Department of Science and Technology on its 2013/14 3rd quarter performance

Science and Technology

26 February 2014
Chairperson: Me E Sogoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology planned to deliver 62 output indicators during the financial year 2013/14, 11% of the total annual targets were achieved so far, with 60% on course, 24% at moderate risk and 3% with a certainty of not being achieved. The major reasons for delays in achieving targets were administrative delays, process delays, ineffectiveness of implementers and targeting issues. In order to improve these targets, an improvement plan was in place. The reasons for challenges on specific indicators were discussed as well as the achievement highlights for each of DST’s five programmes and how these affected government's twelve Outcomes. The Department  had spent 82.7% of its budget by the end of the third quarter.

Members asked why DST was involved in Basic Education, as this was not part of its mandate; why researchers had submitted information on student funding late to the Department and what was done to correct this matter; what percentage of its targets did it aim to achieve; what administrative measures were in place to ensure competent employees were hired; was DST involved in the Cape Town 2014 Design Capital of the World initiative; why only 47 research chair positions of the targeted 62 were filled and what the requirements were for the awarding of a research chair, and whether this was based on individual knowledge and expertise.

A number of questions and statements were made about the Technology Innovation Agency forensic report and that the board had continued to deliberate on the report for far too long without concluding this process and making recommendations to the Minister. A Committee member noted that DST was lacking in its support offered to small and medium enterprises but the Department stated that limited funding undermined the support it provided to small and medium businesses.

Meeting report

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director General, stated that the Department of Science and Technology planned to deliver 62 output indicators during the financial year 2013/14, 11% of the total annual targets were achieved so far, with 60% on course, 24% at moderate risk and 3% with a certainty of not being achieved. The major reasons for delays in achieving targets were administrative delays, process delays, ineffectiveness of implementers and targeting issues. Administrative delays were caused by changes in the scope of work. For example, the Department submitted a draft Energy Storage document to South Africa's Executive Council (EXCO), EXCO recommended that the document should include capacity mapping and market analysis; this document would be discussed by EXCO during Quarter 4. Process delays included matters such as the implementing agents failing to submit requested information timeously and where researchers and universities did not submit their report on student funding timeously. On the ineffectiveness of implementers, the Department needed to develop Standard Operating Procedures between the programmes and implementing agencies, to create a standard for the submission of quarterly reports. On targets, in some cases entities requested that the Department change its strategic focus which led to the revision of targets. The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) indicated that it would have 12 investments commercialised through funding, this was revised to a target of three.

In order to improve these targets, an improvement plan was in place. Through an EXCO led process to address administrative delays, the Deputy Director Generals have been asked how programmes would ensure that targets were on course, at moderate risk and with certainty would be achieved. Programmes are in process to finalise the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with implementing agencies. The SOPs would assist the Department to obtain relevant, adequate and useful performance information. Improved planning processes - the Department would improve consultation in advance with implementing agencies on the development of an Annual Performance Plan, and setting realistic targets.

The reasons for challenges on specific indicators were discussed. The presenter moved onto the achievements for each of the five programmes and how these affected government's twelve outcomes (see document).

Dr Mjwara presented the financial performance report. The budget split was shown per programme and per economic classification. The Department  had spent 82.7% of its budget by the end of the third quarter.

He concluded that currently 71% of DST's annual 2013/14 targets are on course including the achieved. Human capital development, knowledge generation and exploitation, infrastructure and Africa collaboration will remain key focus areas and are central in the 2014-2019 strategic plan. The department is committed to achieve a minimum of 80% of its targets this financial year

Ms M Dunjwa (ANC) referred to social outcomes which dealt with health and education, she thought that was not the mandate of the Department. It provided support to post-graduate students, but the Department said it was also providing support to Basic Education projects. She enquired what the Department was doing in Basic Education.

Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General: Human Capital and Knowledge Systems, replied that it would have been useful for the Department in its report to present more information on a regular basis on what it was doing in the education environment, even though it might not be shown in the table as there was not any formal performance measurement. The Department did more outside of what was reported in the performance measures. He stated in future in the narrative section of the report more information would be provided on what the Department was doing in education. Even though it was not part of its core business the Department does much to support Basic Education. The Department has done work in Cofirmvaba in support of rural education. The Department has recently drafted a framework for the Department's activities in support of Basic Education, once this framework was finalised it would be shared with the Department of Basic Education in terms of what the Department of Science and Technology could do in terms of Basic Education. The Department also supported more than 30 Science Centres in the country, and most of these Science Centres are involved in teacher education and learner support activities, a major platform to support Basic Education. The National Science week was another aspect of the support offered to youth and Basic Education.

Dr Auf der Heyde referred to the e-Mbizo launch. DST had close bilateral relations with the Department of Basic Education, regular meetings, both political and at department official level, and it was through these bilateral relations that the Minister was invited to the launch of the e-Mbizo. It was not one of the DST’s projects but it was something the DST was interested in, as it was piloting science and technology education and training in marginalised areas.

Ms Dunjwa asked what the reasons were for the delay of researchers not submitting information on student funding to the Department. She asked what the DST was doing to correct this delay.

Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) referred to slide 16 and asked why implementing agencies failed to submit requested information on time.

Dr Auf der Heyde replied that he was not in the office of the researchers to ask why reports where not submitted, so he had to speculate what the reasons were. Researchers have to submit four reports to the Department on how many students were being awarded bursaries. The NRF gave bursaries to the researcher who then handed them over to students, it was sometimes different to pull all this information together on a quarterly basis as there were many researchers involved, some may have been sick at the time the statistics should have been drawn, or the office may have forgotten to ask the researcher for the report. He noted that the NRF does pursue this matter aggressively and the Department trusted reports received from the NRF. The Department has been in consultation with the NRF, Attorney-General and the Auditor General to ensure that the reports were reliable.

Ms Dunjwa noted that telemedicine systems were being rolled out in the Eastern Cape, Free State and in the North West. She asked where in the Eastern Cape was these systems rolled out.

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director General: International Cooperation and Resources, stated that this programme was being rolled out in Cofimvaba, given the standing partnership with Tabula hospital and the surrounding buildings, like other initiatives piloted, this would give the Department a sense of how it could be done in similar areas in terms of the need of rural connectivity. The necessary lessons would be learned to understand what needed to be put in place for this type of initiative to be a success in other areas.

Ms Dunjwa asked what MONGO Database technologies meant on slide 37 of the report.

Dr Phil Mjwara was not sure what MONGO meant, he stated it was a technical term used by people in climate change; he would provide an explanation to the Committee on another occasion.

Dr J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) stated that the Department mentioned the 80% target, how was this figure calculated and why not 85% or 90%.

Dr Mjwara said that the Auditor General noted that at least 80% of targets should be achieved. He said that the Department wanted to move beyond 80%.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that in 2013 over 42% of targets were already achieved. How did the Department explain the delay in this financial year and what remedial actions have been put in place so that the Department achieved its 80% target.

Dr Mjwara said the reason the comparison between this year and last year was not the same, the Department was not comparing the same things, a number of targets have been changed and some targets do not have quarterly targets, but performance was being traced.

Dr Mjwara said that the Department was developing Standard Operating Procedures which would lay out expectations in terms of the quality of the report and when it should be submitted to the Department. The Standard Operating Procedures would be part of the contract when the Department made funding available to researchers and universities.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens enquired about the lack of finalising of funding agreements and asked what was happening and why this was occurring, was Treasury dragging its feet?

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said the Department targeted to secure R300 million foreign science, technology, innovation funds, but under its Quarter 3 only R36 million (10%) foreign science, technology and innovation funds was secured, why was this the case?

