The Department of Science and Technology presented a report on the filling of the vacancy on the Board of the National Research Foundation (NRF). The relevant legislation provided for appointment of a Chairperson plus nine to eleven members on the Board, and it was explained that currently there were eleven members on the Board including the Chairperson, but it was desired to have the full complement in place, to allow for full representation on board committees. There were currently two Indians, four Africans, and five Whites on the Board, but no Coloured Member, and there were seven male and four female members. The process that the Department had followed to fill the vacancy was outlined, and it was confirmed that this was in accordance with the NRF Act. Unlike with other Boards, Parliament did not interview the candidates. After advertisements inviting nomination of candidates were published in national newspapers and the Government Gazettes, a selection panel was constituted by the Minister, who had, in this instance, screened the 39 nominations and eventually short-listed three candidates for the Minister’s consideration. The short-listed candidates were Professor Burton, the Vice Principal for Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria, Dr Konar, a chartered accountant, and Dr Marcus, a Chief Executive Officer of Da Vinci Holdings (Pty) Ltd. The Minister was now consulting the two houses of Parliament, as prescribed by Section 6 (2)(c) of the NRF Act.
Members questioned the process of short-listing the candidates, including the fact that this Committee had not been included in the interviews or shortlisting, and asked for copies of the full CVs of the candidates, although the Department did note that these had been provided to the Chairperson of the House. Having considered the qualifications and experience, and noted the need to balance the gender composition of the Board, they unanimously recommended that Professor Burton be appointed.
National Research Foundation (NRF) Board vacancy: Department of Science and Technology briefing Mr Thulani Mavuso, Chief Operations Officer, Department of Science and Technology, presented a report on the filling of the vacant position on the Board of the National Research Foundation (NRF).
He advised the Committee that the appointment of the NRF Board was informed by the National Research Foundation Act, Act No. 23 of 1998, and it required that the board consist of a Chairperson, and between nine to eleven other members. The current Board, initially comprising twelve members, was appointed by the Minister for a three year term of office, starting from 1 October 2011 to 30 September 2014. However, when the matter came to Cabinet, the Chairperson of the Board, Dr Khotso Mokhele, indicated that he was no longer available for the appointment as Chairperson and member of the Board, which had reduced the number of Board members to eleven. Professor Robin Crewe, who was appointed as a member of the Board, was designated firstly as the interim Chairperson (because he was precluded, in terms of the Department of Public Service and Administration Handbook for Appointment of Persons to Boards of State and State Controlled Entities, from being appointed as full Chairperson until he had completed his chairmanship on the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) Council board). Later, in April 2013, he was appointed as permanent chairperson.
Mr Mavuso pointed out that although the current NRF board members were within the required number, at eleven people, it was recommended that the Minister should appoint the maximum number of eleven plus a chairperson in order to have members fairly distributed to the Board Committees, and also to ensure that the current members were not stretched. The race distribution of the present NRF Board members indicated that two were Indians, four were Africans, and five were Whites. There was no Coloured in the present race composition of the NRF Board. The gender distribution indicated that seven members were male, while four members were female.
Mr Mavuso indicated that the process of filling the vacancy in the NRF Board was prescribed in Section 6 of the NRF Act, which the Minister had followed. Advertisements were published in the national newspapers and Government Gazette, inviting the public to nominate candidates to the NRF Board. The Minister appointed a panel of six members, which had considered 39 nominations received by the Department. The NRF Act required the members of the NRF Board to be people who had achieved distinction in their chosen vocation or career. The panel had compiled the short-list from the nominations received, as informed by Section 6(3) and (4) of the NRF Act, and had submitted the short-list to the Minister, who in turn consulted the Minster of High Education and Training. Following the receipt of that response, the Minister of Science and Technology was now consulting with the two houses of Parliament, in line with Section 6(2)(c) of the NRF Act.
