Incorporation of Africa Institute of South Africa into Human Sciences Research Council: progress report by Department of Science and Technology

Science and Technology

19 September 2012
Chairperson: Ngcobo, Mr N (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The rationale for the chosen option of incorporating the Africa Institute of South Africa into the Human Sciences Research Council was discussed as was the road map and legislative process to ensure a smooth transition and showing how AISA would function within the HSRC. The Institute would continue with its mandate and current activities.

Members asked questions about the repeal of the Africa Institute of South Africa Act, possible amendments to the HSRC Act, time frames for the legal process, the institutional set up of the Africa Institute of SA, failures of the Africa Institute, the various options and a possible fourth option for the future of the Institute, the overlap of mandates, the organogram after the incorporation of the Africa Institute, the focus and mandate of the Africa Institute, the staff component and possible job losses, resistance to the merger, the CEO of AISA and its mandate in light of its history.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology (DST) on incorporation of Africa Institute of South Africa
Mr Thulani Mavuso, DST Chief Operating Officer, presented the background to and rationale for the repositioning of AISA and the options available for repositioning. These included:
▪ Reduction of duplication and potentially destructive competition between the two institutions;
▪ Enhancement of synergies in the research focus of the two institutions;
▪ Achievement of greater economies of scale in Africa-wide work;
▪ Strengthening of Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA)’s research capacity, and Africa networks.
▪ HRSC mandate now included a strong focus on effective engagement with Africa, no need for amendment of HSRC Act to accommodate the incorporation of AISA.

The HSRC option was found to be viable because of the capabilities within the Human Sciences Research Council and the option was presented to the Minister and accepted.

The incorporation roadmap included:
▪ Incorporation Management Committee had been established by the Minister to oversee the incorporation process.
▪ Composition: AISA and HSRC management representatives, assisted by DST senior managers.
▪ A Roadmap and Project Plan for the incorporation had been adopted, and was currently being implemented.

The key milestones and activities identified in the Project Plan were:
▪ HR Audit;
▪ Budget/finance issues;
▪ Staff communication;
▪ Change management;
▪ Core business (research) alignment.

The following sub committees had been established to manage operations: Research, Human Resources, Communication, Finance and Governance

Mr Mavuso explained what AISA would look like within the HSRC, saying that the body would retain its own name and brand. The activities that had been part of its strategic plan would continue. There would also be a transfer of AISA employees, assets and liabilities, rights and obligations to HSRC. The legislative process included the Cabinet’s approval of the proposed incorporation in February 2012, a Draft Bill (AISA Repeal Act Bill) published for public consultation on 24 August 2012; a review of the comments and revision of the Bill would follow, if necessary. Thereafter, the Bill would go to Cabinet for final approval and then for certification by the State Law Advisors This would be followed by the introduction of the Bill to Parliament.


Repealing of AISA Act
The Chairperson asked how the repeal of the AISA Act would affect the governing of the body.

Mr Mavuso replied that AISA would exist as an entity of the HRSC and would operate under its legislation. There was thus no need for extra legislation. The AISA mandate was continental focused and there was already a part of the HSRC legislation that made provision for that. This was why the AISA Act needed to be repealed.

Mr S Mayathula (ANC) asked if there was a framework that governed the mandate of AISA. Would the objective of the Act not increase somewhat?

Mr Mavuso said that there had been an investigation into the possible amendment of the HSRC Act. The provisions pertaining to the continent would be sufficient to govern the activities of AISA.

Public Hearings
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) asked what form the public hearings would take.

Time frames on the legal process
Ms P Mocumi (ANC) said she was sceptical of leaving the legislative process open ended without a time frame. This was especially during the review of public comments, the final presentation to Cabinet and the certification by State Law Advisors. She did not want the process dragged out.

Mr Mavuso replied that after publishing in the Government Gazette, there would be public consultation for a period of 30 days. Then the comments would be reviewed and it would then be given to Cabinet. The comments were due on the 25 September 2012. It would be given to Parliament before Parliament began its last term. The processing of the Bill in Parliament would be concluded early next year. The Department would like to finalise the incorporation by the end of March 2013. By the beginning of the HSRC’s new financial year on 1 April 2013, the incorporation would be finalised.

Institutional setup
Mr P Smith (IFP) said it would have been nice to have a sense of the institutional set up in terms of staff, outputs and structure.

Reconceptualisation of AISA
Mr Smith asked if this was a reconceptualisation of AISA. Its focus had been generating knowledge pertaining to Africa. The Department had spoken about competition and overlapping mandates, had these not been obvious in 2004?

AISA failures
Mr Smith asked for more information on why it had been unsuccessful as all that had been stated was that the institution had been largely unsuccessful?

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) said she also needed more information on this.

