Open letter in support of the introduction of a Basic Income Grant (BIG)

Letter to the Editor

Over the last few weeks we have observed the consultative meetings held in all regions to debate possible interventions to eradicate poverty and to redistribute wealth more equally in Namibia.

Such a debate is certainly welcome against the backdrop of Namibia still being one of the countries with the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

Undoubtedly various strategies will need to be implemented in parallel to reverse both the historical inequalities and the skewed distribution of incomes that was maintained after independence.

Thus economic ownership structures and elite accumulation patterns will have to be altered if we want to build a more equal society. This is a daunting challenge that requires deliberate and strategic interventions.

The Economic and Social Justice Trust as an organisation of volunteers promoting the achievement of economic and social justice in Namibia believes that despite the achievements made since independence, far too many Namibians are still living in dire circumstances and do not enjoy a life in human dignity as envisaged by the Namibian Constitution.

We further believe that it is time to tackle poverty as a blatant human rights violation.Various proposals were already made but there is little doubt that the introduction of a universal Basic Income Grant (BIG) has to be one of the key instruments to eliminate poverty.

The Namibian Government’s own NAMTAX commission of 2002 regarded the reduction of Namibia’s income inequality not only as a justice issue, but as a prerequisite for economic growth. Therefore, the introduction of a Basic Income Grant to free people from the constraints of a mere “survival economy” was proposed as a matter of urgency.

The BIG pilot project in Otjivero documented the positive social as well economic impacts that the grant had on food security, education, health, crime and local economic activities.

In addition, during the 2013/14 drought, another 6,000 people in Omusati, Kunene, Kavango West and Hardap experienced the positive impact of a cash grant of the Lutheran churches.

We noted that even the critics of the BIG have not been able to propose a better alternative. Thus the time has come for a national implementation.

The available evidence form Namibia’s pilot project as well as similar initiatives elsewhere (including India) have shown that economic security for people with low income greatly enhances the efforts in the health and education sector, supporting government’s interventions in these areas.

The introduction of a BIG is not an act of charity but signals the introduction of an economic right to break the shackles of poverty which trap so many Namibians.

The BIG will certainly not lead to laziness but instead be a contribution towards enabling Namibians to realize their potential.

It is against this background that we urge you and your Ministry to introduce the BIG now as a cost-effective intervention that will have an immediate effect on poverty in our country.

We pledge to fully support you in this endeavour. It would be tragic if the BIG remained merely a pilot project after evidence of its positive impact has been clearly shown. Therefore it is time for a national roll out of the BIG.

Yours sincerely,

Herbert Jauch