Wednesday, May 17, 2006

International Development: Namibian government turns down poverty reduction grant

A request by civil society to grant all Namibian citizens a monthly cash allowance to help them cope with poverty has been turned down by the government.

Churches and NGOs in Namibia formed a coalition last year to alleviate the plight of people living in abject poverty by giving them a basic income grant (BIG).

But at a meeting with the BIG coalition on Monday, Prime Minister Nahas Angula rejected the idea, saying: "It is not affordable for the government to introduce a BIG, given our meagre resources. The Namibian government is paying various grants, such as social pensions, war veteran grants and allowances for foster parents; together with support to informal settlements and shack dwellers, this comes to N$1.2 billion [US$200 million]."

However, Angula left the door open: "Should the BIG be seen as a priority [by Government], then there is a need to abolish the existing subsidies and grants to make the savings necessary for the introduction of the Basic Income Grant."

The coalition, consisting of the Council of Churches of Namibia, the National Union of Namibian Workers, the Namibian NGO Forum, the Namibia Network of AIDS Service Organisations, the Legal Assistance Centre and the Labour Resource and Research Institute, suggested that a BIG be paid to every Namibian citizen from birth until the age of 60, after which the national pension scheme would take over.

They proposed that a monthly cash grant of N$100 (US$16) be paid from the state coffers to every Namibian, regardless of income, and should also reach rural dwellers to provide them with a basic lifeline.

The Evangelical Lutheran church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) was the first institution to make the BIG plan public when it announced the recommendation at its annual synod in November 2004.

According to the proposal document, the grant could be paid to about one million Namibians and would cost the state around US$200 million a year, financed by a combination of higher value added tax and tax reforms.

"We must first discuss the reaction of government," ELCRN Pastor Claudia Haarmann told IRIN. "We will make our view public at the end of this week."

Namibia has one of the most unequal societies in the world. The Gini coefficient, which measures wealth distribution on a scale from 0 to 1 (the closer to 1, the more unequal a society, the closer to 0, the more equal it is), was 0.60, indicating that the gap between rich and poor is unacceptably high.

According to the preliminary results of the Namibia Household Income and Expenditure Survey conducted by the government's National Planning Commission, about 30 percent of Namibian households live in poverty.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN
IRIN 2006
Photo: Copyright
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