The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act (AGA Act) and Astronomy Geographic Advantage Areas, as well as the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill.
The first briefing focused on the AGA Bill and AGA Areas. The purpose of the Act was to preserve the geographic advantage areas that attract investment in astronomy. Since the Bill was assented by the President, the entire Northern Cape Province excluding the
The Committee asked if the technical team that was going to be used to probe the impact of fracking was going to include astronomers, if the task team have any bearing on the regulations for the AGA Act, why the central area for SALT did not include the Western Cape, as the province would need to be protected too, what steps were going to be put in place to protect SALT from light and dust pollution, and why the core area around SKA has not been defined. Members also wanted to know what the function of the Astronomy Management Authority was, if there were any unresolved matters that involved other players such as Telkom, if the AGA Act had any impact on job creation in the Northern Cape, and if the declaration of the Northern Cape being an AGA area had an impact on the other areas or provinces in the country.
The DST also briefed the Committee on the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill. The purpose of the Bill was to effect technical corrections to certain definitions and references associated with the Ministry of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology to eliminate possible confusion and/or enhance clarity. It was also to strengthen institutional oversight and governance of the public entities. The amendments sought to eliminate possible confusion regarding definitions, references to the department and the designation of the portfolio of the Minister, and to effect other consequential changes that were necessitated by the recent macro-reorganisation of state. Comments on the Bill were received by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), the
Members noted that most of the proposed amendments were technical, but it seemed that the DST also wanted to strengthen institutional oversight and governance. They asked why the DST proposed to amend “The Minister for arts, culture and science” to “The Minister responsible for science”, if it was necessary to amend “member” to “Member” in the necessary legislation and if the technical realignments that were happening through the amendments were only going to be in those six entities or if they would be across all the DST's entities. The Committee wanted to know the implications of amending the title of administrative head of the Council from President to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the NRF Act and Scientific Research Council Act. The CEO of Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was recently appointed as the president of the International Social Council (ISC). The Committee was concerned that amendment would render the CEO ineligible for the position in the ISC because only presidents from selected councils around the world were eligible for the position. Also, when entities attended international conferences, they were faced with the problem that CEOs were considered junior to presidents. The DST and the Committee had to look into this matter to understand what the titles entailed at international level.
The Chairperson opened the meeting with a moment of silence for Ms Albertina Sisulu, who passed away recently. He said she was the mother of the Speaker (of the National Assembly) and a veteran of the struggle against Apartheid. He informed the Committee that she would be honoured with a state funeral on Saturday.
Briefing on the AGA Act and Astronomy Geographic Advantage Areas
Dr Tshepo Seekoe, General Manager: Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Project, Department of Science and Technology (DST), informed the Committee that the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Bill was signed into law in 2008 by the President. The purpose of the Act was to preserve the geographic advantage areas that attracted investment in astronomy. The AGA Act supported the advancement and development of astronomy.
Since the Bill was assented by the President, the entire Northern Cape Province excluding the
Cabinet had set up an interdepartmental task team to probe the impact of fracking. The team was led by the Directors-General (DGs) of the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and DST. The task team consisted of various government bodies. There was also a technical team within the task team that consisted of individuals with various expertises such as geoscientists. The technical team would draft a report on the various impacts of fracking and present it to the task team by the end of June 2011. The final report should be ready by the end of July 2011.
Ms M Shinn (DA) asked if the technical team that was going to be used to probe the impact of fracking was going to include astronomers. She felt that the process of fracking was being rushed. It could have a big impact on a large part of the country, but the deadline for the report on the impact of fracking was already expected at the end of July. She asked why the process was being rushed. Would the task team have any bearing on the regulations for the AGA Act? The core area of SALT fell inside the
Dr Philip Mjwara, Director-General, DST, replied that the task team's term of reference was to use its technical expertise to understand the technology and the “nitty gritty” of extracting natural gases from the
Dr Mjwara indicated that the task team would not have any bearing on the regulations. The DST was in the process of developing the necessary regulations arising from the Act in order to ensure that the areas were protected. This was done by the DST in consultation with astronomers and the communities. The DST followed the normal public participation processes to ensure the stakeholders inputs were captured in the regulations.
Dr Mjwara addressed the question concerning why the core around SKA was not defined. He said that the Committee had to understand the question before he could answer it. He was not sure whether the Member was referring to the core of the area or the baseline of the SKA and how far it had to extend for the SKA to be the kind of size that was expected. This was an area that was being explored by the SKA global office.
Dr Seekoe added that the intention was that the total SKA would have a minimum of a 3000km baseline, which meant that the distance from the centre of the telescope in the Northern Cape to the outermost station would be 3000km.
