The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on the proposed Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill. In 2012 the DST had embarked on a process to review the legislative provisions dealing with the operations and governance of the science councils. The purpose was to identify factors causing inefficiencies in the operations and governance of science councils. Cumbersome processes for the appointment of members of the boards, inconsistencies in the appointment of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), and inconsistencies in the processes for the extension of the term of office of members of the boards were identified as contributing factors.
The legislation processes were followed and the Bill was formally introduced into Parliament in October 2013. The purpose of the Bill was to streamline processes for the appointment of members of the boards or councils, to harmonise the process for the appointment of chairpersons of the boards or councils, and to provide for the dissolution and reconstitution of the boards, to strengthen the governance of the institutions.
Committee Members were concerned about the following issues: the role of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology in an oversight capacity in light of the boards accountability to Minister; the compliance of the Bill to the post 1994 Constitution; the constitutional process of the Bill; and the lengths of terms in office
The Committee also discussed its Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR). Members fine-tuned the mandate of the Committee and discussed the challenges of the new BRRR template. They further asked why certain issues, like the Shell gas exploration in the Karoo, were not in the report. It was established that the Committee should reflect a formalised position in the report and recommendations from previous years should be more clearly stated to show the view of the Committee. The BRRR was adopted with amendments.
Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill: Briefing by the Department of Science and Technology (DST)
Mr Phil Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, said that in 2012 the DST had embarked on a process to review the legislative provisions dealing with the operations and governance of the science councils. The purpose was to identify factors causing inefficiencies in the operations and governance of science councils. Cumbersome processes for the appointment of members of the boards, inconsistencies in the appointment of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), and inconsistencies in the processes for the extension of the term of office of members of the boards were identified as contributing factors.
The legislation processes were followed and the Bill was formally introduced into Parliament in October 2013. Comments on the Bill were received from the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), the National Research Foundation (NRF), the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSA), and from Dr Frederick Roelofse from the University of the Free State (UFS). The comments generally dealt with technical issues related to the operations of these entities.
The purpose of the Bill was to streamline processes for the appointment of members of the boards or councils, to harmonise the process for the appointment of chairpersons of the boards or councils, and to provide for the dissolution and reconstitution of the boards, to strengthen the governance of the institutions. The purpose of the Bill was highlighted through the proposed amendments (slides 8-14) to the Scientific Research Council Act of 1998, the National Research Foundation Act of 1998, the Academy of Science of South Africa Act of 2001, the Natural Scientific Professions Act of 2003, the Human Science Research Council Act of 1997, the Technology Innovation Agency Act of 2008, and the South African National Space Agency Act.
Mr M Nonkonyana (ANC) noted the draft Bill was published for public consultation in the Government Gazette in June 2013 and asked if there had been any input from the public. He asked if the Bill should not be deferred to the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) bearing in mind that science cuts across indigenous knowledge.
Mr Mjwara replied the Department was also disappointed that there were no comments from the public, except from Dr Roelofse from the UFS who concurred with the scrapping of forced registration of scientists who worked in the public domain and ethics committees set up by the institutions should regulate the processes. The DST had no objection to the Bill being deferred to the NHTL as the main issue of the Bill dealt with the governance of entities.
The Chairperson replied that it was Parliament’s responsibility to invite the relevant government departments for comments and input regarding the Bill.
Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) said although the Bill proposed the board to be appointed by the Minister, the Committee still had an oversight responsibility and asked if her assumption was correct that all entities, one the Bill had been passed, would be subjected to this.
Mr Mjwara confirmed that all entities would be subjected to the processes with the aim to harmonise practices.
Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked if this was merely a process that compared the different entities and their Acts to streamline those Acts and how did these changes compare to how it was done by other departments. She referred to slides four and nine and asked for examples of the inconsistencies in the processes for the extension of the term of office of members of the boards, what the ideal length of terms were and how were these lengths of terms determined.
Mr Mjwara replied that with other public entities that did not report to the Minister of Science and Technology the process of the Portfolio Committee’s involvement was not standard. Parliament was involved in the appointment processes of Chapter Nine entities institutions, but not involved in non-Chapter nine entities. The inconsistencies were as a result of appointment processes being done either in consultation with the Committee or after consulting the Committee. The aim was to harmonise the appointment processes. Good governance suggested board members served three to five years with the possibility of renewal into a second term. The other principle dictated that there be continuity so that a third of the people on the board continued to the second term.