Mr Muofhe said that this has been a cautious approach. DST wanted to report on the basis of available, verifiable information. The partners of the Department sent verification in the last quarter of the financial year. That’s why it tended to be one of those that the DST reported on only towards the end of the financial year. In terms of agreements, those milestones have to be reached. The DST knew that the bulk of the money has been secured and such confirmation would be sent to the various parties. 

Dr Mjwara said that the DST only got a portion of the money up to Quarter 3 and then the bulk of the money came after reconciliation.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that the vacancy rate of the DST was 4.42% by the end of December 2013, what administrative measures have been put in place to ensure that competent employees are brought in.

Dr Mjwara said that the DST has stringent mechanisms for appointing people, not only appointing and keeping them but monitoring and ensuring that they delivered what they were expected to. He noted that when staff left the DST, exit interviews are conducted, which provided a sense of why people left the DST. For the appointment of more senior positions (Director, Chief Director level) people from outside the DST have been asked to assess and to ensure that adequate staff are hired.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked if the Deed of Sale signed between the DST and Sunspace was finalised. Was the DST happy with the decision?

Mr Muofhe said with reference to Sunspace that payments had to be made regarding IP and also the extension of staff, which has been done. The capacity that has moved through Sunspace was being utilised for the space programme going forward.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked if the DST was involved in Cape Town as 2014 World Design Capital. Were there any DST initiatives regarding this design capital initiative?

Dr Mjwara replied that the DST supported the design capital initiatives, not directly but through funding, but were looking at design capital-driven initiatives together with the South African Bureau of Standards, to ensure that access to design techniques are made available.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens noted that the Director-General referred to the South African design initiative, she asked if more background could be provided on this. She felt that it was a field that needed more focus in science and technology in its brief, design has been neglected.

Dr Mjwara said that on the South African design initiative, his colleagues in Programme 5 were quite involved. He asked the Chairperson if it was possible to submit a written response to the Committee. The South African Bureau of Standards had approached the DST and wondered whether they should be the host of the South African design initiative and whether it needed a different home; the DST was looking into this issue. The DST did not have this information at hand but would make it available to the Committee, no later than a week.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked why only 47 research chair positions of the 62 were filled, these positions were important.

Dr Auf der Heyde said that he had not received a response on the issue of why only 47 research chair positions were filled. He said when the NRF awarded a research chair to a university, this position was not awarded to individuals, it was a chair in name awarded to a university. When a particular university made a bid to be awarded a chair for example in oceanography, the NRF has to determine whether the university has the capacity to support that chair properly and its plans for the chair, the proposal was assessed as opposed to the individual. The university was given a certain period of time to find the right person to appoint as chair, that individual would be nominated to the NRF, and the NRF would ensure that the individual nominated by the university satisfied all the expectations of a research chair. This process took time, as universities may also have to look internationally for a research chair and do the background checks on them. The 47 research chairs filled meant that the time allocated to the university to find a suitable research chair has expired, and they should have been filled. Where universities failed to submitted suitable candidates within the time allocated to them, the NRF has the right in consultation with the DST to withdraw the award and award the research chair position to another institution.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens in a follow up question asked what the requirement of awarding of the research chair position was. She thought that it was mainly focused on individuals, on their expertise and knowledge.

Dr Auf der Heyde noted that when the NRF decided to award a research chair to an institution, there was no reason to provide funding to an individual if their work was not supported by the institution, the work that the researcher wanted to do was linked to the research portfolio of that institution. There has to be a strategic and scientific link between the chair and the research activities of that university. The awarding of the research chair needed to take into consideration the quality of the individual chair holder as well as the supportive environment, from a scientific, technological and administrative point of view. This was a two phase approach. Was the institution an appropriate home for the research chair? Then was the individual appropriate for the appointment of research chair? The university was given a year from when the research chair was awarded to finding and nominating the appropriate individual to the NRF.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that a budget of R6.2 billion has been allocated, what was the DST’s expectations, would more be given?