Dr Seekoe said that when the DST was negotiating the final AGA Bill before it became an Act, the key issue was that it had to think about economic development as well as astronomy. If one removed the telescopes that were hosted in small towns in the
Mr P Smith (IFP) asked if the declaration of the
Dr Mjwara explained that the Astronomy Management Authority was a structure set up by the DST. Its primary purpose was to ensure that all the regulations of the AGA were adhered to once it had been agreed upon. It would consist of people who understood the regulations and who could work with all the relevant stakeholders affected by the regulations.
Dr Seekoe added that the way the AGA Act was structured allowed for the DST to start declarations in the
Dr Seekoe reported that the SKA office had been liaising with Telkom and the Department of Communications (DoC) to find a way of improving data services through Telkom. The discussions were reaching a point where entities were coming to a common agreement. There were two issues concerning Telkom. The one was the current landline services matter. The fear was that if they improved on the landline services, there was going to be a decrease in the need for cell phone usage. The DST, Telkom and the DoC were looking at ways to improve on the services for both voice and data transmissions.
Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) thanked the DST for a wonderful and clear presentation. He asked if there had been any impact of the AGA Act on the
Dr Seekoe answered that the DST recorded the creation of approximately 800 temporary construction jobs. Several hundred more temporary jobs would probably be created in the near future for the installation of 4000 dishes. He realised that as scientists they would probably not be able to do a proper economic impact analysis. This was why there was an economist within the DST working on an analysis of the DST's economic impact on the country.
The Chairperson asked how the Astronomy Management Authority related to the Astronomy Development Office.
Dr Mjwara reminded the Committee that last year was the international year of astronomy and
The Chairperson stated that the point of the meeting was to understand the AGA Act as it had been passed in 2008, which was a year before the Committee's term of office started. He stressed that it was important for the Committee to be kept up to date, and to understand what was happening in the sector.
Briefing on the Science and Technology
Dr Mjwara gave the Committee a brief background of the Bill. He said that before 2004, the science and technology function was part of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology. In 2004 the DST was established as an independent government department. The recent macro-organisation of the government also necessitated amendments to certain pieces of legislation. In August 2010, Cabinet approved the draft Bill. The draft Bill was published for comment in the government gazette and inputs were incorporated into the Bill and the Bill was revised. The Bill was submitted to the State Law Advisers (SLAs) for certification in February 2011 and was certified by them in April 2011. Comments on the Bill were received by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), the
The purpose of the Bill was to effect technical corrections to certain definitions and references associated with the Ministry of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology to eliminate possible confusion and/or enhance clarity. It was also to strengthen institutional oversight and governance of the public entities. The amendments sought to eliminate possible confusion regarding definitions, references to the department and the designation of the portfolio of the Minister, and to effect other consequential changes that were necessitated by the recent macro-reorganisation of state.
The proposed amendments for the Scientific Research Council Act looked to amend the title of administrative head of the Council from President to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), it provided for the procedure to be followed prior to the appointment of members of the board to ensure consistency with other public entities, and it provides for broad representation on the board.
The amendments proposed for the National Advisory Council on Innovation Act (NACI Act) sought to correct references to the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology and Portfolio of the Minister. It also sought to limit the term of office of the members of the board, and provided for the appointment of a full-time CEO of NACI.
Proposed amendments to the NRF Act sought to amend the title of administrative head of the NRF from president and CEO to CEO. The amendments corrected the reference to the portfolio of the Minister and the Minister of Higher Education and Training, limited the term of office of the board, and listed grounds for disqualification for members of the board.
The proposed amendments for the ASSAF Act sought to correct the reference to the portfolio of the Minister, it provided for parliamentary funding of the Academy, it provided for the term of office of the ASSAf council and for appeal on termination, and it provided for the process for the election of the chairperson, vice chairperson, treasurer, and general-secretary of the council.
The amendments proposed for the AISA Act served to correct reference to the department and portfolio of the Minister, it changes incorrect references to the “council” instead of “institute”, it limits the term of office of members of the board, and it provides for a minimum period for meetings of the council per year.
The amendments for the Natural Scientific Professions Act corrected references to the Constitution and Portfolio of the Minister, it provided for broad representation on the Board, and extended the requirement for professional qualifications to state employees who are members of the board.
Mr Smith noted that most of the proposed amendments were technical, but it seemed that the DST also wanted to strengthen institutional oversight and governance. To what extent had the DST analysed the six Acts in question and found that the matters discussed in the presentation were the only things it wanted to change? In other words, of all the amendments proposed, other than the technical ones, were all of them governance issues? Finally, he said that if the Committee was amending six Acts, it would be helpful to have all six Acts in front of them while they were discussing the amendments.
