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Namibia churches back campaign to pay each citizen US$14 a month

A coalition of Namibian church and non-governmental organizations is sticking to its campaign for the government to overturn its decision not to give an unconditional monthly grant of 100 Namibian dollars (US$14) to each citizen below retirement age.

"Such a grant is necessary until the country’s high income disparities are addressed," said the Rev. Phillip Strydom, the general secretary of the Council of Churches in Namibia, on behalf of the coalition for the Basic Income Grant (BIG). He noted: "The grant would only require two per cent of the gross domestic product which is quite affordable."

If implemented, Namibia may be the first country to give a such a grant to its citizens say BIG campaigners, although the amount does not go very far. One hundred Namibian dollars will enable a person to buy 20 loaves of bread.

The BIG coalition was formed in 2005 after the Namibian Tax Consortium, which had in 2002 been tasked with reviewing the tax system in 2002, suggested BIG as a way to redistribute incomes more equitably.

According to the coalition’s proposal, the grant would be paid to about one million Namibians and would require 1.4 billion Namibian dollars a year financed by a combination of higher value added (sales) tax and other tax reforms.

In May, the Namibian government rejected this proposal saying it already spent the same figure each year on pensions, allowances for foster parents, and other social grants.

Preliminary results of an income and expenditure survey by the government’s National Planning Commission released in April say about 30 per cent of Namibian households live in poverty, although the poverty level has been decreasing.

"The BIG will channel resources directly to the people and free them from the poverty trap," said Norman Tjombe, chairperson of the Namibia Non-Governmental Organization Forum, a member of the BIG coalition.

Some political parties, however, hold opposing views to the BIG coalition, saying the grant would promote laziness.

(c) Ecumenical News International