By Hilary Mare
PRESIDENT Hage Geingob delivered his first State of the Nation exactly one month after his inauguration as Namibia’s third president many months ago and his first rallying cry was an outright declaration of war on poverty.
Acknowledging that the poverty levels are still too high, Geingob made it clear that government’s priority would be to tackle poverty from all levels.
“Twenty-five years after independence, we have made significant progress in the fight against poverty. Official statistics shows that the poverty rate declined significantly from 69.3 percent in 1994 to 28.7 percent in 2010. This means that the poverty rate halved during that period. This is unprecedented progress, as globally only a handful of countries have been able to halve poverty over such a short period of time. In absolute terms, more than four hundred thousand Namibians were lifted out of poverty during that period. The introduction of targeted social safety nets, including old age pensions and social grants for people living with disabilities as well as for orphans and vulnerable children have played a significant role in reducing poverty levels in Namibia.
“These statistics are testament to the work done in alleviating poverty but the cold facts are that poverty, even at 28.9% is still too high. Poverty at 10% would still be too high. If we were to halve that to 5%, it would still be too high. The war on poverty is focused on eventual eradication so we will not hide behind statics as our focus is on sustained poverty reduction measures.
“Research carried out by our National Statistics Agency shows that the old age pension has played a major role in the prevention of childhood poverty. In the absence of an old age pension, the childhood poverty rate would have been ten percent higher than the current figure. That is why one of the first priorities was to increase the old age pension by 66.7 percent from N$600 per month, to N$1,000 per month, starting this Financial Year. Further increases will be effected so that old age pension grants reach N$1,200 by 2017. This has already been factored into the national budget.
“The war against poverty and the quest for economic emancipation must be a multifaceted war which we will fight on many fronts, using a myriad of methods at our disposal. Some of these measures are outlined below. The first step in the fight against poverty is the recognition that all Namibians deserve a dignified life. A dignified life includes decent employment and decent shelter. This will require the input of Government as well as all employers. Government has and will continue to formulate a legal framework focused on reducing the income gap. What is also required is a mental framework where Namibian employers empathize with and remunerate their employees appropriately. What is required is that all Namibians treat each other with dignity and respect and that all Namibians play their role in uplifting their fellow human being. This sharing mindset in individuals will go a long way in making sure no Namibian is left behind.
“In the Namibian House, no child should go hungry. I am committed to the introduction of a Food Bank. The willingness of several farmers to get involved in this initiative on a voluntary basis is indicative of how Namibians recognize that we will only eradicate poverty if we work together. “The Ministry of Poverty Eradication is tasked to co-ordinate all aspects hereto and harness the political will of government and the goodwill of Namibians as a tool in the eradication of poverty. There is a saying that says, “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” Let us adopt the virtues of sharing in our Namibian House. Let us allow the spirit of Harambee to manifest itself for the good of all Namibians. We must succeed as One Namibia, one Nation. “Many of the residents of the Namibian House are poor because they don’t have a neither job nor access to proper education or marketable skills. We will, therefore, tackle poverty from all fronts, through safety nets, access to quality education, and by creating jobs and growing the economy. This is why Ministry of Labour has been renamed to the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Job Creation. This renewed focus must ensure that we target one of the root causes of poverty which is unemployment.
“The good thing is that our people are not lazy. Our people want to work. Our people will excel when given the opportunity. I would like to acknowledge the role of entrepreneurs whose enterprises create employment opportunities for other. Their efforts must be acknowledged and supported through our development finance institutions such as the Development Bank of Namibia, the SME Bank and the procurement muscle of the State. Political self- determination is meaningless without economic self- determination. “A House in which the few are affluent while the rest are poor is not a healthy house. During the past twenty-five years, considerable progress was made in reducing income disparities in Namibia. This was through a mix of pro poor, pro-growth interventions and redistributive policies targeted at the poorest of the poor. The Gini- Coefficient that measures income disparity declined from 0.70 in 1994 to 0.58 in 2010.
“Admittedly, one would have liked to see a sharper reduction in the levels of inequality, but what is most important is the fact that we are moving in the right direction. It also shows that it is possible to grow the economic cake.
“Due to the structural nature of wealth accumulation, the average Namibian was dispossessed and does not possess much wealth in terms of homes or shareholding. The only way out of this conundrum is to introduce a targeted approach to unpack and reverse the existing structural imbalances. In this regard, I want to appeal to the business community to introduce new co-ownership practices in which workers are able to own shares in the companies they dedicate their labour. This will help them to feel part of the business while at the same time also assist them to begin creating real and long term wealth. These are the principles included in the draft policy framework on Broad- Based Economic Empowerment. The finalization of this policy is overdue and it is time to re-imitate the consultation process on this long outstanding policy framework.
“Education remains the greatest equalizer. Nationally, our literacy rate has increased from less than 75 percent at independence to approximately 90 percent, according to the latest Census count of 2011. In some Regions such as Khomas and Erongo, the literacy rate is virtually 100 percent.
“We removed school fees in 2012 which made education free at primary school level. This led to a significant increase in enrolment rates at pre-primary and primary school levels. “This year, we are going to introduce free secondary school education, which will enable thousands of young Namibians to have a better shot at a brighter future. This will immediately arrest the high youth unemployment rate.
“At the moment, large subsidies to our local tertiary education institutions translate into the State covering up to 80% of university costs. Therefore, the fees payable by Namibian university students are significantly reduced by Government subsidies and make it tantamount to free tertiary education. This, as well as increased funding of scholarships through the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund has significantly expanded access to affordable tertiary education,” declared the President.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015