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NUNW dumps BIG Coalition
09 July 2010
New Era

Windhoek: In an unexpected u-turn, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), with effect from last Sunday, abandoned the Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition, citing lack of creative ideas to address poverty in the country as reason for the move. NUNW's withdrawal from the BIG Coalition was decided upon by the federation's central executive committee, its second-highest decision-making organ between congresses, at its meeting over the weekend.

NUNW Secretary-General, Evilastus Kaaronda, confirmed his union's decision in the capital yesterday, signalling the end of a five-year association with the coalition that was forged in April 2005.

Explaining his federation's startling U-turn in associating with the BIG Coalition, Kaaronda said the NUNW believes the coalition's plan "is good but not best", adding that the NUNW is seeking alternative poverty-alleviation measures. "We are sincere in our belief that there's serious need for poverty alleviation in this country. We believe that the coalition's idea is good but certainly not the best. We're striving for the best," Kaaronda said.

NUNW's pull-out comes at a time when the coalition has upped the tempo in its quest to have Government accede to demands that it pays N$100 to each of the country's 2.2 million citizens every month. The coalition recently took issue with remarks by President Hifikepunye Pohamba that BIG, in the shape of its current proposal, would lead to exploitation when money is "dished out for free".

The President, during his State of the Nation Address in April, argued that the BIG would encourage citizens' dependency on the State, would encourage people "not to do anything" and that "dishing out money for free" would lead to exploitation.

But while dust is yet to settle over the bitter exchange between the President and proponents of BIG, the NUNW has now pulled the plug on continued advocacy of the planned free money handout scheme. The withdrawal from the coalition by the country's largest trade federation could serve as a major blow to plans to have Government heed calls for monthly monetary grants for all citizens.

"CEC (central executive committee) then resolved to direct the NUNW secretariat to institute measures that would ensure that the participation of the NUNW in the activities of the BIG Coalition is terminated forthwith," Kaaronda said yesterday.

Responding to journalists' questions, Kaaronda emphasised the importance of re-production of wealth, which he said would be almost impossible if money was to be handed out to individuals for free. "There's a need to address structural inequalities. We'd rather suggest that instead of giving out N$100 to everyone every month, Government should be pushed to make it easier for equity participation by Namibians in local companies," he said.

Kaaronda said BIG is "not a sound strategy" and that there was "so much room for economic transformation than just BIG".

"BIG, as good as it is in principle, would only provide short-term convenience, but as a nation we need permanent solutions," he said, while echoing President Pohamba's anti-dependency remarks.

The Namibian Tax Consortium (NAMTAX), a Government-appointed commission, made the proposal for a Basic Income Grant in Namibia in 2002.

Though it has lost one of its most outspoken and well-respected partners, the coalition remains solid with its remaining partners, namely the Council of Churches of Namibia (CCN), non-governmental organisations' umbrella body, NANGOF, the umbrella body of Aids organisations, NANASO, the National Youth Service, the Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) and the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI).

Keywords: poverty, social policy, Namibia
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