Human Sciences Research Council Annual Report 2008/09

Science and Technology

17 November 2009
Chairperson: Mr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) briefed the Committee on its Annual Report 2008/09. The HSRC had conducted 188 research projects for the 2008/09 period. It had received an unqualified audit report from the Auditor General. The total turnover had increased from R261.6 million in 2007/08 to R325.3 million in 2008/09. The HSRC spent what it received, which reflected a good absorption capacity. Its research themes were governance and society, education and science, world of work, HIV/AIDS and health systems, and poverty and development. Some of the issues covered within the research themes were crime in South Africa, quality of education in schools, employment creation and health.

Members asked who had commissioned the research on national health insurance, and whether reports were available, whether there had been research into the perpetrators of crime in South Africa, what had been the results of research into the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, and how proposals based on research were translated into legislation. Other questions related to the finances, why interest had accrued on overdue accounts, whether there was truth in the allegation that some staff may not be paid, what had been the reasons for service delivery protests, what percentage of funding comprised of the government allocations and the donor funding sources, and what it was used for. Members also enquired as to the HSRC’s role in dealing with Sector Education and Training Authorities, whether there had been research into the service delivery protests, into the legislation proposed for the South African Police Service, the 2010 Soccer World Cup, into science and education, and if there was truth in the rumour that some overseas researchers who were contracted in were using research papers from their own countries and passing it off as their own research. They also questioned the salary bills for 2008 and 2009 and whether performance management was in place, and how people were contracted to work for the HSRC. Other questions related to the reasons for the drop in HIV/AIDs in teenagers, the reasons for South Africa’s poor Gini coefficient, details of the relationship with the South African Local Government Association and Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and who set the targets for performance against which HSRC was measured. Members also asked what were the main challenges that the HSRC faced, questioned why the presentation had not mentioned climate change, and noted that the two main issues raised related to the request for increase of the government grant, whether statutory councils could be judged by some different standard than the Public Finance Management Act, the need for a more detailed response on health issues, and the request for a realignment of statutory councils.

Meeting report

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Annual Report 2008/09 briefing
Dr Olive Shisana, Chief Executive Officer, Human Sciences Research Council, undertook the briefing. She noted that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) had conducted 188 research projects for the 2008/09 period. The total turnover had increased from R261.6 million in 2007/08 to R325.3 million in 2008/09. The HSRC spent what it received, which reflected a good absorption capacity.

She noted that the HSRC had received an unqualified audit report from the Auditor General.

Governance and society, education and science, world of work, HIV/AIDS and health systems and poverty and development were the research themes of the HSRC. The Committee was given insight into each of the research themes (see attached presentation for details). Some of the issues covered within the research themes were crime in South Africa, quality of education in schools, employment creation and health.

Due to time constraints Dr Shisana referred members to the Annual Report for more details of the work done by the HSRC over the last fiscal year. For greater detail please also see the attached document.

Ms M Shinn (DA) referred to the national health initiative and National Health Insurance (NHI) and asked who commissioned research on national health insurance. If it was government who commissioned it, she also asked what the cost was, and whether a report was available.

Dr Shisana said that the issue of NHI had started a while back. In 2007 stakeholders had been invited to a meeting where presentations had been given. National Treasury, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health, the HSRC and the private sector etc played a part in developing a draft policy. The policy was not the intellectual property of the HSRC alone, as there were many stakeholders involved. She said that the priorities of Government were close to the priorities of the HSRC. Hence government priorities were taken into consideration. The HSRC however did not reflect what the ruling party wanted, nor did it mimic Government's positions.

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) referred to crime in South Africa and asked who the perpetrators were, whether this was mainly locals or foreigners.

Dr Kundlo said that the issue of crime and foreign nationals was difficult to determine. The statistics were not much help. Research had, however, been done on the Nigerian 419 scam. It had a serious impact on business in South Africa.

Ms Dunjwa referred to the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and asked for comment.

Dr Shisana said that a comprehensive study had been done about the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. The conclusion was that there was certainly stigma attached by third parties on persons suffering from HIV/AIDS, but there was also a great amount of self stigma. HIV/AIDS persons considered themselves to be outcasts but progress on changing perceptions was being made.

