Department of Science and Technology on its 2013/14 Annual Report

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

19 November 2014
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on its Annual Report for 2013/14 Financial Year. The major focus was how to use science and technology to advance socio-economic development in South Africa. It was noted that this Department had been assessed as second in the performance assessments conducted by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, and its audit, risk and general compliance systems were sound. It had overachieved on several targets, and where there was under-achievement, this was explained in detail.

A comprehensive breakdown of the performance of the Department's programmes and achievements was given, with comparisons against targets. In this year, it had achieved 77% of the targets, an improvement from 71% in the 2012/13 financial year, although it was conscious that this still fell short of the requirements by National Treasury. The budget was  R6.198 billion, and actual expenditure was R6.169 billion, or 99.5%. However, the Department stressed that from the budget received, 92.4% was intended for transfer to other entities and much of it did not even pass through the Department's banking account. A list was given of the entities falling under its oversight, but no indication of their performance was stated during the presentation.

Members asked whether the funding of R300 million that had just been secured was to be used in the next financial year, or the current one. They asked about the effect of delays on 24 institutions who were to be awarded rebates for their intellectual property developments, and how this had affected commercial deployment. They were interested in hearing about the geographic spread of some of the initiatives and funding, wanted to know how the Department was tracking students and interns, and what the effect of the increased attendance at science promotional weeks by the public as well as students had been. The Department would be sending through further details in writing. Members also asked whether the Department was developing or doing research around solar-powered glowing bicycle paths, pointing out that any energy-directed research was important in view of the looming energy crisis, and asked with whom it was partnering. Members asked how easy it was to encourage students to progress from under-graduate to post-graduate degree level, and how many found employment. They wanted more details on the 23 district municipalities for piloting various sanitation technology solutions in terms of location and type of support. Members were pleased to note the performance overall, and were especially pleased to note the setting up of the Enterprise Risk Management Committee as this would reduce irregular, fruitless and unauthorised expenditure and warn of any potential risks. Finally Members adopted minutes from 27 October and 5 November.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology (DST) 2013/14 Annual Report briefing
Dr Philemon Mjwara, Director General, Department of Science and Technology, noted that the performance information report of the Department of Science and Technology (DST or the Department) was submitted to the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) and the National Treasury (NT), as required, by 31 May 2014. The Department was proud to have achieved 77% of the targets, an improvement from 71% in the 2012/13 financial year, but conceded that this was still below the 80% target required by the NT.

Dr Mjwara described some of the activities of the Department in this financial year. The Department's five programmes were: Administration (Programme 1), Research, Development and Innovation (Programme 2), International Cooperation and Resources (Programme 3), Human Capital and Knowledge Systems (Programme 4) and Socio-economic Partnerships (Programme 5).

The highlights for Programme 1 showed that the Performance Information Management System (PIMS) was successfully piloted internally and launched in September 2013.All entities’ annual reports and that of the Department were tabled in Parliament by the required deadlines.The Department’s vacancy rate was maintained at an average rate of 6% over the financial year. In this year, it had taken the Department an average of 70 days to fill its vacancies. On a quarterly basis, the Enterprise Risk Management Committee exercised oversight over the effectiveness of the Department’s risk management processes.

The annual target for Administration was to ensure that there was 80% alignment to targets, and that  DST planning documents (strategic plan, annual performance plan) were submitted to Parliament by 31 March 2014. The Department managed to achieved the target, as the Annual Performance Plan (APP) was submitted to Parliament; and so were 100% aligned DST APP and ENE (performance indicators). The vacancy rate was reduced to 6% and therefore the target was achieved. The Department had an annual target of 10 public participation programmes conducted by 31 March 2014 and managed to conduct a total of 13 public participation programmes, superceding the target.

The highlights for Programme 2 showed that the Nuclear Technologies in Medicine and Biosciences Initiative (NTeMBI) partnership, done in collaboration with the National Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA), was successfully concluded. Four other research and development (R&D) initiatives in the biosciences sector were also supported, namely the Bio-informatics Service Platform (Technology Platform), the Bio-catalysis initiative, the Bio-manufacturing initiative and  the Bio-safety initiative. Sixteen space and earth-based end-user technology solutions were provided by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), including compass calibration services for the South African Air Force (SAAF) and the general aviation sector.

