Lutheran Leader Stresses Namibians' Commitment to Fight against Poverty Bishop Kameeta Addresses UN Commission on Employment
NEW YORK, USA/GENEVA, 22 February 2007 (LWI) - Namibia's Lutheran bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta has stressed the commitment of civil society to the fight against poverty in the country, despite criticism that a proposed basic income grant (BIG) they are advocating would encourage people to be lazy.
Responding to questions after his presentation at a panel session of the 45th session of the United Nations Commission on Social Development in New York, Kameeta highlighted the opportunity of skills' improvement and job creation in the BIG process, contending that the grant would enable the poor to break the scandalous circle of poverty. He pointed out that skepticism about the scheme did not discourage him and others in the campaign, and they would continue with cautious optimism to struggle together for the sake of the poor.
Kameeta is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) and vice-president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) for the Africa region.
The annual session of the UN Commission was held from 7 to 16 February in New York, USA, under the theme "Promoting full employment and decent work for all." It evaluated plans and programs of action for social groups including older persons, youth and persons with disabilities. Kameeta's presentation on 9 February was titled, "Promoting employment and decent work for all - Towards a good practice model in Namibia."
'Decent work,' a concept coined by the International Labor Organization, means work that is productive and delivers a fair income, provides social protection for families, and is done in a safe environment under conditions of freedom and equality for men and women.
Best Practice Model
A government tax commission initially proposed the BIG. Civil society including the Council of Churches in Namibia, trade unions, youth and women's organizations, and other non-governmental organizations now actively advocate the grant for all Namibians.
"We in Namibia are not interested in the story of a dishwasher who became a millionaire - this for me is not a best practice model," Kameeta said in his presentation. "When I think of a best practice model, I want to stress the small but crucial two words, 'For All.' This means asking for and demanding a heavenly kingdom on earth, or what politicians call a turn-around strategy ... but in a concrete and tangible [way]," he noted.
The ELCRN bishop spoke of the daily lives of unemployed people in Namibia, who often must look for firewood and water, and care for other family members. The time and labor spent on these tasks diminishes the chances of the poor ever building up their own employment opportunities, he said.
"Human beings living under bridges, and those who search in dumps for their daily bread are not doing that by choice, but are forced to do so by unjust economic forces and systems combined with economic greed," said Kameeta.
The Lutheran leader said decent employment "is a matter of survival for the people" in a country which "holds the sad record of being the most unequal society in the world." Despite Namibia's ranking as a lower middle-income country, about two-thirds of its population lives below the poverty line. Having a job "is a question of 'to be or not to be' as there are scarcely any safety nets and virtually no possibilities of making a decent living outside the formal sector," Kameeta said at the UN panel.
The 2005 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program indicated that 34.9 percent of Namibia's 2 million people live on one US dollar per day, while 55.8 percent live on two US dollars.
The ELCRN bishop has taken up a leading role in the BIG campaign. In October 2006, Namibia's NGO consortium appointed him as one of the ambassadors to lead the national campaign against poverty under the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).
Human Dignity, Empowerment
According to Namibia's labor ministry, the country's unemployment rate had risen steadily to 36.7 percent by 2004. Young people, in particular, face enormous obstacles to finding decent work, with over 57 percent of youth aged 20-24 unemployed.
The basic income grant would provide every Namibian citizen with not less than 100 Namibian dollars (USD 14) per month. It is envisaged that the universal grant would be recaptured from the rich through direct or indirect taxation.
Kameeta described the scheme as "more than an income-support program. It provides security that reinforces human dignity and empowerment. It has the capacity to be the most significant poverty-reducing program in Namibia, while supporting household development, economic growth and job creation at the same time," he said.
The GCAP ambassador and his fellow campaigners are currently planning to launch a BIG pilot program in Namibia to show the positive aspects of the grant scheme and prove that it is indeed feasible.
The annual meeting of the UN Commission on Social Development reviews the implementation of the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen. An LWF delegation attended the summit and its five-year review in 2000 in Geneva. The LWF continues to follow the implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Program of Action. (871 words)
(Emily Freeburg at the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York contributed this article for LWI.)
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(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of 66.2 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)
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