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ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 October 2002
NATURAL SCIENTIFIC PROFESSIONS BILL: BRIEFING
Acting Chairperson: Mr S L Dithebe (ANC)
Documents handed out:
ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
Natural Scientific Professions Bill [B56-2002]
A Department of Science and Technology delegation briefed the Committee on the Natural Scientific Professions Bill, explaining its purpose, the contentious issues surrounding the bill and the constituting of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. The Bill replaces the old Natural Scientific Professional Act of 1993. The Department felt the need to produce a new bill because of the apparent limitations of present legislation and also due to further developments in the tertiary education system after 1993. Additionally, the new bill has reviewed methods and procedures for the appointment of members of the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, to make it more transparent.
The acting Chairperson, Mr Dithebe, opened the meeting by stating that the particular bill in question would have much discussion around it. He added that there had been much reshuffling of the department and that many people who had been in the department were not there anymore which exacerbated the situation. He then handed over the meeting to the delegation from the Department of Science and Technology.
Ms Margorie Pyoos (Chief Director: Research and Technology Development) introduced the rest of the delegation, Ms Anusha Lucen (Director: Institutional Governance) and Mr Sonnyboy Bapela (Director: Legal Services).
Ms Pyoos introduced the presentation by saying that the Bill was important as certainty was wanted by the science and technology community. The Bill was also critical as South Africa's economy was guided by studies of knowledge. The Bill was therefore aimed at recognising qualifications and ensuring that correct accreditation is granted to professionals in the scientific community. It also hoped that the bill would cause a change in behaviour in the scientific community. She proceeded in handing over the presentation to Ms Lucen.
Ms Lucen began by stating that the purpose of the Natural Scientific Professions Bill was to establish the South African Council for Natural Professions. She pointed out that at present the act of 1993, which is presently in force, has its limitations and that the new act sought to make the appointment of members to the council more transparent and flexible. It also sought to reflect the many changes which have occurred in the education system. It was hoped that these finer controls would lead to effective management in the scientific professions.
Ms Lucen's presentation is covered in the Powerpoint presentation attached.
She added the following points to her presentation:
As far as functions of the Council was concerned, Council would work closely with SAQA in determining competency skills. As an example, in 2001 and 2002, the University of Port Elizabeth requested the present Council to review its programs offered in the Faculty of Science.
The renewal of voluntary associations can be done on condition that they still meet the specified requirements. She added that the Council would have at least one member from the education sector and at least one member from the science and technology sector. Ms Lucen stressed at the Bill was drawn up in consultation with the organisations mentioned in the Memorandum of Objects of the Bill.
Ms Pyoos pointed out that there were some contentious points around the Bill. There was confusion about the nature of the Council and how it will draw grants from Parliament. The Council will have a small staff which will handle accreditation and academic programs of educational institutions. On the issue of funding, she noted that for the past year, the Council has only drawn funding from registration fees. If the Minister decides to give extra funds to the Council, it would have to give a specific reason for doing so. It was also difficult at this time to rule on council members pensions. Another contentious issue was the provision of a fund which would be for training. Transformation was a priority and there remained two technical barriers which could frustrate this. Firstly, voluntary associations dictate membership of their organisations and secondly the Council hopes to change the way nominations are made to the Council.
At this point the Chairperson opened the meeting for questions.
Ms T Tshivhase (ANC) asked that clarity be made around the criteria for members of the Council. Ms Pyoos responded that the voluntary associations determined the criteria for membership to their particular association and they will then nominate people from their membership. The Council will then determine whether they are recognised.
Mr F Cassim (IFP) felt that the time lapse between the advertising of vacancies and appointment of Council members was too long. Ms Pyoos agreed that this was a valid comment and that with the existing bodies, the procedures could be condensed. Ms Lucen added that some of the processes could run parallel with each other. The period of appointment could also be condensed from 60 to 30 days. Mr Cassim also referred to Clauses 11 and 12 dealing with registration fees, and wandered why the word 'may' was used and not 'shall'. Mr Bapela agreed and said that this will be amended. Mr Cassim also felt that there was no mechanism for the Council to report to Parliament. Ms Pyoos said that the Minister, instead of the Director-General would report to Parliament.
Ms H Mpaka (ANC) inquired why Council had to wait for the Minister before they would investigate issues. Ms Pyoos answered that Council would have to submit a budget and which should include investigations in the future and which would require funds.
Mr V Gore (DA) raised a few questions. He stated that the voluntary associations implied that they were independent. He wanted to know from what they were independent.
Ms Pyoos responded that the members of voluntary associations were independent and can act independently according to the act. These voluntary associations have approached the Department because they needed procedures dealing with accreditation. Government wants to support these professions and not interfere in them.
