Coalition Persists on BIG

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Despite being turned down by the government this year, the Basic Income Grant (BIG) coalition is still pursuing the universal grant as one of the ways through which the poorest could live with some dignity. On Wednesday, the coalition brought together selected members of churches, civil society groups, and politicians to engage in discussions about the proposal to give every Namibian N$100 a month, from an economical, legal and theological point of view. The workshop, which ends today, examined the economics of BIG and explored how it could promote economic growth and also how it could alleviate poverty and destitution in the country. Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta said in his keynote address at the leadership workshop on “Church and Society” that BIG was the only financially sustainable policy that would directly address mass poverty and that would have many enhancing effects on different aspects of development. Kameeta said a Basic income grant would not only improve the nutrition of children, support families affected by HIV/AIDS and kick start economic activities in rural areas but also lift the burden of pensioners looking after whole families. While debate is ongoing on the issue, Kameeta said what was needed was debate that moves forward with concrete action. “May we as economists or pastors be equipped to stand up in public and defend and ensure this policy of a BIG becomes reality. That we can stand up and defend, what our people rightfully demand, namely access to some modest finances,” Kameeta said. The Bishop cautioned the leaders against being forced to compromise and be limited in the concepts of social justice because every person has a right to life and to ensure it, the state needed to promote social justice. Although there is criticism of the idea as being uneconomical, Kameeta said he appreciated the caution and seriousness with which the government has approached the issue. In 2002, the government tasked the Namibian Tax Consortium (Namtax) to review the current tax. As a redistributive measure, the commission suggested a BIG. Having welcomed the proposal, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) mobilized other organizations to discuss the proposal of the Namtax commission and take it forward. After this, the BIG coalition was formed in 2005 comprising of the church, labour movement, civil society organisations and AIDS organizations. So far the coalition has held information sessions and produced information material in different languages. The coalition also briefed President Hifikepunye Pohamba on the idea, after which Cabinet discussed it. The idea was however turned down as Cabinet felt that introducing such a grant would not be viable and would make no economic sense.

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