Mr Mavuso replied AISA had not been successful as there had been a number of challenges relating to management issues. There had been a great deal of change in leadership which had caused instability in the organization. Prior to 1994 AISA had been used to aid the Apartheid government as a porthole to Africa. Attempts had been made to reconceptualise AISA to be an instrument that could be utilised in post-apartheid South Africa. This was an organization whose research outputs and policy based briefs would inform the South African policy on the continent and actively advance African interests. The hope was that in time the entity would play the role of an intellectual wing to the South African-led NEPAD process. The governance issues had derailed some of the activities that AISA had chosen to focus on.

Ms Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju ,Acting CEO of AISA, added that in terms of being unsuccessful, it was not an issue of bad research but an issue of governance. The research in AISA had been going on and there were good researchers that looked at South African challenges as well as development issues within the country. The research division had been doing well as far as African issues were concerned. The mandate and brand would remain as AISA had established itself continentally and internationally. The staff of AISA had accepted the incorporation and seen it as a positive thing.

The Chairperson said that the reports that the Committee had had since 2004 had stated that even research had been affected by the poor administration. Therefore how could one say that research was going well?

Fourth option of disbandment
Mr Smith said a fourth option was not explored, namely, disbanding it. Why had this not been considered as it had been said that it had been unsuccessful in the last few years and there had been overlap? Why was there institutional continuation of an unsuccessful institution?

The Chairperson pointed out that the Department had considered this option but had not wanted to lose jobs.

Mr Mavuso replied that shutting down AISA had been raised but it had not been an option at this time so as not to lose some of the capabilities that had been developed.

HRSC Mandate overlap
Mr Smith asked how the HSRC would be giving effect to the mandate that overlapped with AISA - had HSRC not incorporated this mandate? Was this a ‘quick easy fix’ for the HSRC to shift responsibility for an inadequately fulfilled mandate?

Mr Mavuso replied there were currently initiatives in AISA that dealt with research on the African continent and that was why the incorporation would be complementary and remove duplication.

Ms Lukhele-Olorunju replied that the HSRC had changed in 2008 to include an African focus but AISA had been focusing on Africa even before the HSRC had been established. This was where the issue of overlap had arisen. There had been thought given to establishing a Centre for African Studies but this had been placed on hold now that AISA was being incorporated. AISA would continue to tackle the mandate it had been handling but would now do it under the governance of the HSRC.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if there was an organogram for HSRC and where AISA would fit into it.

Mr Mavuso replied that AISA would fit into the organogram. Once the incorporation was finalised, HSRC would set up the institute. At the higher level there would have to be the creation of the role of the Executive Director of AISA. HSRC would then have to revise the organogram in order to accommodate the new entity.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked what was meant by ‘significant overlaps and destructive competition’.

Comparison between options
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked for a comparison between the second and third options to show why the third was the best one.

Mr Mavuso replied that that in terms of the second option, the Department had not wanted AISA to lose its research role by moving it into the
Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). The thought was that this would narrow its focus and there had been the push to shift it from that particular focus. If it were taken to DIRCO then the old mandate would be reaffirmed.

The Chairperson argued that shifting it to DIRCO would not narrow its focus. AISA was better equipped to interact on matters of international affairs rather than Science and Technology. Science and Technology was a narrow focus and one could not argue that foreign affairs led to a narrow focus within Africa as it was more general than one department. It incorporated aspects such as the environment, commerce and a whole host of matters that broadened the focus.

Mr Smith asked what focus did AISA have now. Was it geo-political or a Science Technology and Innovation (STI) mandate? When it entered HRSC what would the mandate be? This would then inform which option should have been taken. If the entity was seen as having an STI focus then DIRCO was not the appropriate vehicle. If it was to have a broader focus, then this was up for debate. What had not been spoken to in terms of option two was a sub option, namely, as serving DIRCO rather than being in DIRCO. He asked why bad governance was not part of the rationale in terms of the incorporation. It had also not been mentioned that part of the rationale was to strengthen the research capacity but one could not do that without employing more people or having a bigger budget.
Staff component
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked how many people were on the staff. She asked if there were there going to be job losses and if so how many? How big was the component and was there enough space in the HSRC?

Mr Mavuso replied currently AISA had 61 staff members, 52 permanent and 9 non-permanent. Of this, 21 were professional researchers. There was no intention to have any job losses. The Department sought to secure those who were on contract. AISA was to remain in the current building it was situated in and there would not be a move to the HSRC building. The important thing was to improve the function of the entity itself in order to make sure that it stayed true to the African agenda in its research outputs.

Resistance to the merger
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if the Department had encountered resistance to the decision to incorporate and if so what form had it come in?

Mr Mavuso replied there had not been extreme resistance. There had been concerns by the AISA staff and a letter had been written to the Minister who had met with the staff to try and resolve any concerns they had. This interaction had been successful. Also the board had been receptive and had assisted in ensuring that there was a clearer understanding of the rationale for the incorporation.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens said that there was a letter and the Minister had responded. Could more information be given on this? Details of the content of the letter and the response of staff to the meeting were needed.

