The Committee met with the Department of Science and Technology, National Advisory Council on Innovation, Technology Innovation Agency, the National Research Foundation and the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions to discuss respective annual reports for the 2015/16 financial year. The meeting was divided into two, the first four presentations were given at the first session of the meeting and then after lunch the Committee met with the National Research Foundation to discuss their annual report. The DST and its entities received an unqualified audit in both financial and non-financial performance information in the 2015/16 financial year.
The Office of the Auditor General identified weaknesses in the following areas: procurement, contract management and expenditure. An area of concern highlighted by the Auditor General was payment of goods and services in excess of 30 days and delays in processing invoices for payment resulting in non-compliance with Public Finance Management Act requirements. One of the reasons that led to non-payment was the budget cut. Due to fiscal constraints and the slow economic growth, budget cuts would be inevitable, therefore the Department recorded budget cuts as an emerging strategic risk and all commitments were being reviewed periodically to ensure alignment with the budget. The second area of concern raised by the Auditor General was the validity, accuracy and completeness of total number of postgraduate students and post graduate fellows awarded bursaries as reflected in the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology project reports. The third was the number of learners who attended science awareness week was incorrectly counted and there were inconsistencies in the recording of registers for learners who attended science awareness. An ongoing solution being pursued entailed increasing human resource capacity for data collection and collation and introducing a second data clearing stage for improved quality assurance. Investigations were underway to establish an acceptable margin of error since the problem might not be completely eliminated as the head counting was done manually and depended on people’s voluntary participation.
The National Advisory Council on Innovation completed the first phase of reviewing the 1996 White Paper and there was an agreement that the work needed to be enhanced and the second phase was almost completed. The result of this work was intended to be used by Government in formulating a new policy on Science Technology Innovation.
The Department has also made provision for the National Research Foundation to establish a full cost bursary system because the capital level of bursaries that the Department and the Foundation could afford to give to students was far less than what the students actually needed. This system was for poor students and in order for a student to qualify for this particular bursary, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme prescripts were used. Mr M Kekana (ANC) requested that the Department make provision for the poorest of the poor students to receive full bursaries because that was one of the reasons for the fees must fall protests that were currently taking place in the country.
The Technology Innovation Agency had emerged from common-place bad publicity arising from its past poor performance and the restructuring process. There was a total of 137 positive stories with advertising value equivalent of R 7 531 761. In 2015/16 there had not been a single negative media engagement from the Agency. There had been a significant improvement in the irregular expenditures of TIA which was shown in the report and has for the first time in their history made no fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the 2015/16 financial year.
The reasons for the National Research Foundation’s failure to meet targets were not linked to funding but included human behaviour. The foundation could not force people to express interest in post graduate studies but could only encourage them and could not just allocate funding to people who had not expressed true interest in a particular research field because their system also did not allow them to do that.
There was a very slim chance of the academic year in Universities continuing for this year and a question of what plans the entity had in place given that the bursary holders would not complete their qualifications this year was raised. The National Research Foundation delegation replied that the Foundation had a fairly matured risk management system and had started to do a risk impact analysis on the current ‘fees must fall’ campaign. The risk was the suspension of the academic year and the incompletion of qualifications, negative impact on current research projects that were being conducted where some students would have to start their experiments over because there had already been restricted access to campuses, compromising ongoing research experiments. The foundation intended to quantify the impact of the protests from a financial perspective and find ways to deal with it.
The National Research Foundation was challenged to make its mandate a bit more challenging given that it received clean audits.
Department of Science and Technology (DST)
The Director General of DST, Dr Philemon Mjwara briefed the Committee.
The Department was able to achieve an overall 84% of its targets with 8% partially achieved and 5% of its targets not achieved in the 2015/16 financial year. The first strategic goal of the Department was to have a responsive, coordinated and efficient national system of innovation. The Minister appointed a panel to review the current Science Technology Innovation and Institutional Landscape to investigate whether the Department had the institution that it needed for the national system of innovation going forward. The Minister commissioned the National Advisory Council of Innovation (NACI) to review the White Paper and had given the first draft of their analysis in terms of what was achieved since 1996 and had been asked to look at the performance of the NSI since 1996 and that work was currently in progress. The Department had started to draft the Green Paper and was hoping to have the draft completed by the end of the year taking in notes from the National Advisory Council and Innovation. The Department approved a framework for Science and Technology in cooperation with other government departments and the purpose of the framework was to guide the prioritisation of the DST’s science and technology cooperation with other departments in line with its 2014-2019 strategic plan.
