Human Sciences Research Council Board: tabling of shortlisted candidates to Committee

Science and Technology

22 June 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson advised Members that the previous Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology had debated whether the Committee must be more involved in appointment of members of Boards of entities falling under the Department of Science and Technology. There was inconsistency with regards to Parliament's oversight responsibilities when it came to Board appointments, resulting in a fragmented approach between different Committees and pieces of legislation, which caused some confusion as to the nature and extent of oversight powers over Board appointments and administration. Past experience had shown this Committee's opinion being  disregarded, when the Minister was required by the legislation to appoint the Board “after consultation” with the Minister. This Committee, in approving an amendment to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Act, had therefore preferred the option which required the appointment of Board members by the Minister to take place “in consultation” with Parliament, and to follow its recommendations.

The Department of Science and Technology then briefed the Committee on the progress of nominations to the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) Board, saying that a shortlist had been compiled by the Ministerial committee, but that the necessary Parliamentary processes to finalise the appointments to the Board had been delayed by a almost one year, as a result of certain technical hitches during processing of the HSRC Amendment Bill by Parliament, as also through procedural setbacks, in that the Office of the Speaker had not formally referred the shortlist to the Committee for consideration, as required by the rules of Parliament. The reasons were not clear, although the Department had raised the issue with the Speaker. The Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the shortlist and the provision of abridged curriculum vitaes as opposed to full curriculum vitaes of all nominees, and resolved that all 23 CVs must be sent by courier to the Committee so that it could consider the list at its next meeting. One Member queried the lack of balance in racial representivity, and others queried the nomination of three foreigners to the shortlisted candidates. When the Department responded that the quality of curriculum vitaes received had restricted their choices, and that the foreigners had been headhunted for their specific skills, Members said that the lack of local skills must be addressed by the Committee at another debate, and so should the factors that affected the numbers of South African young scientists in the education system

Meeting report

Chairperson's Preliminary Remarks
The Chairperson introduced the agenda, noting that the Committee was to consider the progress made to date with the appointment of the candidates to the Board of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). There had been long delays before the necessary legislation had been eventually assented to by the President, and it was important for the Committee to be briefed on the reasons for this delay and any challenges encountered by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in relation to the appointments to the Board. Three models existed for the appointing of the Board members, raised in previous deliberations by this Committee. The first possible model would require the Committee to simply interview candidates and nominate the Board. However this model had been rejected, because the Committee felt it would be too cumbersome, given the number of entities over whom the Committee exercised oversight, and preferable to leave this to the administration level of the Department. The second model was that Board appointments be made in consultation with the Portfolio Committee. The third alternative was that Parliament be fully  involved in the process, similar to the way in which the Portfolio Committee on Communications was involved in appointing boards in that sector, such as the SABC Board.

This Committee had adopted the second option, namely that Board appointments be done “in consultation” with the Committee. This decision was informed by previous experiences with the appointment of the National Research Foundation (NRF) Board; in this case although the Minister had complied with the legislative requirements, by forwarding a shortlist of the candidates to the Committee, the opinion of the Committee had been disregarded in making the final appointments. IN that instance the requirement was merely “after consultation with Parliament” and not “in consultation with Parliament” which had meant that the Minister would need to consult but would not be bound to follow Parliament’s recommendations. The Committee at the time had suggested certain changes after discovering that two very capable candidates had been not been included in the shortlist, but this was disregarded by the minister.

The Committee therefore motivated the Committee to ensure that the HSRC Board appointments were done in a manner that would give the Committee a say.  This still remained a thorny issue within the Ministry, however, who felt that Parliament's oversight role should not interfere with the administrative processes, that the appointment of the Board should be the sole prerogative of the Ministry, and that only if such a Board had malfunctioned would Parliament's intervention be required. The NRF was governed by legislation different to that of the HSRC legislation. The Committee agreed that at some stage all the legislation governing appointments to the Boards of the different State entities would be standardised, so that they would all be governed by a common legislative prescription. This matter had also been raised at the Committee of Chairpersons, noting that there was a need to have a standard approach across all Committees, as it was difficult to justify the disjuncture between the approaches of, for instance the Committee on Communications and other committees. These matters would be reviewed by this Parliament. 

Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefing
Mr Daniel Moagi, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Science and Technology, said that the Chairperson had adequately covered all the issues in relation to the process followed to amend the relevant provisions of the HSRC Act in relation to the appointment of the Board. The Department agreed with Parliament that the Minister should appoint the Board “in consultation” with Parliament.