Ms S Kalyan (DA) asked how a proposal which was based on research became legislation.

Dr Shisana stated that political support was needed in order turn research into legislation. Stakeholders like the private sector and trade unions would also have to be involved. Wide consultation was needed.

Ms Kalyan asked why interest had been paid to the Department of Labour and Telkom because accounts had not been paid timeously.

Ms Audrey Ohlson, Acting Executive Director: Support Services/Finance, HSRC, explained that interest had been paid on a Telkom account but the amount had been credited back to the HSRC as it had been Telkom's mistake in billing the HSRC late.

Ms Kalyan also questioned if there was any truth in the allegation that employees of the HSRC were not going to be paid for December.

Dr Shisana said that as far as payment of staff for December 2009 was concerned she had sent a notice to senior staff that they had to make out invoices for completed work in order for payment to take place. The government grant was not sufficient to cover salaries.
Mr P Smith (IFP) asked what percentage of the HSRC's funding comprised of the parliamentary grant. He asked if the HSRC received any donor funding from overseas. He also enquired how HSRC handled the rollover of funds.

Ms Ohlson said that donors provided funding in advance. The funds were invested by the HSRC. Funding was obtained from both external and internal sources.

Mr Smith asked how much of the HSRC's research was commissioned and how much was self initiated.

Dr Shisana noted that research was often self initiated but there was commissioned research as well.

Mr Smith asked whether and how the HSRC played a role in improving the efficacy of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).

Dr Vijay Reddy, Executive Director Education, Science and Skills Development, HSRC, said that the HSRC, together with the Department of Labour, had not considered the governance issues of SETAS. Instead, they looked at the impact of learnership programmes. Learnership programmes had been tracked over time in order to keep a check on completion rates. The key point of the learnerships was the high levels of training. The uptake by Coloured and African persons was on training on low level skills whereas the uptake by Whites and Indians was on high level skills. She said that the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) worked better for higher level education than lower level education.

Mr Smith noted that there was a drop in HIV/AIDS in teenagers by 50%. The drop could partly be attributed to the 10% increase in the use of condoms. However, he asked what other factors had caused the drop.

Dr Shisana said that it was correct that the increase in condom use by teenagers was not the only factor that had caused HIVAIDS figures to drop. Prevention of mother to child transmission had also contributed to the drop in HIV/AIDS figures. Part of the drop in figures was also attributable to behaviour change.

Mr Smith asked how South Africa could have the worst Gini coefficient in the world. The inequalities in income in South Africa had become worse.

Dr Shisana said that the Gini coefficient was so high in South Africa because there was unevenness in access to resources. South Africans spent R21 billion out of pocket on health for example. Those that could afford it had access to it. Those with money controlled the economy and hence the poor lost out.

Mr Smith asked for details of the HSRC's relationship with South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA).

Dr Udesh Pillay, Executive Director Centre for Service Delivery, HSRC, said that there had been a robust debate about labour creation. She said that she had been approached by COGTA to comment on the Turnaround Strategy. The Presidency had asked for better figures to measure service delivery. Work with SALGA was also taking place on the restructuring of local government.

Mr Smith referred to the targets against which performance of the HSRC was measured and asked who set the targets.

Dr Christa van Zyl, Deputy Executive Director: Office of the CEO, HSRC, said that the HSRC set its own targets over a three year period. The debate on targets took place on two levels. Research programmes set their own targets. Collective targets were based on individual research targets. The HSRC wished to have targets that were achievable.

Mr L Mkhize (ANC) referred to the establishment of a centre of excellence for employment creation in Tshwane as a pilot project and asked what the chances were of similar projects being extended into other areas.

Mr Mkhize asked whether the spate of service delivery protests were really about service delivery or whether they were linked to something else. In Mpumalanga halls and libraries were set alight, yet the issue was lack of service delivery. He noted that mismanagement of funds was at the core of the protests in Mpumalanga.

Dr Shisana said that lessons must first be learnt from the pilot project in Mpumalanga before other projects could be considered. She said that the issue in Mpumalanga was sparked by R30 million which had been irregularly spent. There was also a disconnect between councillors and communities. The issue of protests needed more diagnostic work. There was a need to consider more creative interventions at local level over the short-term as opposed to the long-term.