The annual target for Programme 2 was for the Department to financially and strategically support 20 research efforts and development initiatives in hydrogen and energy and biosciences related fields, which would lead to publications, patents and prototypes. 19 research and development initiatives in hydrogen and energy and biosciences related fields were financially and strategically supported. The target was partially achieved. The reasons for deviation were not fully established but were due to delays in obtaining data on industry capability in order to support the Solar Roadmap. The Roadmap was a prerequisite for the establishment of the Solar Centre of Competence. One MeerKAT antenna, instead of the targeted four, was designed and installed as per Square Kilometre Array (SKA) specifications by 31 March 2014. The target was not achieved and the reason for the deviation was linked to project delays by the contractor, which had resulted in the remaining three dishes not being installed yet. The contractor had resolved to have the remaining dishes installed by 31 June 2014.

The highlights of Programme 3 included the international partnerships which enabled more than 2 000 cooperation opportunities for the South African National System of Innovation. The DST hosted the first Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) S&T Ministerial Meeting in February 2014. There were new agreements with UK, USA, Finland, Sweden, and Norway regarding international cooperation. In November 2013, Dr Mjwara assumed the Presidency of the Science Commission of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the first time ever that an African chaired an UNESCO Commission.

The annual target for Programme 4 was to secure R300 million foreign Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) funds from international partners for knowledge production, technology transfer, enhanced innovation, and STI Human Capital Development through agreed instruments. The target was exceeded, as the Department managed to secure R436.38 million foreign STI funds. He noted that the additional philanthropic and development funding opportunities arose during the previous financial year. The Department also targeted having 855 South African postgraduate (masters, doctoral and post-doctoral) students participating in international knowledge production, technology transfer, enhanced innovation, and STI human capital development, as agreed with foreign partners. The target was achieved and exceeded, as 896 South African postgraduate students are currently participating in international STI programmes. The student numbers increased due to increased opportunities that became available as the Foundations and Philanthropic Office (FPO) and Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) opportunities.

Dr Mjwara took the Committee through the highlights of programme 4. He noted that on 7 March 2014, the Deputy President announced 54 new Research Chairs and Chair holders, bringing the total number of awarded Chairs to 137. Five new Centres of Excellence were established bringing this up to a total of 14, and these included chairs in Mathematics and Statistics (Witwatersrand University); Scientometrics and STI Policy (Stellenbosch University); Food Security (University of the Western Cape & University of  Pretoria); Integrated Mineral and Energy Resource Analysis (University of Johannesburg). There were more than a million participants in National Science Week and science festivals, and more than half were drawn from the general public (as opposed to learners).

The annual target was to have 700 graduates and students placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in Science, Engineering, Technology and Innovation (SETI) institutions. The target was achieved, as 1 010 graduates and students were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions. 568 of these were from the DST National Research Foundation (NRF) Internship programme and 442 from the National Youth Service.  The distribution of available funds across the different internship support programmes allowed more students to be supported than originally estimated.

The Department awarded research grants to 3 569 (compared to the target of 3 822) researchers through National Research Foundation (NRF) managed programmes, as reflected in the NRF project. The target was delayed because the taking up of positions by new South African Research Chairs resulted in a decrease of grants taken up, and there were delays in the take-up of research grants linked to the misalignment of the financial and academic years. The Department was proud to have 1  108  759 participants (compared to the target of 904 646 participants) directly in science engagement and awareness programmes. Of this number, 876 250 were learners, and 28 396 members of the public.

The highlights for Programme 5 focused on Industry Innovation Partnership (IIP) initiatives established. There was a Public/Private Partnership (PPP) to co-fund research, development and innovation in key strategic sectors of the economy. The Sector Innovation Funds (SIF) programme was approved as part of the broader IIP initiative.  Instruments for co-investment in industry-wide RDI priorities were identified by industry, and which supported economic outcomes such as modernisation, competitiveness, and job creation. The first Waste Sector Survey was conducted, with assistance from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

The Department had an agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for piloting various sanitation technology solutions within the 23 district municipalities and rural schools within the Cofimvaba Technology for Rural Education Development (Tech4RED) Project.  The conclusion of this agreement enabled the DST to access rigorously tested and selected sanitation technologies within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation portfolio. The DST received an allocation of R143 million towards the Innovation Partnership for Rural Development. This initiative focused on demonstrating and piloting innovative technology solutions to improve public services within the 26 rural district municipalities. The initiative included a capacity building aspect intended to enable municipalities to better integrate technology-based solutions in public service delivery.

The Department managed to create and sustain 511 targeted livelihoods (in excess of the target of 400) and of those 511 people, 60% are female and 40% are male. The Department introduced two additional decision support systems for improving sanitation and basic education service delivery, whilst the two existing decision support systems (StepSA and R&V Atlas) were maintained and the targets were achieved.

