Meeting SummaryThe Committee tabled and discussed its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) on the Department of Science and Technology and entities. Members added a recommendation that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) should be playing a more decisive role in relation to other entities and asked that it brief the Committee on how it was assisting, for instance in research. Members also felt that the Department should be advising the Committee of any important seminars or workshops that, although not offered directly by the DST, impacted on the role of the Committee, and the Committee resolved that a small sub-committee would keep track of the Department’s activities as well, since some issues were not being communicated to the Committee. Members noted that there were sometimes difficulties with reports being received too late to allow Members to study them thoroughly before meetings. The Committee would note its concern that the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) had taken so long to begin functioning. Members were concerned that although the Department was setting high targets for PhD graduates, they were not being met, and recommended that the Committee should be briefed on what informed the Department when it set those targets, to address the Committee’s concerns that they might not be realistic. In addition, the Committee would recommend that the challenges around the PhD programme and the need to fund it, as well as the concerns that most of the graduates were foreign students, should be addressed by the DST, the Department of Education and National Treasury. The Committee had recommended that the Department and National Advisory Council on Innovation should brief the Committee on how it intended to address the shortcomings of the PhD programme. In addition, the Committee would recommend that the Department must brief the committee about the R&D Tax Incentive programme, and the challenges about buying in private sector investment to support the PhD programme. The Committee would recommend that the Department must fill the high–level vacancies that were long outstanding. The Committee adopted the BRRR, with amendments.
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the DST stand at the Shanghai Expo was being visited by about 4 million people a day, affording enormous exposure to
Draft Committee Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR)
The Chairperson said that the purpose of the meeting was to adopt the Committee’s Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR or the Report). He asked members to read through the draft report, and highlight, change or add any recommendations. He noted that this Report would comment on the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) strategic plans and measurable objectives. They had to analyse the report so that they could make necessary amendments and recommendations.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) commended the Committee Secretary for tabling a good report. However, the Department’s relationship with other departments was not clear. The Department should be playing a more decisive role in relation to the Departments of Education and Energy, for example. She asked that this be included as a recommendation.
Ms M Shinn (DA) was concerned about the late availability of reports both from the Department and its entities, which made it difficult for Members to give the necessary attention to them prior to the meetings, and thoroughly evaluate them. She asked that the reports should be received earlier. She also commented that the recommendations should include the Committee’s concern that the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) had taken so long to begin functioning.
The Chairperson said the Committee should be specific in naming the time by when it wanted the reports. He knew that departments would never abide by the two weeks requirement for the submission of reports that was set out in the Rules of Parliament. The Department and entities should diarise the dates and plan its timetable long before it was to make presentations to the Committee.
Ms Shinn said that the two week recess period had further complicated the issue of getting reports on time.
A Member stated that he was certain that the Department had tabled its report on time, so he was not sure whether it was entirely correct for Members to say that the Department must submit its reports on time. However, he understood the concerns raised, and wondered whether perhaps the National Treasury should be asked to change the rules governing the submission of reports by departments.
The Chairperson responded that the Committee was not sure how the Department did work, but was recommending that the reports should be sent more timeously.
Mr P Smith (IFP) stated that this Committee had a particular difficulty because of the numerous agencies that were reporting to it, in comparison to other committees. He commented that he was not entirely happy with the format, and commented that the section dealing with problems or challenges of the Committee should either deal with all the challenges, or note that a selection had been made of a few. He thought it would be useful for the Committee to seek guidance on the drafting, and how general the Report needed to be. However, he endorsed the idea that the Department should strengthen its relationship with other departments.
Mr Smith noted that there were some implied recommendations included under observations, and some implied observations included under the recommendations. He needed clarity on how to deal with those.
The Chairperson thanked Mr Smith for his vigilance and asked the Committee to go through the observations, one by one, and to make comments.
The Committee Secretary suggested that the first three observations should be noted as recommendations.
Mr Smith commented on the notion of setting high targets in relation to the PhD programme of the Department, and said that although government selected those targets itself, it was not meeting them. He was not sure whether the targets were too high, or whether the Department was not striving hard enough to reach them, or both. It may be correct to recommend that the targets be reviewed and see if they were appropriate and achievable.
