Budget Gives Impetus to BIG

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The “pro-poor” stance of the latest National Budget is seen to have given a new and greater push for the lobbying of the Basic Income Grant (BIG) in the country. Prominent church leaders view this kind of expansionary budget as the first major step by government towards focussing on the plight of the poor. “It is the first time emphasis is placed on the poor and where the old-age pension has also been increased,” said Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Republic of Namibia Bishop Dr Zephaniah Kameeta in a recent interview with New Era. In lobbying government to consider this proposal favourably, members of the BIG coalition paid a courtesy call on President Hifikepunye Pohamba at State House a month ago. Although the President did not commit himself, a commitment was made to push the idea to Cabinet for more deliberations. Other members of the coalition who accompanied the Bishop were the Secretary General of the Council of Churches Reverend Philip Strydom, Director of the Legal Assistance Centre, Chairperson of the Namibia Non-Governmental organisation Forum Norman Tjombe and the Director of ELCRN’s Desk for Social Development Dr Dirk Haarmann. The coalition proposed that government pays every citizen below the age of 60 (an age when they become eligible for old-age pension) an amount of N$100 per month as a way of getting out of the poverty trap. With that amount it is envisaged that HIV/AIDS patients will be able to buy food and eat before taking medicine, parents will be able to send their children to school and also be able to put food on their families’ tables. Now after the budget, the need for more lobbying within both the public and private sectors is growing. “We need to convince more people to agree to fund this initiative because BIG is there to break the cycle of poverty in the country, especially for those who are not in a position to work,” said Bishop Kameeta. Deliberations on the BIG proposals have reportedly been going well, while a lot of work still remains to be done in order to get more stakeholders involved. Member of the BIG Coalition Reverend Strydom earlier said that the main thrust is to eradicate destitution and reduce poverty as well as inequality in Namibia. “The continued deprivation of our people and the continued inequality in our country, which is in fact the worst in the world, caused by apartheid and colonialism, has brought this group together to make the Basic Income Grant Scheme a reality,” said Strydom in a previous interview with New Era. The idea was born by the Namibia Tax Consortium (NAMTAX), which in 2002 proposed the universal grant. The BIG Coalition was then formed after a conference early last year. The organisations that make up the coalition are NANGOF, Namibia Network of Aids Service Organisations (NANSO), Council of Churches, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) and the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI). At its formation it was resolved that Namibia has extremely high levels of poverty and the highest income inequalities in the world. Furthermore, poverty is a contributing factor to the spread of HIV and Aids, which further undermines the country’s economic security and at the same time worsens poverty. According to the latest UNDP report, the richest 7 000 people in Namibia consume as much as the 800 000 poorest. The report further states that the high levels of inequality are socially indefensible, politically unsustainable and economically inefficient. In a press statement in November last year, the Legal Assistance Centre noted, “the BIG is a critical response to an international embarrassment, which Namibia has endured.” However, being in line with enhancing rural development, the BIG proposal is also seen as bringing money into the poorer village settlements of the country where it will benefit the communities immensely.