Centre for Science and Information Research: briefing

Arts and Culture

20 August 2002
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Meeting report

20 August 2002


Miss MAA Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Presentation by CSIR

The briefing by CSIR covered the CSIR's background, CSIR links, issues raised by the Committee during the September visit by the Committee and briefly how the CSIR was working in relation to sustainable development issues to be discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Dr Sibisi and Dr Yannakou, the President and Executive Officer, and Executive Vice-President were present as CSIR representatives.

Dr Sibisi expressed his reservation in respect of the name of the Portfolio Committee. This was in the light of the speculation of a possible split of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology into two sections, namely one specialising in Arts and Culture, and one specialising in Science and Technology. Dr Sibisi in turn handed over to Dr Yannakou to take the Committee through the presentation.

Dr Yannakou explained that the briefing would cover mainly the CSIR's background, CSIR links, issues raised by the committee during the September visit by the Committee and briefly how the CSIR was working in relation to sustainable development issues to be discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). [For the CSIR presentation, kindly refer to the attached presentation document].

Ms TJ Tshivase (ANC) commented that, based on the direction the CSIR was taking, and as someone coming form the rural areas, the CSIR researchers in rural areas were not doing enough. She wanted to know if the CSIR could not provide machines for bead-work as she felt that the bead making in the rural areas was being left behind in terms of technological support.

Dr Sibisi acknowledged that what CSIR was doing currently in the area of poverty reduction and empowerment of women in rural areas was not enough as there was still a space for more work to be done. On the provision of machines for bead-work, he said he was hesitant to be too committed on that subject. He stressed the fact that CSIR was not in a business of making machines. He said DACST had all the details of the company which could provide such machines.

Miss NM Tsheole (ANC) asked what was accounting for the decline in the CSIR's investment into manufacturing competencies. What was the relationship between CSIR and Agricultural Research Council (ARC)?

Dr Yannakou explained that the reason for the decline was because the CSIR had invested more in other areas like Information (ICT). But the decline in the investment did not mean that the manufacturing competencies in particular were on the decline.

Mr SL Dithebe (ANC) asked what CSIR's role was with regard to infrastructure development in the townships. Referring to the presentation document, he asked if the Americans were going to pay South Africa anything. He also asked about what the CSIR was doing to prevent biopiracy particularly of indigenous plants.

Dr Sibisi said that CSIR's involvement in infrastructure development in the townships dated back in the early 1990's. The CSIR work in those areas was specifically to develop building capacity, develop standards and policies. He said that CSIR was not involved in the core business of manufacturing of materials like bricks. He said the CSIR had moved from that to policy planning and other environmental issues. He said that the resources did not allow the CSIR to be involved in the manufacturing of materials. And that the CSIR no longer had construction laboratories to do that. On the issue of biopiracy, Dr Sibisi said that as CSIR they were aware of the problem of biopiracy but pointed out that doing something about biopiracy was not the CSIR's core business.

Ms A Van Wyk (NNP) expressed her happiness on the developments around having a fully-fledged Science and Technology department. However, she lamented the fact that the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, Dr Ben Ngubane, had not announced the matter. She also decried the fact that the Portfolio Committee was not informed about it. She accused the executive of undermining the oversight role of Parliament. She further raised her concerns about the loss of PhD's particularly in institutions linked to government. She said that there needed to be a conscious effort to retain and strengthen the country's academic or intellectual capacity if the country had to realize the ideals of societal transformation. She also raised the question of housing and said that the scale of housing provision was vast and socially polluting. It was causing crime because of bad systematic planning and the use of bad material. She suggested indigenous housing models and building materials.

The Chairperson commented on the possible splitting of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology into two sections. She informed the Committee Members that she was expecting Minister Ben Ngubane to brief the Committee the next day. Unfortunately, she said that this morning she received the news that Minister Ngubane had cancelled the appointment. She did not divulge the reasons for the cancellation of the appointment. She would try to arrange a briefing from the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology for Friday.

Replying to the question on the loss of PhDs, Dr Sibisi said the issue was more serious than just a mere loss of PhDs in state linked institutions. Current matriculants think more of going into business than going into science. The real issue was the role of the National Research Foundation in providing funding. Having said that, he also acknowledged the fact that CSIR had to be more actively involved in the development of scientists. He said CSIR should be playing a much greater role than it was currently doing.

Miss HM Mpaka (ANC) wanted to know what role the CSIR played to ensure that the SMMEs were part of the WSSD. She also pointed out that the CSIR management plans did not show any people with disabilities. She also wanted to know about what support the CSIR was getting from Safety and Security.

On the question regarding Safety and Security, Dr Sibisi explained that the CSIR was involved in the crime prevention center. CSIR was also speaking to the Department of Justice on skills it might need in its forensic department. He also said that the CSIR was looking for ways and means it could be deployed in the area of defence.

Mr SE Opperman (DP) asked what CSIR's view was on genetically modified foods. He also mentioned that the heritage tourism was booming and wanted to know what the CSIR was doing in the area of heritage research.

In respect of the question on Heritage Research, Dr Sibisi said that the CSIR was involved in the area of heritage research particularly that of biodiversity. Regarding the genetically modified foods, Dr Sibisi said that this issue was of great concern to the CSIR.

Professor IJ Mohammed (ANC) said that he concurred with the sentiments of Ms Van Wyk on Parliament's oversight role and the lack of information by Minister Ngubane. He also said that he was saddened by the fact that much of the money of the CSIR was derived from contract research. He said that more money must be invested in maths and science.

Ms ND Mbombo (ANC) asked if there was any programme in place for young scientist to safeguard the wealth of the country. She also commented that South Africa was digging gold only to sell it to other people and only to buy it back as a finished product. She wanted to know what could be done to safeguard the wealth of the country.

The Chairperson asked if the replacement had been found for the plastic bags, which Minister Vallie Moosa had been trying to ban. She also wanted to know if the CSIR had been assisting the Department of Environmental Affairs with finding an alternative to the plastic bags.

Dr Sibisi said that the issue was not necessarily about technology but rather about commitment to a pollution-free environment. He also said that he was not sure if there was an alternative to plastic bags.

The Chairperson thanked the guest from CSIR for coming and the way they responded to the questions raised. She commented that it was pleasing to her to note that technology was now not only benefiting business but also people on the ground with their projects.

Though some of the questions were not asked, due to time constraints the Chairperson declared the meeting adjourned.



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