Namibia leads region on social safety nets

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  • Namibia, Botswana and South Africa continue to provide social grants to their citizens.
  • SADC countries struggle to grow their economies above the targeted 7% regional threshold

Timo Shihepo

Windhoek The Namibian Government is leading the pack in the Southern African region in providing social safety nets for the vulnerable including the aged  amid challenging economic times brought about by the COVID-19) pandemic, as well as the economic turmoil that comes with it.

In SADC, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa are among the countries that continue to provide social grants to their citizens at a time when all countries in the region apart from Tanzania are struggling to grow their economies above the targeted 7% regional threshold.

Despite the Namibian economy failing to grow positively since 2016 and coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, President Hage Geingob has promised that the government will continue providing social grants to reduce inequality in the country.

Namibia remains among the most unequal societies in the world and this is testament to the deeply embedded structural nature of its challenge. The status quo is not sustainable and the government will have to intensify people-centered reforms that result in tangible improvements in the lives of the people. 

During his State of the Nation Address, Geingob said progress has been made and poverty has declined.

According to Namibia Statistics Agency, poverty declined in Namibia from 70% in 1994, to 37.7 % in 2003 and then 18% by 2016. According to the 2017 World Bank Report and as endorsed by Oxfam International, Namibia’s decline in poverty is attributable to a targeted policy framework.

Government allocates a high percentage of resources to the social sectors, including universal access to education, a highly subsidized healthcare system and social safety nets that reverse the effects of a skewed economy.

Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are among the few African countries that provide the Old Age Social Grant as a cash transfer, which directly contributes to arresting poverty and childhood stunting.

“Government has increased this grant by more than 100% over the past four years,” said Geingob.

Other social safety nets implemented by the government include the foster care grant for vulnerable and orphaned children; marginalized and disability grants; the school feeding programme; food for work and the veterans’ grants.

Geingob said, in total, the government spends R3.9 billion on social grants per annum, benefiting 1 million people or 41% of the total population.

Over the period 2015 to 2019, the government redirected resources to the value of R2.1 billion towards the drought relief programme, which has benefitted annually, an average of 564,983 people across all 14 regions.

During the same period the government introduced the Food Bank to reduce hunger among the extremely poor citizens in urban and peri-urban areas.

Apart from the permanent social grants, government also formulated an economic package to fight the effects brought upon by Covid-19.

The package provides a plethora of responses, ranging from reductions in interest rates, to cash transfers, labour subsidies and negotiated debt repayment holidays, and credit support to business, workers and households. Through the National Employment and Salary Protection Scheme and Emergency Income Grant, government is also disbursing grants to employers, workers and citizens who lost income or means of livelihood.

“The economic crisis spurred by Covid-19 presents us all the opportunity to reflect and redesign our future. We will use the lessons from the current challenges and reframe them into opportunities for recovery and growth. Together with the Cabinet, I am in the process of finalizing the Harambee Prosperity Plan II, which will provide a roadmap for accelerated implementation of Government programmes that are geared towards economic recovery in the second term,” said Geingob.

Despite the inroads, the government has admitted that there are limits to what fiscal policy alone can achieve in eradicating poverty and inequality in Namibia.

Government said the Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to reverse some of the gains made in the war against poverty.

“Looking ahead, government will work actively to consolidate social safety nets by automating processes to remove duplications and reduce transaction costs. We will also investigate the feasibility of gradually phasing out the Food Bank to introduce a modified Basic Income Grant,” said Geingob.

In times of crisis, Geingob said true character is revealed, saying that the country is at crossroads in its history and in this year of introspection, at this hour of need, the nation is faced with the most burning question of recent times.

“Thirty years after our independence, how do we shape the future of our nation? Our collective decisions and actions over the following months will not only determine whether we emerge stronger from this unprecedented storm, but will define the Namibian journey. A journey conceived in the minds of a colonised people, from whom selfless patriots emerged and in the face of unrelenting aggression, chose to fight for the ultimate gifts of life, health, peace, dignity and freedom,” he said.

Geingob said he is convinced that the Namibian spirit, unrelenting in the face of adversity, unflinching in the eye of the storm, will once again prevail as the nation unites, to overcome the challenges ahead.

He said the country cannot retreat in this battle, neither disown this fight; nor reject the spirit of unity that has prevailed amongst the sons and daughters of this country.

He added that this is the spirit that defines national identity, it augments the character of Namibian people, and it crystalizes the narrative of the Namibian House.

“I am certain that if we work in unison, putting the best of our minds to work, we, like those who fought for the freedom of this nation will be able to deliver our people in this second phase of the struggle for economic emancipation. Let us not shy away from the task at hand. Let us seize the opportunity to cement this nation’s legacy, as a people who overcame adversity, a people who persevered in the face of difficulty and a people whose fortitude and patriotism delivered freedom, unity, peace and shared prosperity,” he concluded.

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