Dr Mjwara replied that if the Committee looked at the documents very carefully they would see that the DST was trying to ensure that issues of board appointments and the terms of boards were similar for all entities. This was a “light” governance and oversight responsibility that the DST was doing to harmonise certain matters. The DST's view was that the amendments to the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill was a general cleaning up process. If there were any policy shifts due to amendments, the DST would have a look at the mandates of affected entities. The DST could then come back to the Committee with proposals regarding those entities. He added that the DST would provide the Members with the six Acts in the future.
Ms Shinn said that she was particularly interested in the Scientific Research Council Act where the DST spoke about how the President may assign the administration of the Act to any Minister. This meant that at any time, the CSIR could be given to the Department of Trade and Industry or Rural Development etc. She asked why this was so. Also, why did the DST propose to amend “The Minister for arts, culture and science” to “The Minister responsible for science”? She asked why the DST wanted to make a silly amendment to change “member” to “Member”. Was this amendment necessary?
Mr Qhobela explained that the powers to assign legislation by proclamation existed in the Scientific Research Council Act as well as in other Acts. This happened in the recent macro-organisation of state. The power given to the President to assign any Act appropriately, given whatever circumstances prevailed, was a matter that was already enshrined in law. The proposed amendment for “the Minister responsible for Science” arose from the recent macro-organisation of the state. It was the DST’s way of making sure that laws were enabling without detracting from its substance. The proposed amendment for “Member” with a capital M was to make a distinction between a member of the academy and a member of the council.
Mr Nonkonyana agreed with amendment to the Scientific Research Council Act, which proposed that President of the Council be amended to Chief Executive Officer (CEO). However, globally, their counterparts were called presidents. He asked what scientists view of this amendment was.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked what the implications were if “president” was amended to “CEO”. The CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was recently appointed as the president of the International Social Council (ISC). How would the amendment impact on her?
The Chairperson reminded the DST that during its strategic plan presentation he had hinted, in the presence of the HSRC CEO, that this was a particular matter that had to be resolved. The Chairperson of the HSRC had voiced concern that the CEO of the HSRC used to be the president as well. When entities attended international conferences, they were faced with the problem that CEOs were considered junior to presidents. Institutions like the CSIR and HSRC had to be aligned with international practice. The DST and the Committee had to look into this matter to understand what the titles entailed at international level. The problem was that the CEO of HSRC was appointed the president of the ISC. With the proposed amendment, it seemed that the CEO may not be eligible for the position in the ISC because only presidents from selected councils around the world were eligible for the position. He asked if the technical realignments that were happening through the amendments were only going to be in those six entities or if they would be across all the DST's entities. There were many scientific entities that were unregulated and were causing a lot of frustration within the previously disadvantaged communities. The DST had to look into this matter.
Dr Mjwara replied to the Mr Nonkonyana, Ms Dunjwa and the Chairpersons questions about the CEO of the HSRC and the proposed amendment of “president” to “CEO”. He said that he did not see the issue with amending “president” to “CEO”. He did find that CEOs were seen as junior to presidents. There were organisations with a strong affinity to the research part of the innovation chain that still used the title of president, but he did not think it would compromise the CEO of HSRC's standing or how she was perceived by her counterparts. The DST would be happy to look into this matter.
Dr Qhobela added that it would be valuable for the DST to reflect on this matter, as the current incumbents of those portfolios were currently designated as CEOs. The legislation currently referred to presidents and CEOs, so the amendment did not necessarily re-designate them differently.
Dr Mjwara replied that the DST needed to look into the matter concerning unregulated entities. At the moment, the DST was focused on entities the Minister had oversight on.
Dr Mjwara said that the amendments sought to harmonise the entities that reported to the Minister. The DST was trying to do this to the best of its ability, specifically regarding the terms and appointment of boards of entities.
The Chairperson noted that there were three models whereby boards were appointed. There was a model used by the Portfolio Committee of Communications, which allowed them to interview and select the board themselves. The second model was adopted by the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology for the HSRC board. There was a third kind of model used by the NRF that was different as well. Entities were starting to wonder why they were being governed differently as some models had more advantages than others. Parliament once said that the appointment of boards for all entities had to be streamlined. This was a matter that the DST had to take into consideration.
Dr Mjwara said that the Chairperson was correct and he understood what he was saying. The DST appreciated the Committee's thoughts on the matter.
Dr Qhobela added that the matter needed extensive engagement between the Executive and the Legislature with regards to how best to move forward with the matter of governance of public entities.
The Chairperson thanked the DST for its efforts.
The meeting was adjourned.
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