The Chairperson said many entities had not moved with the times, i.e. with the post 1994 Constitution, and asked if this very Bill would not be amended to comply with the post 1994 Constitution.
Mr Brian Muthwa, Chief Director of Legal Services, DST, replied that the legislation that was administered by DST encapsulated the spirit of the Constitution. The first Science and Technologies Amendment Bill passed in 2011 ensured that it was in line with the new constitutional imperatives, and most, if not all the legislation was in line with the new Constitution.
Ms H Line (ANC) referred to slide eight and asked if, with the amendment of this Bill, the Minister was not given too much power to hire and fire and thus created loopholes for inconsistencies.
Mr Mjwara said in response to Ms Line he would also address the oversight issue brought up by Ms Dunjwa. The Minister would appoint the board, and the performance of the institution would be accountable through the board, to the Minister. If the Minister felt the board was not performing its duties, the Portfolio Committee and Parliament through strategy plans and the Annual Performance Plans (APPs) of the entities would still perform the oversight role.
The Chairperson clarified the questions of the Committee members and said the APPs of an entity could show that the entity had performed really well and there were no findings to report. The Minister could then dissolve the board of that entity based on whatever reason, and would be legislatively guided to so, which had happened in the past. He also referred to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) were the SABC board and the CEOs had internal conflict and were at a total disjuncture and asked how could Parliament have a role to play if such a situation arose within the entities.
Mr Mjwara replied the Minister was accountable to Parliament and nothing prohibited the Portfolio Committee from requesting the Minister to account if there were a breakdown in the functioning of the board.
The Chairperson said the Committee had experience of when the Minister acted within the law but against the recommendations of Parliament, and even if he acted against the oversight of the Committee, law governed his actions.
Mr Muthwa said that the issue related to the core of the principle of separation of powers between the arms of the state where each arm of government should not intervene with the other. Parliament retained the powers of oversight, it was just the appointment processes of board members that the DST believed would compromise the oversight responsibilities should Parliament get involved in those processes. Parliament had the right and the mandate to call on the Minister to account for his exercise of powers.
The Chairperson asked where the Committee entered in terms of affecting the process, because on a previous occasion, a board consisted of two members that were not eligible to serve on that board. The Committee received short listed recommendations from the relevant department, but could not endorse the list because of those two members and instead recommended two distinguished names to replace the two members. The Minister disregarded the recommendation without even notifying the Committee and it was subsequently established he acted within a law that was passed by the Committee.
Mr P Smith (IFP) said the issue was whether the Committee wanted to be involved or not. If the Committee did not want to be involved, the Bill could be passed as is, but if the Committee wanted to be involved, an amendment should be inserted that detailed the extent of the involvement.
The Chairperson said the reality was most of the appointments of boards were not aligned to post 1994 Constitution in other departments, and the DST was one of the exceptions. Parliament could decide in 2014 to streamline and re-amend the system to conform, because there was already a feeling in the chairperson’s forum that the entire system needed to be overhauled and the appointments of all entities must be governed by a common understanding. At this point there needed to be understanding of the issues, before the Bill is submitted for public scrutiny.
Ms Dunjwa said it was not complicated and depended on the assertiveness of the Committee with regards to the role the Committee needed to play in the appointment process.
Mr Smith said the Committee needed a discussion amongst themselves of what was desirable and if the Bill was to be published for public comment, it was off the agenda for the year. The clause or policy that could be inserted with regards to the Committee involvement was a short process and the Bill could go through this year and promulgated in due course.
Parliamentary Legal Avisor, Dr Barbara Loots cautioned the Committee and said that the Constitution put the responsibility of public participation squarely on Parliament and if Parliament did not allow for public participation, the Bill would be invalid. The content and context of the Bill informed the form of public participation and need not be a long drawn out process and the Committee should guide the process.
The Chairperson agreed and said Parliament had an obligation to advertise the Bill in the media and if more than five submissions were received, which would seemed to suggest there were concerns, those that submitted should be called in to participate.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens said the term was three to five years, but if it were two terms it would be six to ten years and asked what the proposed term in the Bill was and if it was properly researched.
