living in poverty unable to afford basic needs and live a minimally decent life. This provides evidence that Namibia’s democracy is incomplete because it violates the socio-economic rights and needs of many of its citizens.

It is disappointing to see that President Geingob continues to turn a blind eye to a universal BIG. The poorly planned and unsustainable Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) 2 mentions in Pillar 3 (social progression) that the Food Bank will be converted into a BIG scheme for which only the previous Food Bank recipient will be beneficiaries. We are disheartened that President Geingob still bases his poverty eradication measures and legacy on the Food Bank which isn’t relevant and has made very little impact on the current situation. We find that problematic as only 42,000 recipients will benefit from BIG – perpetuating the systemic exclusion of most Namibians in need which goes against the President’s promise that nobody in the Namibian house should be left out. The president is yet to inform us about the fate of the rest of the 1,558.00 million people who are currently facing hunger.

Poverty has devastating consequences on people resulting in a range of serious physical and psychological harms (i.e., higher risks of disease, shortened life spans, stunted mental and emotional development). Poverty also leads to crimes, homicides, GBV and suicides which have been rising over the last 5 years.

One has to point out that the mess that we find ourselves in is caused by a lack of political will, bad governance and systemic corruption as well as an economy that relegates most Namibians to a life in poverty, even if they are employed. This keeps us in an enforced state of poverty, with all of the serious harms involved in robbing us of a decent life by neglecting our basic human needs. Blaming the apartheid government for being solely responsible for the horrifying situation that Namibia finds itself in only means that the government is not taking responsibility and ownership of the situation. We have been independent for long enough to have eradicated poverty by now. President Geingob promised us during his inauguration speech in 2015 that he would eradicate poverty, and he must live up to his promise.

The government can certainly afford to provide everyone with some minimal level of resources necessary for a decent existence if only there was a political will. A BIG is a scheme necessary for a minimal decent existence that Namibia can afford as a resource-rich country. This situation would have been easily avoided had a universal/unconditional BIG been introduced earlier as recommended by the BIG Coalition. A universal BIG has been scientifically validated by 130 pilot studies across the world to be by far the most efficient way through which to reduce poverty, malnutrition, illnesses, crime and school dropout.

While social grants such as the BIG have a specific social purpose of reducing poverty, they also have associated economic growth impacts. A worldwide study on the economic effects of social grants expenditure by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) found compelling evidence that social grants have an economic growth impact. Social grants provide not only a short-term fiscal stimulus but also a long-term increase in microeconomic (household) productivity. The study found that for every 1 % of GDP increase in social protection cash transfer payments, GDP increases by about 1.53% after one quarter. Microeconomic growth for households occurred through preventing the loss of productive capital; accumulating productive assets; increasing innovation and risk-taking in the livelihoods of poor households; increasing investment in education, health, nutrition and increasing labour force participation. The 130 international case studies also found that the recipients of BIG were four times more interested in launching a new business than their counterparts who did not receive the grant.

Studies have found that a higher cash flow to the poorest enhances economic growth and lowers unemployment, while a higher cash flow to the rich boosts savings but constrains economic growth. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have warned that a lack of social protection grants which contribute towards reducing poverty and inequality constitute a major obstacle to Namibia’s socio-economic growth prospect.

Many experts who reject BIG have no compelling empirical evidence that supports their rejection – neither do they offer any effective alternative poverty eradication measures. They fail to grasp the enabling nature of a BIG in both social and economic terms.

There is no better time than now to implement a universal BIG to act against and avoid the unnecessary suffering and misery that we experience daily while trying to survive. Each Namibian aged between 19-59 should receive N$500 per month without conditions. We do not support calls for food aid from the international community as called for as it will keep us dependent on the goodwill of others. It’s time Africa stopped begging. We call upon all Namibians to support the BIG Movement to ensure that we hold the government accountable for the promises made by immediately implementing a universal BIG which is the best way to reduce poverty. A universal BIG will certainly pave the way towards finding a solution to long-term unemployment, income and wealth inequality and poverty. It is time to take decisive steps to attack inequality and poverty head-on instead of waiting for the illusion of a trickle-down effect from market-driven economic policies which created poverty and inequality in the first place.

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