Science and Technology: Minister's Budget Speech


17 Jun 2009



Chair of the Portfolio Committee, Mr Nqaba Ngcobo
Members of the Executive
Honourable Members

“Placing science and technology at the centre of development”

I hope that Deputy Minister Hanekom and I will present you with a very clear picture of the immense opportunities for development that exist in science, technology, and innovation. Much has been done in the past decade to give life to these opportunities and former Minister Mangena must be applauded for his sterling contribution. This Administration will build on the foundation that has been laid.

The world has changed fundamentally from the spend-thrift world of just two years ago. Countries and parliaments are fully alert to the fact that if they are to direct their economies to a new path of growth, traditional approaches to socio-economic development will not suffice. All countries are trying to define a new way – one that leads to prosperity, inclusion, collaboration and creative ways of using knowledge and skills.

If one listens to discussions in policy networks and world parliaments, all are agreed that future growth will depend on expanding investment in science, technology and innovation. It is only countries and companies that make a sustained and well-designed investment in human capital that will be globally competitive in the future.

The key priorities for this government are health, education, jobs, rural development and agrarian reform, and the combating of crime. Each of them has a direct link to our work in science and technology. Better health-care provision will require new medical remedies, efficient medical technology, and an indigenous pharmaceutical production capacity so that all are able to access cheaper medicine.

Innovation is vital for a country that faces the challenges of creating sustainable jobs and improving living standards. The identification and use of new sources of energy, confronting and eliminating diseases, developing new treatments, expanding communication, manufacturing new products, and using new technologies all depend on our investment in science and innovation.

We’ve made welcome progress in creating and supporting a robust innovation system.

In this financial year we’ll give increased attention to strengthening partnerships among universities, colleges and enterprises that have a positive track record in research and development and in promoting technology and innovation.

In this regard we’ll also promote direct collaboration with innovative private sector leaders in science, technology and innovation.

Our awards and recognition for established, new, and aspiring researchers and science and technology workers will be expanded so that we seek out talent, reward talent, and put talent to work on making South Africa smarter and more effective.

The national department will also give greater attention to encouraging co-coordinated government action at national, provincial and local spheres. Many departments support innovation - we need to integrate our efforts without stifling creativity. Ministers responsible for research councils and other innovation bodies need to work and plan together.

The Department of Science and Technology has been given the task of developing a National Science and Technology Expenditure Plan to provide a coherent approach to government science and technology investment.

Early analysis indicates that government spends about R10 billion in scientific and technological activities.

Our economic success will be shaped by the degree to which we successfully anticipate the future. The future will be shaped and transformed by new technologies. We need to ensure that we have a new generation of scientists. Turning South Africa into a knowledge-based society requires that our schools, universities and colleges offer high-level skills training for all our people; training that will make them globally competitive yet locally relevant. The departments of Science and Technology, Basic Education and Higher Education will have to work closely together to ensure that we offer quality learning opportunities to future scientists.

Speaker, it would appear to be true that whenever countries face economic downturns the first budgets cut are often in research and development. However, there are well-known examples of countries investing heavily in science and technology during a recession. I’m thinking of Finland and Korea. In the 1990s Finland in particular underwent a savage economic crisis. Most public expenditure was cut across the board. Except for R&D. R&D was raised. In particular, the Finish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation played a central role in laying a strong basis for an economic rebound. And we all know the success Finland has made of the cell-phone industry.

We undertake to increase financial support for science and technology.

Look at the figures.

Over the past five years government has improved funding to science, technology and innovation. The budget has grown from R2 billion in 2005/06 to R5.1 billion projected for 2011/12. In the 2009/10 financial year our budget will be R4.2billion.

Moreover, in 2006 South Africa's gross expenditure on R&D was just over R16,5 billion.

We have to acknowledge that, although this is close to our target of 1% of GDP, the investment is modest, and that now is the time to increase our target beyond 1% of GDP funding for research.

Other countries are spending more – much more. China and India, in particular, are investing in their own potential for success. China is fast becoming the largest exporter of products in the high-end ICT industry, and through its 2005 decision to rejuvenate and promote its economy India has substantially grown its R&D budgets for the public funding of science research and education.

We need to build aggressively on our strengths to realise our potential.

Knowledge and innovation depend on educated people. We are investing in advanced education, research and professional development. We are encouraging talented South Africans and immigrants to take advantage of South Africa as a place to live and work. And we are ensuring that they are able to perform to their full potential.

In 2007 the South African government introduced the South African Research Chairs Initiative. With this initiative, we have given universities the resources to attract and retain top scientists, and they have access to the funding and infrastructure that will enable them to perform at the leading edge.

South Africa is committing R150 million over three years for new research chairs. By December 2008, 72 research chairs had been awarded in key areas aligned to our national priorities, and a total of 374 postgraduate students had been supported through their supervision or mentorship.

The process of awarding research chairs has progressed more slowly than anticipated, but this year 10 more research chairs will be awarded, bringing the total to 82.

We’ll also approach influential media organizations to secure their support in popularising innovation. Young people must be encouraged to be innovative and to develop new ideas into business initiatives. As government we must tap into youth’s affinity for exploring new technology. We should examine how young people use Face Book as a virtual science tutorial room.

Honourable members, there are significant skills and job opportunities in our fields of activity – we provide bursaries for undergraduates, masters, doctoral and post-doctoral candidates. This training requires support from well trained science technologists and from academic staff who are keen to work with post graduate trainees.

We have designed incentives and a framework for scarce skills that recognizes that knowledge cannot be bound by borders. We encourage scientists in the Diaspora back to South Africa for work visits or collaborative virtual research. We have hundreds of scientists in universities all over the world, We must create opportunities for them to work in South Africa.

