The Committee discussed the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) for the Department of Science and Technology. The report provided an assessment of the performance of the Department. The introduction summarised the mandate and the role of the Portfolio Committee, what the Committee did to complete the BRRR and the mandate of the Department. It also included relevant policy areas and discussed the financial and non-financial performance of DST as well as the Committee’s observations and the recommendations.
The Committee made the following observations and recommendations:
●The outline of the Auditor-General on how the Department spent its budget allocation should be included in support of the view that the Department had spent its budget quite prudently.
● It should be recorded in the observations that DST was a well functioning department.
●It should also be stated that the Committee understood National Treasury’s predicament, but if there was any way to increase DST’s budget, it would be reflected in the outputs of the Department. It would not really make sense to ask for more money, but it should be flagged that when the economy improved, DST should be first in line.
●There should be a sufficient budget provided for the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) challenges.
●Ther should be a simplified process of the Research and Development Incentive to encourage businesses to participate and engagement between the Department of Higher Education and Training and Department to increase the funding support for postgraduate students.
● Based on the outcomes of the Ministerial Review, a new body should be established to deal with the innovation agenda in a cross-cutting manner and that that body should be elevated to the level of the Deputy President.
●The National Advisory Council on Innovation should be reformed into an office of innovation policy.
Science and Technology Budget Review and Recommendations Report
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting. He said that himself, the Content Advisor, Ms Reneè Osbourne-Mullins and the Committee Researcher, Dr Eliya Madikane, had worked on the Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) and produced a working document the Committee could deliberate on. The observations and recommendations of the Committee would be recorded on the document after the deliberations.
Ms Osbourne-Mullins said the BRRR provided an assessment of the performance of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), as well as an overview of the work the Committee had done in the past financial year. The BRRR included an introduction that summarised the mandate and the role of the Portfolio Committee, what the Committee did to complete the BRRR and the mandate of the Department. It also included relevant policy areas and discussed the financial and non-financial performance of DST. Finally, it recorded the observations and the recommendations of the Committee.
Ms Osbourne-Mullins stressed that it was up to the Committee to decide where information should be populated or deleted. The first section covered the mandate of the Portfolio Committee; it listed the entities that reported to the Department and what the objective of the BRRR was. It also discussed the process of what the previous Committee and the current Committee went through in terms of assessing the financial and non-financial performance of the year under review, as well as the mandate of DST. Section 2, page 2 covered the narrative of the policies that informed the work of the Department and key policy developments, specifically implemented by DST for the year under review. It included the key measurable objectives that were aligned to the challenges constraining the National System of Innovation (NSI) and the fact that the targets of DST were formulated around those challenges. The previous Committee’s recommendations were included in the report and it also listed the Auditor-General’s findings for DST and its entities and what the Department had committed to in addressing the findings. The final section covered a summary of the Department’s 2015/16 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) bid. Section 5 on page 8 provided an overview of service delivery performance, the targets and achievements for each programme, highlights and key issues pertaining to specific entities.
Ms Osbourne-Mullins asked if the Committee would like to include the allocation per programme, what was spent and the percentage of targets achieved. It could be useful, when drafting the observations, to be able to refer to a specific table.
The Chairperson suggested that Committee members should take 20 minutes to read through the document before the deliberations.
After the 20 minutes, the Chairperson said the document basically gave an overview of what the Department had achieved and what it hadfailed to achieve. The question then became if the reason for not achieving some of its targets were due to financial constraints.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) suggested that the outline of the Auditor-General on how the Department spent its budget allocation be included in support of the view that the Department had spent its budget quite prudently.
Mr M Kekana (ANC) said the Draft BRRR was good, but it was too ‘summarised’. He suggested that in future, the Auditor-General should be invited to give a comprehensive presentation, because DST could achieve a clean audit. The Department had done some good work, but there were still some concerns. The use of consultants had been highlighted as a concern, as well as the building and installation of the outstanding MeerKAT satellite dishes. The Administration programme was not effectively unpacked to sufficiently cover human resources, because it should be made clear how vacancies would be funded. There had been no mention during the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) presentation about the outstanding satellite dishes. Important issues had been hidden from the Committee and would not have been known without the help of the Committee Researcher. The Committee should request a comprehensive report on SKA.
