By: Andrew Kathindi
President Hage Geingob’s conditional Basic Income Grant (BIG), with economical and political commentators stating that it is unlikely to be a success.
Geingob stated on Thursday that his office was converting the existing Food Bank and Special Feeding scheme for marginalised communities into a monthly cash transfer, as a first step to phase in a conditional BIG.
According to the President, the move is a response to general poverty in Namibia, which the October 2020 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 in Namibia predicted to rise by an estimated 4.2% as a result of loss of income.
“To complement the above social safety net program, Namibia will promote and facilitate the infusion of private strategic investments into the agricultural sector. This ambition will contribute to the National goals of bolstering food security and self-sufficiency. These schemes hold the potential to unlock the production of high-value crops, contribute to the export market demands; while creating thousands of jobs,” Geingob said.
The food bank was launched in 2016 by President Geingob. According to his office, during his first term in office, the Food Bank program was rolled out across all regions, reaching 42,081 Namibians while the Drought Relief Programme reached over 2.8 million Namibians cumulatively.
Labour unionist and member of the Basic Income Grant Coalition, Mahongora Kavihuha was however critical of why the President adopted a conditional approach.
“It is 25 percent welcome. The moment we make a grant, or any safety net conditional, it has been proven that both the coverage and the target are not reached. It means you will have to start sorting people out, in terms of who will qualify and who will not and that alone will take much of the money, time and also open for maladministration and many other hiccups,” he told The Villager.
“That’s why we are always standing on the universality of it. How will this grant be different from the child grant where so many children are left out of there?”
He said Namibia’s inequality was characterized by issues pertaining to social protection.
“It might counter poverty to a certain level, but it will not counter the inequality. The effectiveness of addressing poverty in that respect will also be questionable. You will need to put infrastructures in place. How much is that going to take and how long will it cost? It will not be successful. Even the Food Bank itself was not successful.”
Official opposition deputy president, Jennifer van Heever said that there where still questions left unanswered as to how it will operate.
“If you are giving money, how will you monitor and sustain it? Our economic climate is not that healthy so how much money are you going to give to our people? And how much food can they buy. I think we need to look into another model,” the Popular democratic movement (PDM) parliamentarian stated.
She said it might work better to have a coupon system or vouchers rather than cash transfers.
“If you just give cash to people, we know our people.”
She said some people may not use it for food but rather squander it.
“I know of certain systems where government gives instructions to shops where people can collect items. But giving money can be dangerous and I don’t believe it can work.”
Economist Mally Likukela said that the conditional BIG was a welcome development however, like many others similar programmes could have fundamental flaws.
“The targeting issue has been an issue even in the Food Bank. So, whether it is the Food Bank or the cash transfer, there is a significant amount of people who deserve that support who are not getting it. There is a number of people falling through the cracks.”
He further argued that the monthly budget for the conditional BIG would have to be constantly adjusted because inflation could impact purchasing power of beneficiaries.
According to the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 in Namibia, both employment and income losses in the labour market have adversely affected the purchasing power of the poor, compromising their access to food and other basic needs (UNICEF, 2019).
In 2020 747,281 Namibians applied for the Emergency Income Grant (EIG).
“Is that money going to be sustainable? It would have been much better to keep it in the Food Bank because we can mobilize local capacity to produce. We have green schemes that are producing. To turn it into a cash transfer means an added cost to government and we already know government is struggling.
Whether it will be successful depends of fiscus, but it will be an added burden.”