Mr Gore also inquired about the role of the Director-General as outlined in Clauses 26, 27 and 28 of the Bill. It was explained that through the Director-General, government was instituting certainty and supporting the scientific profession. Government was in fact empowering them. On the question of disqualification, Mr Gore referred to Clause 6(2)(c) which mentions the Mental Health Act. He felt that this was not clear enough and asked if this would exclude people like himself who suffers from epilepsy.
Mr Bapela agreed that an audit had not been done and should be done.
Mr Gore then referred to the criteria for registration to the Council and questioned whether it was transparent. In reply, Ms Pyoos stated that the Bill aimed at being transparent about registration.
Mr Casssim questioned whether the Council had the right to ask a member to resign. He added that this did not seem to be the case in the Bill. The Department agreed that this should be added in Clause 6(2)(d).
Mr Cassim also wanted to know why astronomy and medical science was left out when consultation was done. Ms Pyoos responded that she did not have an answer for him on that matter. Mr Cassim also stated that it seemed as if the Department of Education and the universities had not been consulted. Ms Pyoos explained that the universities were not consulted as a body, but that different faculties were approached for their input.
Ms A van Wyk (NNP) raised certain issues around the Bill which she was concerned about. She stated that the powers of the Minister and the Director-General with respect to fields of knowledge were not clear. She also stated that because of certain laws, many professionals would not publish here, but would rather go overseas. It was a concern of hers as well that the Minister of Agriculture had not been consulted. She felt that the Bill must be submitted to other bodies as well and that they should call for public comment. It was her opinion that this was an opportunity for the Portfolio Committee to raise awareness of itself.
Ms Mpaka (ANC) inquired about public participation in the process of consultation. Ms Pyoos replied that the Minister would appoint members once advertisements were placed and nominations were made by the voluntary associations.
Ms N Tsheole (ANC) wanted to know whether the Bill being tabled was an amendment to the act of 1993 or whether it would replace it. Mr Bapela stated that the aim was to repeal the Act of 1993 and that the new act would replace it.
At this point the Chairperson reminded members that the aim of the Bill was too bring about transformation in the science arena. He added that apartheid had had severe ramifications in this area.
Mr E Ngcobo (ANC) wanted to know what appeals mechanism was in place should someone be excluded form the Council. Ms Pyoos referred him to Clause 25 of the Bill which dealt with the appeals mechanism.
Ms van Wyk stated that transformation would mean broadening the intellectual capacity in the nation. She added that we must not be too impatient to see the Bill enacted. Consultation in the past had not been done properly. She expressed concern about the regulation of voluntary associations.
Ms Pyoos said they needed the regulations to check the fairness of nomination procedures of these voluntary associations. She stated that the department wanted the Council to reflect the demographics of the country. She referred to the fact that when the Minister called for nomination the last time, 90% of those nominated were white. Ms van Wyk responded that there was not enough black professionals in the fields to reflect the demographics of the country. Ms Pyoos responded that organisations should not hide behind this argument. She felt that if a black member of a voluntary association had fulfilled the requirements to be member, he/she could be nominated for a position on the Council.
Mr Cassim stated that there seemed to be no provision made in the Bill for the regular auditing of the finances of the Council. He was referred to Clause 15 of the Bill which dealt with this issue.
At this point the Chairperson, Mr Dithebe, responded to an earlier comment made by Ms Van Wyk regarding professionals who leave the country. He stated that many professionals were not given the opportunity to go overseas as part of their training and therefore left when the opportunity arose. Ms Pyoos agreed and said that the aim of the Council was to strengthen accreditation received here so that professionals were granted the opportunity to go overseas for short-term visits and then return. Mr Dithebe also inquired why the term of office of members of the council was limited to two years and was concerned about the continuity of the council. Ms Pyoos said that in the old Council, some members had been there for twelve years. In the new Council, these members would not be able to return.
Ms van Wyk inquired whether any consultation or studies had been done internationally to see how they were dealing with the same issues. Ms Pyoos said that benchmarking had been done with other countries.
Mr Cassim wanted too know whether the phrase "due care" was strong enough in Clause 15(11) when referring to the Council's actions when investing money. He was also concerned that there was such a long time between the end of the financial year and the time that the financial statements had to be handed in to the Director-General i.e. six months.
Ms Van Wyk was still concerned that the powers of the Director-General were too much and that the Minister seemed to be left out. The Chairperson explained that according to the Public Finance Management Act, the Director-General could act as an accounting officer.
At the close of question time, Mr Bapela wanted to know when the Committee would like him to deal with the Bill in detail. It was suggested that he return in fourteen days time since Parliament was set to rise on 15 November 2002.
Ms van Wyk felt very strongly that public hearings should be held. Mr Cassim believed that because the Bill was specialised, public hearings were not necessary. Ms van Wyk insisted that the Bill was very important and that public hearings would help to get it into the media. Ms Pyoos felt that no new information would be gained from public hearings.
The Chairperson ruled that in the light of the reservations some members had, no formal decision could be made and that after consultation the Department would be informed.
The Chairperson then closed the meeting.
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