Meeting SummaryThe Department of Science and Technology (DST) presented its expenditure report for the first quarter of 2012, focusing on four programmes. It was noted that the majority of Annual Performance Plan indicators were on course, and would be achieved by the end of the financial year. The key focus areas for the DST remained as human capital development, knowledge generation and exploitation, infrastructure and Africa collaboration. Under the Research, Development and Innovation Programme (RDI), a major achievement had been the announcement in May 2012 that South Africa and its African partner countries had won the right to host approximately 70% of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. A request for proposal and tender for 64 dishes had been issued, and 142 Expanded Public Works Programme construction jobs had been created. In respect of support, it was noted that 50 unemployed science graduates had been placed and would be financially supported, that five technology based enterprises would be supported through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and one local company was established as the commercializing holding company for Tenofivir gel, and was being funded. In respect of the International Cooperation and Resources Programme, R13.13 billion of foreign funding was leveraged and over R5 billion was spent on science and technology based socio-economic development in Africa. Local and international students worked together in various research projects.
In the Human Capital and Knowledge Systems Programme, a human capital and development research strategy was being prepared. The National Research Fund (NRF) had funded 3 381 individuals, whilst 85 organisations were given specific grants and 1 665 researchers were supported through NRF programmes. Another draft of the Bill on the protection of Indigenous Knowledge had been prepared incorporating public input. Agri-business proposals for two cosmeceutical products were developed.
In the Socio-Economic Partnership Programme, In this quarter, 424 Masters and PhD students were funded or co-funded in designated niche areas, 15 peer-reviewed papers were published, eight patent prototypes, demonstrators or technology transfer packages were being added, and 477 small and medium enterprises were given technological support.
Members wanted to know if the 142 Expanded Public Works Programme jobs were sustainable, or would equip people with skills, and called for a breakdown of those receiving grants and support. They questioned the tender for 64 dishes, given the lack of technical specifications at the moment. They asked what gaps had been identified, and what would be done to address them, in regard to the National System of Innovation, and what plans were in place to minimise the risks in international cooperation, as well as the plans to address the risks posed by he ageing population of scientists. Members noted that the DST appeared to have spent less than targeted, at 25% instead of 35%, but it was clarified that bottlenecks had been identified and addressed and spending was on track. Finally, Members sought clarity on some uncertainty around the Stakeholders Forum in Carnarvon.
Department of Science and Technology 1st Quarter 2012 expenditure report
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, said that over the next three to five years, the DST would focus its activities on three priority domains of research and development, human capital development and knowledge infrastructure provision. The majority of the indicators set out in the Annual Performance Plan (APP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) were on track, and would be achieved by the end of the financial year.
He confined his presentation on the 1st quarter expenditure to four programmes: Research, development and Innovation; International Cooperation and Resources; Human Capital and Knowledge Systems; and Socio-economic Partnerships (see attached presentation for full figures and statistics).
In respect of the Research, Development and Innovation Programme (RDI), Dr Mjwara reminded Members that in May 2012, the global Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Organisation had announced that South Africa and its African partner countries had won the right to host approximately 70% of the Square Kilometre Array telescope. A request for proposal and tender for 64 dishes had been issued. 142 Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) construction jobs had been created in the Northern Cape.
50 unemployed science graduates had been placed in TT100 companies and would be financially supported. Five new technology based enterprises would be supported through the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) before 31 March 2013.
One technology based company, Propeven, was established as the commercialising holding company for the Tenofivir gel, and was being funded by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), TIA and CiplaMedpro.
Dr Mjwara then moved to the International Cooperation and Resources Programme, and stated that here,
R13.13 billion of foreign funds were leveraged by 30 June 2012. A further R5.13 billion of South African and foreign funds was spent on Science and Technology-based socio-economic development in Africa. 123 students participated in the international cooperation Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) research projects in countries like Argentina, India, Japan and Angola. 42 foreign students participated in the South African global knowledge and STI networks.
Dr Mjwara noted that, in respect of the Human Capital and Knowledge System Programme, consultations were being done for the approval of the Human Capital and Development strategy for Research, Innovation and Scholarship, simultaneously with consultations on the implementation plan. DST had received the annual report from the National Research Foundation (NRF) on the students who were funded in the previous year. This report showed funding to 3 381 individuals. 85 organisations were awarded grants to conduct National Science Week activities. 1 665 researchers were supported through the NRF managed programmes.