Mr Mavuso stated that the short-list comprised three candidates. Professor Burton was currently a Vice-Principal for Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria, and her expertise included biochemistry, microbiology and management. Dr Konar was a chartered accountant, whose expertise included internal audit, controls, leadership, strategic planning and business project management. Dr Marcus, a Chief Executive Officer of the Da Vinci Holdings (Pty) Ltd, had expertise including research, engineering and management.
Mr Mavuso noted that the appointment process was therefore in line with the prescripts of the Act and the member to be appointed would serve for the unexpired portion of the term (until 30 September 2014). He asked that the Committee consider the short-list presented, in line with Section 6 of the NRF Act.
The Chairperson asked if the short-list had been considered by the appropriate Portfolio Committee.
Mr Mavuso replied that it had not yet been considered, but would be presented to the Portfolio Committee later on that same day.
Mr W Faber (DA, Northern Cape) expressed concern about the gender and race distribution of the present Board, and noted that it did not reflect the diversity of the nation, being skewed in favour of males, with no Coloured person. He asked that the Committee and Department should ensure that subsequent appointments reflected the true diversity of the nation.
Mr M De Villiers (DA, Western Cape) noted that the Committee participated in interviewing the present members of the Board in 2011, and asked why the Committee was informed of any interviews for the current candidates, and also questioned the rationale behind the appointment of the panel without the involvement of the Committee. The Committee also had not received the 39 CVs of candidates most recently considered.
Mr Mavuso replied that Section 6 of the NRF Act empowered the Minister to appoint a panel that would consider all the candidates and make a short-list. The process set out in the NRF Act, unlike for other board appointments, did not allow for the National Assembly or NCOP to interview the candidates, although it did state that the appointments could only be made after consultation with both Houses. The Minister must agree with the Committee on the persons selected for appointments.
Mr De Villiers asked if it was not necessary for the Minister to consult the NCOP and Portfolio Committee during the process of appointing a panel responsible for screening candidates and making the short-list.
Mr Mavuso replied that Section 6(2) of the NRF Act did not have such a provision that the Minister must consult the NCOP and Portfolio Committee when constituting the panel.
Ms B Mncube (ANC, Gauteng) asked if the Department was now talking about the same Board for whom the Committee had received the CVs when the last appointments to the Board were made.
Mr Mavuso replied that, when reconstituting the Board in 2011, the short-listed names were brought to the Committee and approved by the Committee before the Minister had appointed those candidates.
Ms Mncube pointed out that in the past, the Committee had seen the CVs of the short-listed candidates, but this had not happened on this occasion. She was concerned that Parliament may be criticised for not doing its job properly or fully, if there was any problem with the Board in the future.
The Chairperson added that the Committee needed to see the actual CVs, and not an abridged summary.
Mr Mavuso apologised for not including the full CVs, and said they were available. He reminded Members that the Minister had, on 9 April 2013, written to the Chairperson of the NCOP, submitting the short-list of candidates and their full CVs and he had assumed that they would be forwarded to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked if there were three vacancies in the Board, and what the roles and responsibilities of the Board were.
Ms Mncube asked why only one out of the three that was short-listed was a female and said that if the three names were approved, it would increase the gender imbalance.
Mr Mavuso clarified that there was only one vacancy, but three candidates were short-listed and brought forward for the Committee to consider. Only one would be appointed. The role of the board was to promote research and provide leadership to the NRF, ensuring that the NRF was functional and able to execute its mandate. The Minister had raised the issue of gender imbalance, and had agreed that it was important to strike a gender balance. The selection panel did not proffer reasons for identifying only one female out of the 39 candidates considered, but it was assumed that it had to do with the required skills, qualifications and experience.
The Chairperson requested the Committee to recommend one person out of the three on the short-list.
Ms Mncube recommended appointment of Professor Burton, based on her expertise in education, and the need to ensure gender equality. Mr Faber seconded the recommendation, based on Professor Burton’s qualifications and experience. All other Members agreed.
The report summarising the Committee’s recommendation was then adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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