The Chairperson commended the Department of Science and Technology and its entities in obtaining an unqualified audit report from the Auditor General.

The Chairperson asked several questions around research. The first related to whether research had been done into the service delivery protests, and what were the findings. He also noted that the proposed new legislation that would allow SAPS members to use force for self defence was coming under heavy criticism from stakeholders, and he wondered what research had been done into the issue.

The Chairperson said many research institutions in South Africa used foreign students to conduct research and were paid huge salaries. There were rumours that these students often used research papers from their own countries and presented this as their own research. He asked for comment whether this was really the case. Noting that the 2010 Soccer World Cup was fast approaching, he asked what the HSRC was doing to assist government in identifying the pros and cons of hosting this event. He also asked how much research had been done on education and science, and what the HSRC was engaged in to assist the Department of Education on developing education.

Dr Shisana responded that a great deal of work was being done by the HSRC on the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Particulars could be found on page 56 of the Annual Report.

Prof Kwandiwe Kondlo, Executive Director Democracy and Governance, HSRC, referred to the legislation relating to the use of force by SAPS members and said that the issue was about analysing evidence. Case by case evidence needed to be analysed.

Ms Reddy referred to science and education and said that the first challenge was from the schooling education point of view. The HSRC had done research over how the learner was going to access the curriculum in order to participate globally. Studies had also been conducted over how the public interacted with science. Indigenous knowledge systems were also considered.

Dr Shisana was not aware of foreign research students using research from their home countries as their own. If it was happening, action would be taken.

The Chairperson pointed out that the Annual Report had been silent on what challenges the HSRC had faced. The presentation had also not mentioned anything about the issue of climate change.

Dr Shisana noted that in relation to climate change, for the last five years research had been done on emissions. Much research was being done on the hard issues. There was sufficient research done on the social impact of climate change.

Dr Shisana conceded that the Annual Report did not indicate challenges faced. The biggest challenge was however the raising of funds. Ideally the HSRC would wish for the government grant to be increased. The Committee's assistance in this regard would be greatly appreciated. Supply Chain Management was another concern, as it caused delays. The HSRC suggested that different procedures for accountability of statutory councils be used other than the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

The Chairperson said that there were talks about whether State institutions should perhaps commercialise themselves in order to better fund themselves.

Ms Schinn asked whether funding had been received from the Bill Gates Foundation.

Dr Shisana responded that funding was obtained from the Gates Foundation.

Ms Dunjwa said that the Recognition of Prior Learning had been devised to benefit those that were not benefiting from the normal promotion opportunities. She enquired whether and when a research paper on it was going to be available.

Dr Reddy agreed to find out if a short paper on the RPL was available.

Ms Kalyan felt that the response on health care in South Africa was too simplistic. Many factors came into play.

Ms Kalyan asked why salaries for council members and executive members of the HSRC had been increased by R3 million from 2008 to 2009.

Dr Shisana said that many HSRC executives had been lost in 2008. Hence there was a decrease in spending for 2008. In 2009 there had also been small salary increases in addition to the amounts paid for new staff.

Mr Smith asked how much of the HSRC's funding was donor funding.

Mr Smith asked what the CEO's relationship with the Board was, and whether there was performance management in place.
Dr Shisana said that performance management was evidence based and was performance indicator driven.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on how persons were contracted to the HSRC, whether as consultants or as employees.

Dr Shisana said that the salary bill of the HSRC was much greater than the grant that was received from Parliament. This was the reason for the reliance on other domestic funding. The HSRC invoiced on projects as they were completed. If projects were not completed then monies could not be accessed. Managers were warned in advance to complete projects.

Ms Kalyan asked if employees received fixed salaries in addition to funds from projects.

Dr Shisana said that only one salary amount was received.

Ms Ohlson said that each researcher billed for research that had been done. There were different rates for different researchers. As researchers billed for work completed, so were the funds recovered from donors.

Dr Reddy added that every employee was paid. There was yet to be a scenario where employees did not receive salaries.

The Chairperson noted the two major issues, relating to the request for a greater government grant, and the request for a realignment of statutory councils.

The meeting was adjourned.


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