Ms Dunjwa agreed that the targets should be reviewed and controls should be tightened by the Committee when reviewing the Department.
A Member noted that when the Committee was making its recommendations, it should be careful that it did not give the impression that it was demanding any alteration to what the Department might have decided. Instead, the Committee needed to be told what had informed the setting of those targets, and make the observation that the current targets did not produce enough PhD graduates, therefore the Committee was questioning how realistic were those targets. He stressed that the Committee must make a recommendation, and request further information and a briefing from the Department. On receiving that information, the Committee might decide to advise the Department whether it needed to review its targets.
The Chairperson agreed and stated that there were some challenges around the information that the Committee required from the Department.
Ms Renee Osborne-Mullins, Committee Researcher, stated that when the Committee received a briefing by the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), it had outlined some of the work that it did in its advisory role to the Minister of Science and Technology. One of the matters cited was the review of the Ten-Year Innovation Plan, where it had set out what its targets were, the current status, what the shortcomings were, and what would be achieved. She then said that the Minister of Science and Technology had established a Ministerial Review Committee that is assessing the shortcomings of the innovation system and how best to amalgamate the National Research and Development Strategy with the Ten-Year Innovation Plan. She further said that after the briefing on the work of the Ministerial Review Committee, the Portfolio Committee should consider requesting the Department and NACI to brief them about the plans that they intended to implement to meet the shortfalls, and what interactions had been made with the relevant strategic departments in terms of their targets.
The Chairperson stated that there was a need for a workshop between the Department of Science and Technology and the Departments of Higher Education and Training, and Finance, to discuss the challenges around the PhD programme. There were further problems in increasing the number of PhD graduates because many of the students came from poor families and were unable to sustain themselves. It was necessary, therefore, to remunerate them in order to encourage them and also to allow them to achieve a balance and be able to support their families to keep them going. He stressed that it was very important to emphasise that point, because of the shortfalls that were encountered by the Department.
Mr Smith said he was not sure about the PhD programme, because the private sector was not buying into the programme. He was also concerned that the majority of students who completed the PhD graduates programme were foreigners.
The Committee Researcher suggested that the Committee may wish to prioritise, for early next year, briefings and/or workshops with the Department and the relevant stakeholders on the PhD programme and the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive programme. During these briefings/workshops, the Department should explain what was happening, what had been achieved and what was being done or could be done to realise the targets set in the Ten-Year Innovation Plan.
A Member said that, in terms of buy-in from the private sector, the Department should be looking at the companies who would add value to the PhD graduates. He stressed that they should be remunerated, so that they were attracted to the programme from such companies.
Ms Dunjwa asked whether the researcher could clarify if there was a company that supported the programme. She also wanted clarity on the role of the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) as stated in the Report.
The Chairperson said that the Department should brief the Committee on how far it had gone in terms of the proposal that AISA should approach the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and, if this was a recommendation, then it may need to be reworded so that the mandate was clear.
In response to Ms Dunjwa, Ms Osborne-Mullins clarified that she was talking about two separate programmes, namely the PhD programme and the R&D Tax Incentive programme. There were industry players coming in with money for in-service training, to support the students. However, the other aspect related to the R&D Tax Incentive programme, which was implemented by National Treasury, to give tax incentives for private sector companies that invested in research and development activities.
The Chairperson emphasised that the Department should look at the challenge of buying in private sector investment to support the PhD programme.
Mr Smith added that the Committee should recommend to the Department that it must fill all the high level vacancies that had been vacant for so long.
A Member asked for clarity on the Auditor-General’s (AG) findings in relation to the assets of the Department.
The Chairperson responded that there were no assets reported upon in the AG’s report.
Ms Osborne-Mullins confirmed that there was nothing in the report on assets, either in respect of the Department or the entities. Although the AG had reported in a previous year that AISA was finalising a new plan and structure, the AG had been happy with this aspect in the 2009/10 report.
Mr Smith asked whether the Department should be playing a specific role when relating to the Department of Energy, such as an advisory role. The Committee had never engaged with the Department on that issue. He added that he had been disappointed that the Committee was not invited to the recent conference in Upington.