Dr Mjwara said he did not expect anything more than R6.2 billion; the DST has to maintain the budget which it has. New money which the DST has received was given to pilot programmes where the entities work with the private sector in order to keep the private sector in business. With these programmes in mind it was expected that there would be a small increase in its budget.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens said that in the DST report brief mention was made of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA). She asked what has happened with the TIA forensic report and was this report sent to the DST?

Dr Mjwara said that the board has received the report; they were working through the report and would inform the Minister on the outcome of the report. The board would deliberate on the actions they should take on the report. They would present the final recommendations to the Minister and how each recommendation should be taken forward.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked how long this process would take as the board has continued to tell the Committee that they were busy with deliberations on it. It should not take so long to deal with a report.

Dr Mjwara said that he was not sure about this process. The Minister would expect that this matter be finalised, it was not clear whether a deadline was given.

The Chairperson asked if the forensic report was about allegations labelled against the organisation about procurement and not following the necessary procedures.

Dr Kloppers-Lourens asked if the Committee would see the report.

The Chairperson said that the deliberation time was too long on the report. He said that it could not take a year to deliberate on a report, something was wrong, the Committee needed to see the report.

Dr Mjwara said that he would pass the information onto the board.

Ms J Terblanche (DA) asked when would the Cofimvaba Tech4Red project be extended to other areas and to other provinces. The novel health project was implemented in various parts in that area. She asked why that area specifically, who decided this, as there were many rural areas such as Mpumalanga. This was not fair to other rural areas that had similar needs and problems.

Dr Mjwara said that he was not able to answer the question on the selection of the various sites, but the DST does try to pilot in what was considered as extreme areas of challenge. In Cofimvaba, the challenges were probably much more severe than in other areas, though this was subject to interpretation. If problems in severe areas are addressed then those lessons learned can be transferred and benefit the Department of Basic Education’s programme that was looking at the introduction of ICT in schools.

Ms Terblanche referred to the target about guarding the number of small and medium enterprises. Jobs was a major issue for South Africa. Many jobs have been lost. The technological support the DST offered to small and medium enterprises was lacking and could be improved. She asked why the DST was lacking in this area. If growth and opportunities was desired then focus should be placed on small and medium enterprises.

Dr Mjwara said that the support provided to small and medium enterprises was limited due to funding. The DST offered support through the Technology Stations Programme, linked to the Technology Innovation Agency, and through the technology assistance package which was provided to small and medium enterprises that desired to take advantage of local opportunities as part of the localisation programme. He noted that the DST does not like to take on major programmes unless they have learned from a few pilots they have initiated. The Technology Station Programme could be expanded as all the lessons had been learned. He mentioned that he had been invited to a Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park. He was impressed that this was set up and that a fresh group of tenants have been established and they were hoping to support small and medium enterprises in Sasolburg.

Ms M Dunjwa referred to FET colleges.

Dr Auf der Heyde noted about FET colleges that the DST was “watching this space”, as the skills development which occurred in the FET space was relevant to the development of the national system of innovation. Even though the DST does not have responsibility in that sector, that sector’s capacity to develop skills was important to the strategic initiatives of the DST. Advanced manufacturing activities need input from the FET sector. The Technology Stations Programme was originally close to the FET sector which was developed specifically to bring together universities, FET colleges and the private sector. On the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, the DST has had engagements with the Department of Higher Education and Training on looking at skills gaps. It would be three to four years before a major infrastructure development programme took place in the Northern Cape, with the construction of 2 500 dishes. DST would not be able to support the nature of this construction. The DST has the time to roll out and train the necessary people if they do not want contractors bringing in hundreds of FET type skills from outside the country. The DST has engaged the Department of Higher Education and Training to look at how these skills could be provided.

The Chairperson thanked the Director-General for the presentation.

The meeting was adjourned.


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