Govt Vetoes BIG – For Now

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The Government has for now turned down the proposed Basic Income Grant (BIG) on grounds that the introduction of such a grant would not be viable and make no economic sense. This was revealed last week by Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta at a press briefing where he expressed astonishment that last Monday’s closed-door discussions on the issue at the Prime Minister’s Office were leaked and broadcast on the national television evening news bulletin. BIG is a proposed monthly cash grant of N$100 that would be paid by the State to every Namibian regardless of age or income. Its aim is to improve everyone’s life by eradicating destitution and reducing poverty and inequality. Even if the issue was prematurely reported on national television, prompting Kameeta to talk about this matter, he added that Cabinet’s reaction stands in stark contrast with the findings of the research done by the Big Coalition and that of a local tax consortium. If such a grant is introduced, Prime Minister Nahas Angula on Monday revealed to the coalition, it would demand an extra N$1 billion per year from the Government. However, the coalition in its findings provides three source alternatives for the funding. The first option looks at the adjustments in the income tax structure. This means higher earners would bear the cost in the form of a solidarity levy to finance the poor. Another proposal based on the tax consortium findings would be through an increase of 6.5 per cent in value added tax (VAT) while the third option would be through reprioritization in the budget. The Government might however reconsider the proposal if the money to fund the grant would be found. The coalition maintains that the only money needed would be for the setting up of the delivery system, which would hopefully be obtained through donor funding. “The Government’s proposal to look into reprioritisation as one of the means to finance a BIG, besides the proposed changed tax structure, shows the seriousness with which Government is addressing the issue and certainly needs more consideration,” Kameeta stated. The coalition further rejected the notion that money should be reprioritised. “It is not understandable why there should be a trade-off, as the current grants (pension and disability) intend to address different issues,” he added. Even if it is not exactly known what direction this matter would take, Kameeta told members of the media that based on last week’s discussions with Angula, the coalition will formulate its response to the deliberations of Cabinet back to the Prime Minister. The coalition does not claim that BIG is the only way to address poverty but rather, one aspect to address this social problem. Namibia, like many other countries, is faced with poverty and evidence are the reports on people looking for edibles on the dumping sites amongst medical waste dumped at the coastal town of Swakopmund. “The BIG, on the other hand, provides basic resources for people to be freed out of the poverty trap,” the bishop said. Considering that Namibia is one of the countries that have reported to have an unfair distribution of wealth amongst its people, the proposed grant, Kameeta added, is advocating that it is time to start to redistribute Namibia’s wealth more equally and to entrust people with resources securing their survival and enabling them to become citizens who can share and contribute to the country’s economy. BIG Coalition reiterated its gratitude towards the Government for its openness and engagement shown so far.