Churches and civil society groups are urging the Namibian government to provide citizens with monthly basic income grants by raising taxes. They have called for a Basic Income Grant of 100 Namibian dollars (US$11) to alleviate poverty in the country - writes Rodrick Mukumbira.
"Namibia's taxable capacity exceeds 30 per cent of national income. Yet Namibia's actual tax collection and projected tax collection over the medium term horizon has been falling," said a report published on 28 April 2009 by a coalition of groups, including the Council of Churches of Namibia and the National Union of Namibian Workers.
"Namibia's excess capacity to raise tax revenue significantly exceeds the net cost of a Basic Income Grant under all the financing scenarios," the report stated.
Supporters of the proposal to give an unconditional monthly grant to each citizen below retirement age say it will help income generating projects and reduce poverty in the southern African nation.
A church-sponsored pilot project to provide a basic income to residents of the village of Otjivero-Omitara is reported to have increased school attendance and employment while decreasing the poverty-related crime rate.
"I am convinced that the BIG is not only able to eradicate destitution, hunger and malnutrition, but that it lays a strong foundation for economic empowerment, responsibility and ownership taking," Bishop Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, the project's chief patron, said in a foreword to the report.
The pilot project was launched after the Namibian government rejected the provision of a basic grant to citizens, saying it was not sustainable. The project in 1000-person strong Otjivero-Omitara is financed by donations, mainly from German churches.
In recent weeks, however, Prime Minister Nahas Angula has been quoted as not ruling out the introduction of a basic income grant. "Should the BIG be seen as a priority [by government], then there is a need to abolish the existing subsidies and grants to make the savings necessary for the introduction of the Basic Income Grant," he has stated.
The new report, authored by think tank LaRRI for the Basic Income Grant coalition, estimates that financing BIG at 100 Namibian dollars per month would cost the country between 1.2 billion and 1.6 billion Namibian dollars annually, or between two and three percent of its Gross Domestic Product
It said the Namibian government should consider adjusting the Value Added (Sales) Tax, increasing income taxes, reprioritising the national budget and introducing special levies on natural resources.
Read the whole Basic Income Grant report (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat format): http://www.bignam.org/Publications/BIG_Assessment_report_08b.pdf 
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]