Committee Report on Budget Vote 34 and Department's 2012 Strategic Plan; Chairperson's report on the World Science Forum, Budapest, November 2011

Science and Technology

09 May 2012
Chairperson: Dr N Ngcobo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee considered and adopted its report on Budget Vote 34: Science and Technology.

The Chairperson reported on his visit to the World Science Forum in Budapest, Hungary. There had been hopes that South Africa might host a World Science Forum conference in 2015.

Members briefly briefly discussed the logistics of a proposed study tour to South Korea. Members' concerns included the fact that the Chairperson was denied permission to travel to  the Netherlands for a scientific conference. They felt that that the Department should intervene when the Committee was invited to such conferences.

The study tour to Germany and China did not materialise; therefore South Korea and a European Union country would be visited as alternatives.

Members noted that the media could misinterpret secret meetings between the Committee and Shell, since Shell was bidding for a drilling licence to explore shale gas reserves in the Karoo.

Meeting report

The Chairperson informed the Committee that the Report would not be adopted due to quorum unless one more Member came into the meeting, and he welcomed back Mr P Smith (IFP) to the Committee

Mr Smith informed Members that he had undergone a medical operation and he would be in and out of hospital during the following months to monitor the healing process.

Committee's Report on Budget Vote 34 - Science and Technology: consideration and adoption
Mr Smith asked whether Members were expected to make comments on or give findings on the Report.

The Chairperson informed Members that they were expected to adopt the Report before tabling of the Budget Vote and they could make comments.

Mr Smith then asked whether the Departmental entities had been meeting their targets.

The Chairperson replied that the National Research Foundation had exceeded it own targets for Human Capital Development. He said that entities accounted to the Department because they fell under it.

The Chairperson read as follows:
The Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, having considered and concluded its deliberations on Budget Vote 34: Science and Technology, and the annual Performance Plan for the fiscal year 2012/13, recommends that Budget Vote 34 be approved by the House.

Ms Z Ndlazi (ANC) moved for adoption of the report.

Ms S Plaatjie (COPE) seconded the motion.

The 2012/13 Report on Budget Vote 34 was adopted.

Chairperson's report on  the World Science Forum (WSF), Budapest, November 2011
The Chairperson mentioned that the WSF revolved around World Science Day. The theme for the 2011 WSF was The Changing Landscape of Science: The Challenges and Opportunities By focusing on the latter theme the Steering Committee of the WSF hoped that the excellent speakers at the event would be able to present the dominant trends in the world of science and demonstrate how new global challenges created new scientific fields and how scientific powers arose.  The highlight of the conference was a paper delivered live from a space station by astronauts. A young science graduate from the University of Cape Town gave a strong presentation on the impact of Genetically Modified Organisms. The Chairperson met a fellow wearing a tracksuit at the airport, who said that he needed a lift to the conference. The casual fellow happened to be the Zimbabwean Minister of Science. The Chairperson pointed out that the 2011 WSF event marked the another new beginning in 21st century science as the event was going to be hosted on a two year basis in a partner country starting with Brazilian Academy of Sciences in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The original plans were that this new development would have the 2015 conference hosted by South Africas Ministry of Science and Technology. However, the South African Minister of Science and Technology was absent during the official opening where she was expected to deliver a presentation. That was also made worse by the late confirmation by Parliament of the attendance by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee. This led to the steering Committee of the WSF's  assuming that South Africa was less interested in being part of the WSF concept

About the World Science Forum
The main objective of the event was to find answers to such global challenges as environmental protection, sustainability, diseases, famine, climate change, etc. It was also to carve out new directions for research in the face of the emergence of new fields of science and new scientific super powers, the re-evaluation of the traditional scientific fields and the current centres of science. WSF was to emphasise the significance, social validity, the influence and the responsibilities of science. To foster and maintain a dialogue between the scientific community, society and policy makers and to provide a foundation for finding authentic responses to global challenges facing mankind.

Mr Smith suggested that the Committee should look at the reasons why the Chairperson was not given permission to travel to the Netherlands conference.

The Chairperson said that being denied permission to go to such conferences was problematic because the scientific community held South Africa in a very high regard.

Ms P Mocumi (ANC) said that the Department could have intervened to enable the Chairperson to attend such forums.

Mr Smith said that Ministerial staff should be efficient and even prepare papers for those kinds of conferences.

Ms H Line (ANC) said that such behaviour should come to a stop.

The Chairperson said that the Committee was sometimes forced to do damage control, because of non-attendance.    
Mr Smith said that the explanation that would be provided by the Department should inform the way forward regarding the hosting of the 2015 WSF.

The Chairperson explained that 2015 was a long time from 2012 and there would certainly be a new Parliament and probably a new Minister.

The Chairperson mentioned that the proposed trip to Netherlands would have been mainly for mobilising support for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid. He had personally gained an insight into the work of the SKA. The European countries were backing South Africa rather than Australia because the European countries were using the same skies while Australia was more to the East. Europeans were planning to travel to the planet Mercury next to the sun in 2040, but they were still developing technology that would enable them to block the strong heat from the sun. Royal Dutch Shell supported the SKA and would be using water from the Orange River for the project instead of ground water.

Ms Line cautioned the Committee and the Department from having secret meetings with Shell because the media might misinterpret those meetings, since Shell was bidding for a licence for drilling to explore shale gas reserves in the Karoo, Northern Cape.  
South Korea Study Tour
The Chairperson informed the Committee that the proposed study tour to China and Germany did not materialise, but South Korea was willing to host the Committee. He would write to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to explore other possibilities as an alternative to Germany.

Mr Smith warned that August was the time of summer holidays in Europe, therefore legislatures would be on recess but the scientific institutions would be open.

The meeting was adjourned.


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