He noted that the term of office of the current members of the HSRC Board had expired in October 2008 and the Board members thus needed to be replaced. The difficulty was that the majority of the members had served for two terms already. Most of them had signaled their intention to retire from the Board, some because of their age, and some because they were not on serving for a third term. The former Minister had to plead with them to continue to serve until the new Board had been appointed. Despite their reservations, most of those Board members had agreed to continue for an interim period on the Board. The Department was therefore appealing to the Committee for assistance in fast-tracking the new appointments.

Mr Moagi said that there were three members of the current board who were interested in continuing their service with the new Board now to be established and their names were on the shortlist submitted to the Committee. The Department recommended that at least two out of those three be considered for appointment to the new Board. The Board would total nine members. A list of more than nine names had been submitted to the Committee for consideration. He noted that the nomination had been advertised, in compliance with the Act, in two national newspapers. The Minister had appointed a committee to advise him on the suitability of candidates, after which a shortlist of nominated candidates had been submitted to the Office of the Speaker of Parliament. This had been done in 2008. However, because of the tight Parliamentary schedule, the previous Portfolio Committee had been unable to consider the appointment of the Board, despite its willingness to do so, and its view that the Board should be appointed then. The Parliamentary rules, however, had prevented the Committee at the time from dealing with a matter without prior communication from the Speaker of Parliament. The Department had written letters to the Speaker requesting that this process be expedited, but to no avail. The Department therefore appealed once again to the Committee for assistance in this regard. Mr Moagi indicated that a matter submitted after the HSRC matter,  namely the Technology Innovation Agency Bill (TIA), had already been approved by the National Assembly, whilst the HSRC matter had yet to be formally submitted to the Committee through the Office of the Speaker of Parliament.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) asked whether the Department was saying that the Committee did not have any legislated responsibility with regards to the shortlisted applications.

Mr Moagi responded that in terms of the current Act, once the nominations had been received, the Department had to advise the Minister, who must then appoint an independent Committee to shortlist those candidates who met the requirements. The Minister had submitted this shortlist to the Office of the Speaker. However, the Committee could not formally consider it because it had not been referred to the Committee by the Speaker.

Ms M Shinn (DA) asked whether any of the existing Board members, who had indicated their willingness to be considered for appointment to the new Board, would be serving for a second or third term.

Mr Moagi responded that they would not.

Mr P Smith (IFP) asked who decided on the number of nominees to be considered for appointment to the Board.

The Chairperson responded that the Minister would make this decision.

Mr Smith noted that the Act named representivity as one of the criteria for appointment to the Board. He queried whether this requirement was covered by the shortlist submitted, since only one candidate from each of the White and Indian minority groupings was named. He also asked whether candidate Mr Pillay was an expert in the Human Sciences, or if his expertise lay in a totally different field.

Mr Daniel Moagi responded that Mr Pillay's expertise was relevant to continuing research on HIV Aids. He responded that the challenge for the Department had been around the quality of the candidates’ curriculum vitae (CVs), which restricted the options that were available.

Mr Smith asked how many CVs had been submitted and what had been the criteria leading to the selection of the thirteen nominees on the shortlist that was now before the Committee.

Mr Moagi responded that the panel established by the Minister in terms of the Act had considered 32 CVs.

The Chairperson commented that the Committee had requested that CVs be brought before the Members so that they could exercise proper oversight. The Committee had uncovered discrepancies in the past when dealing with the NRF Board. There was a need for the whole process to be looked at in a workshop with all the different stakeholders.

Ms Kalyan asked why, if there was a requirement that Board members should be permanent residents or citizens of South Africa, priority had been given to three foreigners on the list. She asked whether this had been done because there were no South African candidates available.

Mr Moagi responded that the three foreign Africans were sourced by the panel, and had been head-hunted by the Committee based on the skills that they would bring. He noted that the appointment of the Board was not based on Labour Relations Act requirements and there was thus no need to give first priority to South African candidates. The main consideration for the HSRC had been the expertise that these candidates could offer.
The Chairperson commented that the issue of expertise not being available in South Africa was unacceptable. If there was a desire to achieve transformation then this had to be reviewed.

Another member suggested that the Committee needed to have a session to determine the factors that affected the numbers of South African young scientists in the education system

Ms M Shinn commented that the Board nominees either seemed to have been pre-selected, or perhaps that the Department had received a poor pool of candidates.

The Chairperson suggested that the Department should consult the National Advisory Council on Innovation to acquire more information on suitable candidates to the Board.

The Committee resolved to consider all 32 CVs that had been submitted to the DST at another meeting and asked the Department to ensure that these document were sent by courier as quickly as possible before the next meeting scheduled for the following Tuesday. The Committee also requested that the Director-General be present at the next meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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