The Chairperson recommended that the Committee should be alerted about the activities of all the strategic departments that were directly relevant to the Department of Science and Technology.
Ms Dunjwa agreed, and noted that the Committee should be quite strategic and proactive on this issue, as invitations and notification was crucial.
Ms Shinn said she was concerned about the Department’s plans and activities, and said that the Committee should be kept fully up to date.
Ms S Molao (COPE) agreed that the Upington conference was very important, and that the Committee’s role must be strengthened. She asked the Committee Researcher to pass on any information that she might become aware of in relation to the activities of the other strategic departments.
A Member stressed that there should be one person who should keep track of the activities of the Department because his past experience had shown that it was unlikely that this information would be received from the Department.
The Committee resolved that a task team of three people should be assigned to keep track of the activities of the Department.
The Committee adopted the BRRR, with amendments.
Other business: Committee programme
The Chairperson noted that he had just received a call from the Director General of the Department, who was in China, informing him that South Africa was receiving a lot of exposure through the Department’s stand at the 2010 Shangai Expo, which had been visited by about 4 million people a day since the World Cup 2010.
Ms Shanaaz Isaacs, Committee Secretary, noted that the Department had formally communicated with the Committee about its inability to present on the Bio-Economic Strategy at this meeting.
The Committee Secretary noted an invitation extended to the Committee for a launch of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Launch on 5 November in
The Chairperson noted that the Director General of DST had apologised that the Committee had mistakenly not been invited to the launch of TIA the previous week, as the invitation had been sent inadvertently to the wrong committee.
Ms Shinn complained that this was the second time an invitation was extended to the Committee, which it did not receive, noting that Minister of Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, had sent an invitation to the Committee earlier in the year, which was not received until three weeks after the event. The Committee must do something about this, lest it be regarded as ill-mannered in not responding to invitations.
The Chairperson agreed, and said that the Committee should write to the Department expressing its concerns that this was not the first time that this had occurred, so that the Department could correct its communication processes.
Ms Dunjwa questioned why the Department’s staff should not have been aware of this Committee’s involvement in TIA, and said the Committee should find out why the invitation ended up with another committee.
The Chairperson agreed, stressing that this was well within the Committee’s oversight mandate, and it should be overseeing how the Department was being run and what calibre of staff were employed. This would be conveyed to the Director General.
A Member asked for clarity on the number of people that were visiting South African stand in the Shangai expo.
The Chairperson responded that this was apparently not less than 4 million a day. The population of
The Committee Secretary then noted that there was a request from the Department to brief the committee on the Ministerial Review on the Science and Technology Innovation Landscape in
Ms Shinn asked whether the date was set specifically by the Department, because that was the date the Minister was available for a briefing.
The Chairperson said the Committee was not obliged to accommodate the Department if the Parliamentary programme dictated otherwise, but if the Members felt that it needed to see the Department before the end of the year, then consideration could be given to slotting it in before 18 November. He asked the Parliamentary Liaison Officer of the Department to clarify why it was important that the Department see the Committee on that particular date.
Mr Luyanda Frans, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, Department of Science and Technology, said the Department had requested the date of 24 November on the basis that the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology would be meeting with the Ministerial Review Committee on 11 and 12 November, and would be going to Cabinet on 16 November. 24 November would therefore be the only date on which the Department could see the Portfolio Committee.
The Chairperson asked Members for their input on the date.
Ms Dunjwa said she would not have a problem with that date, but hoped it would not be changed.
The Chairperson noted that he had not been present when the committee’s plans were discussed at previous meetings and asked what was planned during this period.
Ms Dunjwa said there was nothing scheduled for the Committee beyond the 18th of November.
The Committee Secretary added that there was an agenda item that was outstanding from the past week, owing to a change in the Parliamentary programme. The Committee could discuss how to use the week after 18 November to engage with this item, or abandon it.
The Chairperson proposed that the Committee should slot the Department in between 11 and 18 November.
Mr Smith indicated that he may have to attend other meetings, but was prepared to endorse this.
The Committee resolved that a meeting be arranged with the Department for 17 November, and the Parliamentary Liaison Officer would communicate the time at which the Department could attend.
The meeting was adjourned.
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