The Department also targeted having 200 masters and doctoral students fully funded or co-funded in global change sciences and earth system sciences. The target was achieved, as 247 masters and doctoral students were fully funded or co-funded in global change sciences and earth system sciences. These students were supported under five Global Change programmes.

The adjusted budget for the Department was R6.198 billion and the breakdown of the programmes showed that this was allocated as follows: Programme 1 (39.9%), Programme 2 (27%), Programme 5 (26.7%), Programme 1 (4.2%) then Programme 3 ( 2.3%). 92.4% of budget received by the DST was paid out as transfer payments to public entities and other DST policy implementing partners - 48.5% as parliamentary grants to seven DST-managed public institutions, such as the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), NRF, SANSA, and Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA). The remaining 51.5% represented payments for various projects which were being managed through contracts.

The summary of budget for various projects showed that the projected expenditure was R6.198 billion, and the actual expenditure was R6.169 billion, showing a surplus of R28.6 million.

In conclusion, Mr Mjwara reiterated that the Department achieved or partially achieved 96% of its targets, and had shown consistent improvement over three years. The Department spent 99.5% of its budget, transferring 92.5% outside the Department. The Department was evaluated second out of all departments in the evaluation of performance management systems conducted by the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME).

Ms B Masango (DA, Gauteng) welcomed the presentation by the Department and congratulated Dr Mjwara on his presidency of the UNESCO committee. She requested the Department to provide a more narrative presentation in future, commenting that the format mostly provided headlines without the "story behind" them.

Ms Masango asked how the delay in having 24 institutions  being awarded a rebate for Intellectual Property (IP) prosecution had affected the commercial deployment of the IP that was supposed to have been awarded to the enterprises. She asked whether the funding of R300 million that had just been secured was to be used in the next financial year, or whether it had already been used in the current financial year.

Ms Masango asked what would happen when the 855 South African postgraduate (masters, doctoral and post-doctoral) students who were now participating in international knowledge production, technology transfer and enhanced innovation programmes returned to the country. She asked whether the R93 million South African and foreign funds secured were to be used in the current or the next financial year. She also wanted to know the the impact of 1  108  759  people who had directly participated in science awareness and engagement programmes, in terms of attracting more young people to come and participate in science and technology careers or future options.

Ms Masango noted that 1 010 graduates and students were placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions by 31 March 2014 - with 568 from the DST National Research Foundation  Internship programme, but wanted to know what had happened to them thereafter, and whether the placements would become permanent.  She sought more details on the location where the 61 research infrastructure grants were awarded, and asked if it had been relatively easy to get the students from the undergraduate to the post-graduate level.

Dr Mjwara indicated that he did not have all the details on the provincial spread of some of the programmes but promised to provide these to the Chairperson in writing. He promised to provide a full narrative of the presentation to the Members, and said the Annual Report had detailed information on the programmes of the Department. The Department did not have a real sense of the impact of participation, amongst those people who directly participated in science awareness and engagement programmes, but was already developing a tracking system so as to be able to assess the impact of these interventions in the long run.

The Department had already managed to identify the reasons why students performed as they did in maths and science at an early age and was looking to work on those reasons to intensify the interest in maths and science in later education. The Department was mainly responsible for post-graduate studies, but there was also an interest in helping students from high schools, so the DST had a partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to provide schools with technological equipment, such as tablets, laptops, desktop computers and printers.

The Department was not happy with the drop-out of students from undergraduate to honours students as it was indicated that only 10% of the students who graduated with under-graduate degrees went on  to complete honours courses. The problem was multifaceted, but mainly had to do with inadequate funding for students. The Department provided only R30 000 for honours and R40 000 for masters students. This must be seen against the salaries that the graduates were likely to earn if they went straight to the labour market instead of pursuing further studies. The findings showed that there were more incentives to enter the labour market than to pursue honours, and the Department was seeking to expand the size of the funding for the students in order to cover even those who still had obligations to support those back at home, to encourage them to study further.

Mr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director General, DST, added that there were different types of internships and they mostly focused on enhancing the employability of the graduates. The Department was in partnership with the institutes, had a list of technology-based companies and this was where graduates were sent to get exposure. The figure showed that about 26-30% of the interns would get absorbed into the companies that hosted them, and the bulk of them would get employment in other companies. The programme was holistic in the sense that it trained the interns not only in the technicalities of the job, but also in other important skills like finance management. 

Mr L Gaehler (UDM, Eastern Cape) requested the Department to provide more information on the 1  010 graduates and students placed in DST-funded work preparation programmes in SETI institutions, and especially asked whether students from rural areas were considered. He also wanted to know where the 23 district municipalities for piloting various sanitation technology solutions were located.