Mr Muthwa said the terms had been harmonised in the Science and Technologies Amendment Bill, 2011, but this Bill provided a standard procedure that retained some members when new members had been appointed for the second term, and if the term of the board expired, and a new members had not been appointed, the Minister could extend the term of the board or an individual member for six months until positions had been filled to avoid gaps in the process. Mr Mjwara said the three to five years standard was debated in good governance where it was decided if a non-functional board was appointed, five years were too long, but three years was too short for a board to deliver on its directive.
Ms Dunjwa said the content of the Bill was now discussed and asked if the Committee could be afforded time to go through the Bill.
Ms Line said it was important that the DST be present when the Bill was discussed because some of the issues needed to be clarified during the discussion.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked if the Department could not do a presentation in collaboration with other entities to guide the Committee through the Bill.
The Chairperson said this session was just a brief, afterwards the Committee would debate and discuss the Bill and then the constitutional processes would be followed, and only during those processes the DST could come in to take the Committee through the Bill.
Mr Nonkonyana asked if there not a way to state the discretionary powers to the Minister so that those that oversaw the Ministry could clearly understand what their roles were.
The Chairperson said the Bill was before Parliament, and it was no longer anybody else’s responsibility but the Committee, in collaboration with legal advisors and state law advisors to study and debate the Bill, or make changes. Once it was clear what the Committee wanted to do, only then the DST could be invited to go through the Bill.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for the briefing.
Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR)
The Content Advisor, Renee Osborne-Mullins said the changes made included budget report observations included in section three, the inclusion of the entities in section five, and the Committee oversight observation in section 7. On page nine, under programme three, the benefits for the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) was added. Ms Dunjwa requested that some of the benefits of science and technology that spoke to the national priority be showed and that was listed on page 11.
Mr Smith asked why AISA was listed under programme three; the sentence structure should be changed to show that AISA was already in the process of being incorporated and that somewhere on the programme it should state that matters that arose from previous years report were being attended to.
Ms Osborne-Mullins stated other African countries were international cooperation and that was part of AISA’s mandate, the structure of the sentence would be changed and said under section three the document template asked for the responses on previous years’ BRRR and the responses from the Minister of Finance was listed as well as what the Minister responded to in his budget speech.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens referred to past meetings with ASSA and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and said she specifically asked about independent research on energy and the exploration of Shell gas in the Karoo. She referred to last year’s report and the section that spoke to the request for research on the topic and said it should be included in the report. On page nine of last year’s report the heading ‘Oversight activities and engagements with the Department’ was changed on page four to just ‘Oversight activities’, and she asked for clarification.
The Chairperson said this issue had been discussed, but Ms Kloppers-Lourens was not present at the discussion. The Department of Mineral Resources had put a moratorium on the exploration on Shell gas and had only now decided that the exploration should start. The DST would then follow up on the role it should play in the future and that would be discussed with the Committee.
The Committee Secretary, Ms Shanaaz Issacs said last year there was a briefing on energy and the observations was noted based on these engagements with the Department. This year the report specifically asked for a distinction between observations from engagements and observations from oversights and the report was done according to the template provided.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens said the Committee should be provided with the template so that input could be given.
The Content Advisor said the report was filled in according to the newly provided template, but Committee the shortcomings of the template could be reported, because this template was based on shortcomings of the process reported previously. The template could have been distributed earlier, but there was an understanding that Committee members received the template at the BRRR training session.
The Chairperson agreed that the template was given to members at the BRRR training session, but stated that it was a work in progress, and as a result many Committees had trouble working with the template.
Mr Smith referred to the five recommendations of the previous year and said the responses were expressed in a roundabout way and should strongly reflect the Committee’s views on whether these recommendations had been acted on.
Ms Isaacs said the Department focussed on higher levels and did not really focus on the smaller or insignificant issues, but this was a trial report and the next five years changes could be made.
Ms Kloppers-Lourens noted a grammatical error on page 10 and referred to page 12 to the examples of continued weakness in cooperation across governments and asked why the Interdepartmental Monitoring Committee on Shell gas extraction was not listed as a weakness.
The Chairperson said the report should reflect the Committee position and should be formalised.
Mr Nonkonyana asked if the mandate on page one could be fine-tuned and changed from ‘to legislate’ to ‘to process legislation’ and ‘it’ should be changed to ‘the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology’.
Mr Smith agreed and said Parliament legislates and the Committee was a sub-committee of Parliament and the ‘it’ in the mandate referred to the Department.
Mr Smith noted grammatical errors on page one.
The BRRR was adopted with amendments.
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