Dr Lotriet said the delays were discussed during the SKA presentation. The main reason for the delay was that the nature of the contract was such that not only expertise or products from overseas could be used. Some of the components had to be devised and sourced locally and it made the process much longer.
Mr Kekana said a detailed report was still necessary, because it should be made clear who the contractors and subcontractors were.
The Chairperson said a SKA site visit had been organised for the Committee and the Department and all those concerns could be addressed then.
Mr Kekana said a written report would assist the Committee during the site visit.
Mr C Mathale (ANC) said the focus should be on the BRRR, because the Report should be adopted the following day and he seconded Dr Lotriet’s proposal. The mandate of the Department was too condensed and he asked if it could not be simplified.
Ms Osbourne-Mullins agreed and said the mandate of DST would be unpacked.
Mr N Koornhof (ANC) proposed that it should be recorded in the observations that DST was a well functioning Department. It should also be stated that the Committee understood National Treasury’s predicament, but if there was any way to increase DST’s budget, it would be reflected in the outputs of the Department. It would not really make sense to ask for more money, but it should be flagged that when the economy improved, DST should be first in line.
Dr Lotriet said the previous recommendations stated that DST should attach a timeline to their 5% vacancy rate, but the vacancy rate had since increased to 8.14% and that was problematic. There was no sufficient budget to address the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) challenges. Another challenge was the Research and Development Incentive that was not really taken up by businesses and it was made clear that the process was quite cumbersome. As a recommendation, the Department could look into simplifying that process. The funding support for postgraduate students was important in terms of the SKA and MeerKAT projects. In discussions with the National Research Fund (NRF) it became clear that the Department would actually need around R14 billion to cater to the postgraduate needs of the country. As a recommendation, there should be serious discussions with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on budget allocations for students and postgraduate students, because DHET only catered to undergraduate students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The supply chain management issues highlighted by the Auditor-General should be attended to, as well as the human resources concerns in terms of the vacancy rate and the screening process. Another challenge was the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) that planned to retrench a third of its staff. The Agency had a very high vacancy rate already and it was important that this be included in the BRRR.
The Chairperson said he had received contradicting letters from TIA and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and would be meeting both to get to the truth about the retrenchments. Alternatively, both TIA and NEHAWU could come to the Committee and present.
Mr Koornhof said in recent meetings the Portfolio Committee of Trade and Industry had discussed the necessity of Boards, because in most instances there were internal problems and a lot of money was wasted on unnecessary travelling and accommodation. It was not necessarily an issue with DST institutions, but maybe it was time to assess the effectiveness of boards and councils.
The Chairperson agreed that this was an issue that would need to be flagged for future consideration.
Mr Mathale said sometimes there was a sense that DST’s central location within the governance structure was problematic. There had been some recommendations made previously that the Department should be elevated to the Presidency and perhaps then the work of the Department would be better coordinated. He asked if this could be included as a recommendation, because science and technology was a critical task that should be driven by government.
The Chairperson suggested the recommendation be inserted just after the acknowledgement that the Department had done well. In fact, it was the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) that should have been elevated to the Presidency, because the Council was advising the Minister.
Dr Madikane said the Ministerial Review had recommended that a new body be established to deal with the innovation agenda in a cross-cutting manner and that the body should be elevated to the level of the Deputy President. The other recommendation was that NACI should be reformed into an office of innovation policy.
The Chairperson said there had been no proper coordination of such an important department. He asked that these recommendations be drafted into the BRRR.
Dr Lotriet agreed and said the recommendations should refer specifically to the recommendations in the Ministerial Review.
The Chairperson said it was important that the recommendations on IKS reflect that new innovations were nurtured and given a proper space in the innovation agenda. In terms of human capital development, there tended to be a focus on universities and very few universities were in rural areas. It should be investigated how the National Research Fund (NRF) could reach those in rural areas. Although the focus was on higher education, the NRF should explore how they could become involved in basic education, especially in educating the youth in rural areas on research as a profession.
The Chairperson said the recommendations would be incorporated and would be sent to Committee members. The Committee would meet the following day to review and adopt the BRRR.
The meeting was adjourned.
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