Calls for proposals for the photonics flagship projects had been finalised. The business plans of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Mintek were approved by the Director-General, as part of a three-year contract.
The Draft Bill on the protection of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) had been reviewed by the reference team, on 30 June 2012. Recommendations and inputs were integrated into the sixth draft, and were submitted for legal input. Agri-business proposals for two cosmeceutical products were developed, for TIA support.
Dr Mjwara moved on to the Socio-Economic Partnership Programme. In this quarter, 424 Masters and PhD students were funded or co-funded in designated niche areas such as ICT, Advanced Manufacturing, Chemicals and Advance Metals, by 30 June 2012. 15 peer-reviewed scientific papers were published by 30 June 2012. Eight patent prototypes, technology demonstrators or technology transfer packages were in the process of being added in the IP portfolio. 477 small and medium enterprises were given technological support.
Dr Mjwara again concluded that the majority of indicators were on course. Human capital development, knowledge generation and exploitation, infrastructure and Africa collaboration would remain key focus areas. He drew Members’ attention to the graphs and tables that were given in the detailed documentation (see attached presentation).
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) wanted to know if the 142 Expanded Public Works Programme jobs would equip people with the necessary skills to allow them to stand on their own when the project ended.
Dr Mjwara explained that the 142 jobs were not to be considered sustainable, as they were short-term jobs in construction. He emphasised that they were jobs that would be monitored by the Department of Public Works as part of that Department’s construction programme. Skilled technicians would be employed when those Public Works jobs had been completed. A partnership was in place with the Durban University of Technology to this end.
Ms Dunjwa asked for the breakdown of the organisations and 477 small enterprises who had received grants and technology support.
Dr Mjwara confirmed that a list detailing all the companies would be compiled and forwarded to the Committee.
Mr P Smith (DA) referred to the review of the National System of Innovation (NSI) and wanted to know what gaps were identified, and how they were going to be addressed.
Dr Mjwara said the biggest challenge was coordination at governance level. There was no set locus of coordination between government and private sector programmes. Another problem was that although programmes had been developed, there was sometimes a challenge in getting them adopted by certain departments.
Mr Smith asked why a tender for 64 dishes was out despite the fact that the technical specifications were not developed.
Dr Mjwara clarified that the tender was for the MeerKat dishes. There had been an agreement on the design of the tools. The MeerKat dishes have been designed and chances were that they would be adopted soon.
Mr Smith wanted to know what plans DST had in place to minimise high risk in international cooperation, and how the DST planned to address the issue of ageing scientists.
Dr Mjwara noted that DST had negotiated a partnership with the European Union (EU), around participation in programmes. He noted that South Africa had been compared to USA and Russia, and, per capita, it was viewed as preferable and as offering more advantages. It was hoped that this would mitigate the risks that DST was facing. DST was also negotiating funding for a radio astronomy between Africa and Europe. South Africa would continue to get funds from the 2014 to 2020 project, in terms of a specific commitment from the EU, although some of the other BRICS countries would get nothing.
Dr Mjwara agreed that there were concerns with the ageing population of scientists. However, DST had taken interventions, and there were a number of programmes in place that aimed to mitigate this risk. DST was currently investing heavily in emerging researchers, and was also consulting with the Department of Higher Education and Training on how to address the issue. The retirement age had been reversed to 65, instead of 60. Universities were now making more use of retired academics.
Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked the DST to explain the difference of 10% in expenditure, pointing out that the DST seemed to have spent 25% in the first quarter, although a figure of 35% was targeted.
Dr Mjwara explained that DST had identified where bottlenecks existed, and these had been corrected in the next quarter. Auditing was done every quarter. He noted that in some instances, business plans had been submitted late, and that had delayed expenditure.
Ms H Line (ANC) enquired who was chairing the Stakeholders’ Forum. She noted that she had been receiving many complaints from people in Carnarvon.
Dr Mjwara said the issue was being handled by the Minister. Information was available, and recommendations were discussed to mitigate the unhappiness and uncertainties, and to ensure that the communities in the area would be protected. A DST Chief Director was identified as the Chairperson of the Stakeholders Forum.
The meeting was adjourned.
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