Dr Mjwara suggested that he should respond in writing on the geographical spread of 1 010 graduate’s students and the 23 district municipalities. The Department was in partnership with India in exploring alternative forms of sanitation.

Mr E Mlambo (ANC, Gauteng) stated that the Department was doing sterling work and needed to be commended. He too congratulated Dr Mjwara for being the first African to hold the presidency in the UNESCO. He asked whether the maths and sciences programme were spread throughout the provinces across the whole country, or focused in a particular province.

Dr Mjwara responded that the Department did not have the answer on how the students in maths and science were spread geographically, but would request such information from the NRF. However, he noted that the Agency on the Advancement of Science and Technology was supposed to work throughout the provinces.  

The Chairperson asked if the Department had a database in place, to track whether students were placed in work after the internship programme.

The Chairperson was pleased to see that the Department had an Enterprise Risk Management Committee, as this would reduce irregular, fruitless and unauthorised expenditure and warn of any potential risks before these were picked up by the media. She asked if the PIMS was the internal system, or if there was a possibility that it could be used by other departments.

The Chairperson enquired about the strategy for the rollout of R300 million STI funds, and what were the typical programmes that were funded, and how the funding would work. She sought more clarity on the first Waste Sector Survey by the Department, as this was not explained in the presentation. She wondered if there was a working relationship between the DST and other departments like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on food security and waste management issues.

Dr Mjwara responded that he was glad that the Department had developed a risk management plans, as this would tell whether the Department was managing to mitigate the risks identified by the Auditor-General (AG). The Department was still looking to work with the company that performed digitalisation of the business environment, to help to digitalise risks processes so these could be constantly reviewed.

The Department, together with the DEA, conducted a survey to determine the areas that generated the most waste, in order to come up with modern technology to tackle the challenge of waste in the country. It was also important to explore other alternatives to convert waste to useful products, and there was a programme at the University of Forth Hare (UFH) where students were converting food and farm waste into energy.

Mr Muofhe added that the R300 million funding needed to be divided, into the funding that came directly to run programmes in the Department, in partnership with various international partners, and the rest. He reiterated that the bulk of the funding did not even come to the Department’s bank account. This funding went directly to the institutions and universities, and they could negotiate the scheduling of the spending. In most cases it was over a period of three years, and there was a strict process of monitoring it.

The Department was able to identify opportunities for the graduates and those who were able to study overseas through the partnership with the Department were obliged to work in the country of origin when they returned. 

Ms Naledi Modibedi, Chief Director: Human Resources, DST, responded that in the past financial year the Department recruited 40 interns, and five of them were absorbed within the Department, who were placed across all different programmes, with the main intention of giving them work exposure. The Department had tabs on 26 of the interns that exited the programme, and was able to track them in terms of where they were. Most were currently employed in other companies. Those who were still unemployed were put on the database of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Ms Nombuyiselo Mokoena, Deputy Director General: Corporate Services, DST, responded that the PIMS was a purely DST-idea, and the Department had generated this system from scratch, with the assistance of expertise from the service provider. Other departments, like Department of Social Development (DSD), DAFF and DHA had also already shown interest in the system.

Mr C Smith (DA, Limpopo) asked whether the Department was developing or doing research around a solar-powered glowing bicycle path. This was particularly important when considering the looming energy crisis. The cost of lighting on roads was becoming expensive, and the solar road lighting was becoming even more attractive.

Mr Muofhe responded that the Department was not currently developing solar-powered glowing bicycle paths but there was a potential to do extensive research on the particular project. The Department was, however, in partnership with the company called Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTIP) which manufactured special solar panels. This company originated from the funding received from the Department in the 1990s, and the technology used was very advanced.

The Department was also involved in projects for identifying parts of the country where it would be suitable to put a solar plant. He agreed that this work could become crucial as  the country was facing an energy crisis. The DST was officially launching a pilot at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) to look at alternative energy sources, and this was especially looking at ways to enhance the mobility and range of cars and bicycles. He said the Department was in the process of setting up agreements with South African Post Office (SAPO) and Transnet to pilot and test some of these technologies. If the pilots were successful then the Department would begin with the rollout to households.

The Chairperson requested the Department to respond to the outstanding questions in writing as promised. She  emphasised that the Department was doing sterling work and setting a fine example to other departments on the level of efficiency.

Adoption of minutes
Minutes of the meetings of 25 October and 5 November 2014 were adopted, with no amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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