WINDHOEK – Some members of parliament in the Swapo-dominated National Council have reacted strongly against numerous social grants, which they feel will not be sustainable in the long run.
In the 2018/19 budget the government allocated N$3.4 billion to the Ministry of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare, the bulk of which is meant for social grants. National Council MPs, during their debate on the ministry’s budget vote this week, slammed the fact that the largest share of the national budget goes to government personnel expenditure or social spending, leaving almost nothing for development projects.
As of 2016, close to 195,000 people – who include 159,315 senior citizens and 35,217 people
with disabilities – were registered to receive social grants from the government. The number is expected to be higher in 2018.
Registered veterans of the national liberation struggle, orphans and vulnerable children also receive monthly grants from the government. Swapo MP and Engela Regional Constituency Councillor, Jason Ndakunda, said there are “just too many” social grants that overlap in Namibia. “They are becoming just like these fly-by-night churches. There are too many grants that I think in the long run will not be sustainable. They drain the government [coffers] to zero,” he said.
“If you look at the example of a veteran of the liberation struggle, the husband and the wife are veterans. And you have children in the house born to parents who are not working. You have these veterans who were working in government and both are retired, also getting their GIPF money.”
“They now also get a monthly pension grant and each [gets] N$6,000 as a veteran grant. And the grandchildren also get their N$2,000 or N$500 monthly. When are we going to close the gap, if these well-off people are getting a grant on top of their money?” the councillor fumed.
He feels Namibia will become a country of grants where people survive on free handouts if the current status quo continues.
According to the councillor, national developmental plans such Vision 2030 are not going to be realised by people who rely heavily on social grants. Further, he said, such handout tendencies will make the youth not to take their education seriously in order to get a job because they know their children will receive a social grant. He suggested that social grants be harmonised, adding there is a need to put a ceiling on some of these grants given by government.
Another Swapo MP and Okatyali Constituency Councillor, Joseph Mupetami, suggested the poverty eradication ministry be renamed Ministry of Poverty Eradication, Job Creation and Social Welfare in order to combat poverty and tackle the high unemployment rate.
“You cannot eradicate without doing anything, without creating jobs. It will be an alternative solution to eradicate poverty,” he said.
Mupetami said he received feedback from community members that they are against the ministry feeding people free food as part of its food bank programme. He said he supports the community members’ views that such tendency is creating a dependency on government.
He remarked that the food bank be called “the Bank for Food for Work”.
This, he says, should be based on the concept that people should rather work for food and not get it free as is the case currently.
He said people have started moving from rural areas to Windhoek where free food is given out monthly.
“I was there when they were distributing this food. They were there ululating for the food. They are happy. After the person gets the food, they take a hike somewhere, either to Chotto or wherever to the regions,” he said.
In 2016 the government launched the food bank initiative as part of the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP), which has seen over 20,000 vulnerable people benefit from monthly food parcels. Mupetami said the ministry should roll out a pilot project to all regions, as there is a serious need for food but people should work for it.
“Those who are unable to work will be assisted but those who can should work for that food,” he noted.
However, Swapo MP and Mankumpi Constituency Councillor, Lukas Muha, said the ministry’s existence, as new as it is, is felt by many.
He said over 100,000 elderly people were recorded by government receiving social grants, which should be “applauded”.
The majority of MPs suggested that the government should come up with food security programmes and avoid giving handouts.
They also called on the poverty eradication ministry to take the lead in identifying the root causes of poverty in the country and come up with proper and tangible lasting solutions.