Adding N$100 to the monthly Old Age Grant and the Disability Grant in Namibia, making the amount received N$1,400, does not make this year’s budget, as recently announced by Iipumbu Shiimi, Minister of Finance and Public Enterprises, a pro-poor budget. Instead, it is a ‘fit-it-in-so-we-can-claim-we-are-doing-something’ budget when it comes to having social grants that fit the actual cost of living in Namibia.
With the Parliament’s public viewing gallery full of pensioners and a warm-hearted story about Minister Shiimi’s conversation with a village pensioner in his opening statement, he set the mood for the presentation of a caring, sensitive, effective social services budget. Instead, the warm and fuzzy verbal wrapping was for a gift box which, when opened, was a container of cobwebs offering little relief for pensioners in need. The 2023 budget regarding social services represents the same old budget thinking that is disconnected from the imperative need for a pension that fits the costs of living.
The consistent problem with the government budget, which is supposed to support pensioners as a priority, is that the finance minister of the day always puts the cart before the horse. As always, they have not based the monthly social pension payout on the actual (not theoretical, aspirational, or derived from a UN chart of averages) cost of surviving in Namibia for those at least 60 years of age who have been unemployed or unemployable most of their adult lives and our elders who have to provide for multiple minor children left in their care. The government speaking through the Finance Minister’s budget may need to look more carefully at how much is required to run a pensioner’s household and then set the monthly pension level. Instead, our government looks at what is available in the previous budget and moves on from there. Decisions about reducing the money available for buying condoms or running State House to increase the Old Age Grant are not being made.
None of those in the Ministry of Finance preparing the budget will rely on the Old Age Grant to put bread on their table once they retire. Essentially, the ‘haves’ decide with condescension what the ‘have nots’ need. It has always been thus. But it must always be called out nonetheless.
While $1,400 is insufficient to live decently as a retiree in Namibia, we acknowledge the Veteran’s pension that tops up the Old Age Grant for some and the specific grants for some children that can be available to pensioners raising multiple minor dependents.
We acknowledge the transitional conditional Basic Income Grant (BIG) that has replaced the Food Bank baskets for those already enrolled in that poverty alleviation program. There are elders included in that program.
That said, we recall the plethora of flowery statements made by President Hage Geingob on many occasions where he said that the SWAPO government was waging war on poverty. You must wage war with sufficient artillery and N$1,400 per month, as an Old Age Grant is like giving soldiers bullets but no guns.
At the 14 August 2015 national dialogue on wealth distribution and poverty eradication, Geingob firmly and proudly declared that “the war on poverty requires all of you to be the soldiers of prosperity.” We cheered that statement then, and now we ask, where is that anti-poverty fire today?
We can no longer assume that family members will collectively care for their elders as was done in decades past. Times have changed, and things are tough on multiple levels, particularly in the homes of the generationally poor. Some of those with jobs are not being paid a living wage or have no job security, with only seasonal or temporary work available. As people struggle to find taxi money to get to and from work every day, the amount available to send to an old granny or grandpa back in the rural area has dwindled, if not dried up in some cases. And yet, our financial decision-makers and many of those who used to be one of those barefoot, dusty village children eating only oshithima and tomato relish twice a day prepared by their aged memekulu have lost sight of what it means for our pensioners who live in poverty.
According to www.numbeo.com, A family of four in Namibia has estimated monthly costs of N$1,739.20, not including rent. Pensioners living in townships may have to pay hundreds per month to rent a tin shack at the back of someone’s house or assist with the housing costs of a friend or relative with whom they live. With bread at $12 per loaf (or more), a dozen eggs at around N$32, beef at N$42 for half a kilo, and half a kilo of potatoes for as much as N$12, no one can show videos of happy pensioners and be serious that $1,400 per month is enough for them.
We urge the government to double the Old Age Grant by 2025. Namibia has an alarming budget deficit in any event; rather, let that deficit be an investment in the Namibian people, who are the country’s true capital. )Make a pro-poor budget by starting with a real-world assessment of what the poor need to live decently. Then, shape the rest of the budget around that. We can do better for the pensioners, and we must.