Speaker, honourable members, these interventions require a research infrastructure that supports our national innovation system.

Worn out laboratories, old machinery and disillusioned neglected scientists will not give us the results we seek.

Seventeen years ago state-supported institutions led in several areas of science – agriculture, electrical technology and mining engineering – much of this infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate due to neglect and the lack of appreciation as to its impact on our scientific world ranking. Infrastructure attracts world scientists, allows for new ideas, new technology, innovation.

The excellent progress in the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope is visible testimony of how a country can benefit from its natural attributes and from the focused strategic investment.

South Africa and Australia have been short listed in the final phase of the world search to build the most efficient and advanced radio telescope. We have been successful this far due to skills, investment and world interest. The winning country for the SKA will be announced in 2011.

We need two more years of sustained and committed support for this project.

Both Australia and South Africa are building demonstration telescopes to develop the necessary technology and illustrate our ability to meet scientific research expectations. Our demonstration telescope, the Meerkat, will be fully assembled by 2012.

As part of this development, we have taken steps to protect the ideal radio astronomy conditions offered by the Karoo area through the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, which aims to preserve our geographic advantage – our climate and our clear skies – for astronomy research infrastructure.

We’ve begun to explore the commercial potential of publicly funded research. Our new legislative framework on intellectual property will support academic and public research institutions in identifying intellectual property with commercial potential and forging partnerships with the private sector.

We’ll pursue these objectives with careful attention to the experience of other systems that have shown that freedom to investigate and explore gives the most enduring and effective results. Public institutions will be encouraged to include innovation in their strategic plans and our universities with potential for business linked research will be supported to pursue knowledge based partnerships. We are considering new partnerships with universities that will allow them to more vigorously contribute to advancing innovation and technology.

Speaker, many countries are paying attention to the development and support of indigenous knowledge systems.

Our branch for community partnerships for science and innovation has begun to develop promising partnerships for promoting research and innovation on indigenous knowledge systems.

We believe that in the area of indigenous pharmaceuticals, there are untapped opportunities for economic growth, skills and job creation.

And Council for Scientific and Industrial Research health research has led to the development of a herbal extract for the treatment of mild asthma, colds, influenza and sinus problems. The results have pointed to the mode of action through which this traditional remedy acts, and are the first scientific evidence that validates the traditional use of the plant from which the extract is made for treating asthma.

Our science councils are making an enormous contribution to the fulfillment of our objectives, particularly those aimed directly at alleviating the plight of the poor.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is hosting research projects that aim to develop construction technologies for affordable, sustainable, high quality housing for middle to low-income earners.

Speaker, it has to be said that South Africa is better positioned to weather the current economic recession than most countries, owing to the government commitment to large-scale infrastructure development. This commitment provides a unique window of opportunity for us to capture a greater share of this spending to improve science, technology and innovation infrastructure, and allow South African companies to progress down the value chain to become globally competitive suppliers.

Moreover, my department has designed a technology localisation strategy that will provide tailor-made technology-assistance packages to companies that are potential suppliers to original equipment manufacturers or their first-tier suppliers.

In this way we’ll support South African companies to secure the benefits of the infrastructure-build programme.

The first areas of focus are the foundry industry, as part of the Eskom and Transnet infrastructure programmes, and the electronics industry in relation to the mass roll-out of set-top boxes that will be required as we moved to digital broadcasting.

Last year the South African National Space Agency Bill was signed into law, providing for the establishment of a national space agency later this year, to organise all the space-related activities in the country.

The agency will promote the peaceful use of outer space; foster research in astronomy, earth observation, communications, navigation and space physics; foster international cooperation in space-related activities; and advance scientific, engineering and technological competencies through human capital development and outreach programmes. It will facilitate the development of space missions, develop technology platforms, and acquire, assimilate and disseminate space satellite data for any organ of state.

It’ll also implement the National Space Strategy, approved by Cabinet in December 2008, which seeks to position South Africa among the leading nations in the innovative utilisation of space science and technology. It is also expected to bring together the work of several institutions and harness their capacities to leverage billions of rands to boost the economy and create more jobs.

Honourable Members, I’m pleased to inform you that the launch of South Africa's SumbandilaSat in Russia is imminent. The satellite arrived in Moscow on 10 June, and it is to be shipped to Baikanour in Kazakhstan for integration into the Soyuz launch vehicle. As you know, SumbandilaSat should have been launched some time ago, but our efforts to do so were delayed by our Russian partners. We are working hard to finalise a launch date.

In addition to the interventions I have referred to, the department is also promoting and supporting the use of cutting-edge technologies to address key local challenges. Through projects like the large-scale demonstration of wireless mesh network technology, the Department will over the next two years test a model that will deploy internet connectivity to Dinaledi schools and to government facilities in rural communities. We’ll also explore models for delivering this infrastructure through community entrepreneurs.

For the past three years the Department of Science and Technology, in partnership with the CSIR, has been driving a computer-based self-learning initiative known as the Digital Doorway initiative.

This computer-based educational platform provides an opportunity to the youth and other community members to educate themselves at their own pace, learning to use computers and access information relevant to their interests and needs. The instruments allow for wireless connection, and can run on solar power, allowing installation in remote rural villages and in dense informal settlements with no electricity connections.

This type of innovation is essential if we are to successfully achieve a knowledge-based society. Over 200 instruments containing Wikipedia and more than 10 000 books have been provided across South Africa, mainly in public libraries, community centres and schools.

Speaker, Honourable members I hope you will support my proposal that we must make a robust effort to locate science, technology, and innovation at the centre of development in South Africa.


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