Mr Mavuso replied the original letter had been written to the Chairperson and had been copied to the Minister. The letter had raised issues of uncertainty about job security more than anything else. The whole incorporation was a process that was ongoing and the Department was giving a briefing now just to keep the Committee abreast.

The Chairperson asked where was the CEO as there was an acting CEO. He asked because he had received a letter from the CEO saying he was upset about the incorporation of AISA. He thus wanted to know what the situation was.

Mr Mavuso replied the contract of the CEO had come to an end in August 2012 and the Board had taken the decision not to renew the contract. Ms Phindile Lukhele-Olorunju had been appointed as Acting CEO of AISA during this period.

The Chairperson asked if the Committee had not needed to be privy to this information?

Mr Mavuso replied that the Board, according to the legislation, had had to consult with the Minister which they had done as it had been an executive appointment. Had it been a Board appointment, the Minister would have had to confer with Parliament in relation to the Board.

AISA mandate
The Chairperson said the HSRC already had a fully fledged programme in terms of focusing on Africa. Thus there was a need to know what role AISA was doing there that HSRC had not been doing. He asked if AISA’s role had been effective over and above the work being done within Science and Technology? The Committee of International Relations and Cooperation had asked this Committee to release oversight of AISA to them as they did not have the capacity to research foreign issues in Africa at that time and AISA would fulfil this mandate well.

Mr Brian Muthwa, DST Head of Legal Services, replied that a document had been prepared by the Department to consider AISA’s mandate in the broader STI mandate. What had been discovered was the focus on research within AISA had been diluted due to a focus on governance issues. These had prevented the focus on research. Other things that had been considered making a case for the proposed repositioning was there had been a large focus on the establishment of research networks within Africa by AISA and the dissemination of information as the end – not, in fact, a means to an end. There had been confusion that the Department had been trying to deal with in the mission of the organisation between the role of generating research output and policy interventions. Its historical legacy of being focused on political intervention had detracted from its research activities. The understanding of AISA now was that it was a research council and it needed to move away from its historical focus. Due to its historical mandate there had been a pull towards matters of diplomacy, politics and foreign influence as opposed to STI policies. He understood the Chairperson’s point that perhaps there was a need to look at how the entity could work within the DIRCO mandate. The intervention had been based on the understanding that there was supposed to be a refocus on Science Technology Innovation (STI) issues.

The Chairperson interrupted by saying that the purpose of coming to Parliament was to come to share the social and public good that departments and its entities did. Parliament was able to speak to the departments about what the people on the ground needed. Parliament’s role was to help convey what people said in order to help with better service delivery. This was a platform to share. He was thus giving information that was preoccupying Parliament and other entities in terms of the role of AISA. Pre-1994 it had a clear mandate which was carried out very well. After 1994 it had been incorporated as a research council. All research institutions had been incorporated into the DST when it had been established in 2004. It was important to have institutional memory to understand why things were done the way they were done and in order to understand how they could be done better. With AISA, he was not questioning its integration into the HSRC but one could not deny the value AISA had in terms of the work done by it.

Mr Smith wanted clarity on the refocusing on foreign politics to STI. Had this transition happened effectively or was it largely continuing in its previous mode? Had the staffing component changed in terms of skills sets? If it was still largely a geo-political focus entity, then there were further implications.

Mr Mavuso replied that when AISA had been originally absorbed by the Department there were views that the incorporation had not made sense. It had been raised that incorporation into DIRCO should be considered over time. The issue that was now being tackled was how to utilise AISA so that it became stronger in the STI agenda. At the moment it was like trying to change an organisation that kept falling back to its default mode. There was strong expertise within the geopolitical area and the issue for the Department was to transform this. These were the challenges that the Department attempted to resolve.

Ms Lukhele-Olorunju added that she wanted to make members aware of the research being done under AISA . She had been the Director of Research within AISA – which had done research on governance and democracy, peace and security, sustainable development, knowledge transfer and skills development as well as science and technology. There had been five units but it had been found that in each unit there were only two or three researchers. This had been a challenge. Council had suggested a consolidation of the efforts and a reduction in the number of units. This would mean more researchers in each group. Currently the units were governance and security which looked at peace issues in Africa and conflict and post conflict issues. Researchers went to these African countries, did the research, wrote policy briefs and published them. They also went to different universities to help students gain knowledge on what was happening within the continent. AISA also did a great deal of work with DIRCO in terms of training diplomats and it participated in meetings. There was a component on science and technology which mainly focused on climate change and carbon issues. The Minister had stipulated that the work done by AISA would continue as would its mandate.

Closing Remarks
The Chairperson said this was a work in progress and what was important was the discussion of ideas so that the end product was correct. He wished the delegation well with its endeavours. If the deadline was March, then there was not much time.


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