During the reporting period, the joint government-industry task team established in November 2015 completed its work on the R&D tax incentive. The task team was set up in order to formulate recommendations about measures to improve the design and administration of the R&D tax incentive. The task team recommendations included amongst others, simplification of processes and measures to shorten turnaround times in providing decisions. The Department was going through the recommendations and would report to the Committee on the impact of the R&D tax incentives, and was working on the proposed legislative amendments. The Department also contributed towards global competitiveness by facilitating close collaboration with other government departments and with the Department of High Education and Training (DHET), in particular in research development and support. There was collaboration on various joint projects with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments. An agreement with the Department of Higher Education and Training had been established which was using the National Research Foundation (NRF) which was a DST entity that reported to the Minister, on the provision of bursaries to post graduate students and the amount was R197 million in 2016. DHET also agreed with DST on how they were going to work together on the DHET’s programme of Staffing South African Universities where the DHET agreed to fund salaries and the DST fund research related costs. The Eastern Cape Department of Education secured a building site provided by the Intsika Yethu Municipality and also agreed to provide long-term support to sustain the science centre in teacher and curriculum development programmes.
In the 2015/16 financial year, the Minister awarded 42 women-only research chairs under the South African Research Chairs Initiative bringing the proportion of women-chair holders close to 40% of established researchers. The overall number of participants in the DST-led science engagement activities exceeded 2 million in 2015/16 as compared to 1 million in the 2015/15 financial year.
Good progress was made in finalising the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR) during the 2015/16 financial year. Funds were earmarked to begin the implementation of SARIR in 2016/17, and approval would be sought to begin with at least four of the selected infrastructures. The Department strongly believed that the completion of SARIR to steer and direct the roll-out of national research infrastructure would be a major achievement for the country. The number of research infrastructure grants awarded increased from 69 in 2014 to 79 in the 2015/16 financial year. These awards would make it possible for 420 researchers and about 4 200 students to access world-class research infrastructures and equipment.
On collaborative research efforts, the African Partnership portfolio had been especially active, with 61 research and innovation projects jointly supported by the DST and African partner governments during the financial year. A diverse portfolio of bilateral and multilateral programmes coordinated by the DST during the financial year afforded South African researchers opportunities to collaborate in joint knowledge-generation activities, with 585 international partner organisations. This collaboration saw an investment of more than R2 billion by the DST’s international partners in support of collaboration with South Africa. On human capital development, the Department had 13 307 post graduate students supported through the DST initiatives in the 2015/16 financial year. A total of 1 044 graduates were placed in SETI institutions as part of the DST contribution to the development of a representative and high level human development pipeline.
During the 2015/16 financial year, the DST opened the Biomanufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC), a hub for innovation in the biomanufacturing sector, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The BIDC was the first of its kind in South Africa, and aimed to support small and medium enterprises (SMME’s) involved in biomanufacturing to meet their customer’s needs comparatively quickly and to explore market opportunities. Its support for SMMEs was through the development of bio-based manufacturing processes and products. The DST helped to advance strategic medium and long-term sustainable economic growth and sector development priorities, as well as government service delivery. This entailed funding technology maturation in projects that would develop new processes, markets and/or products or services, so-called “R&D-led industry development”. As part of the beneficiation strategy, Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA) was working on the beneficiation of South Africa’s vast zircon (a material used in the enrichment of uranium) resources through the development of a range of processes along the zirconium value chain, with nuclear-grade zirconium metal as final product.
The DST also pioneered several evidence-based knowledge products that support local governments across the country to make decisions to improve the provision of public services in sectors such as water, sanitation, energy and housing. These include the Bioenergy Atlas and development of a Sanitation Technology Evaluation and Assessment Database and Tool. The DST continued to work collaboratively with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as a consequence, the two Departments introduced the innovation for Local Economic Development (LED) agenda.
The Department made three analyses to explain why some of the targets were not achieved. The first was either the Department failed to formulate the target properly, which led to a deficiency in the way that the target had been formulated. These gaps were being addressed during the strategic planning process of the current financial year as part of the lessons learnt. The second reason was the process delays which referred to under or non-achievement due to factors which were not within the control of the DST and therefore the achievement of such targets was mainly dependent on outside stakeholders. Such targets required the Department to better manage the inter-dependent nature of the deliverables which, in turn, affected DST deliverables. In terms of the DST public entities strategic and annual performance plan approved by the Ministers, the Department had identified that the formulation of the target needed to be rethought and revised.
The DST received an unqualified audit in both financial and non-financial performance information in the 2015/16 financial year. The Office of the Auditor General identified weaknesses in the following areas: procurement, contract management and expenditure. The management was implementing the following measures:
- A task team between Finance and Internal Audit to thoroughly look at the disclosure notes and ensure that all identified weaknesses were addressed.
- The Department was implementing a Supply Chain Management turnaround strategy to address all identified shortcomings.
- Management would continue to implement consequence management on incidents of non-compliance with rules and regulations.
There were some areas of concern that were highlighted by the Auditor General one of them being delays in payment of goods and services. The payment of goods and services in excess of 30 days and delays in processing invoices for payment resulting in non-compliance with PFMA requirements. One of the reasons that led to non-payment was the budget cuts as commitments were already being made thus the Department could not settle the relevant invoices. Due to fiscal constraints and the slow economic growth, the budget cuts would be inevitable, therefore the Department recorded budget cuts as an emerging strategic risk and all commitments were being reviewed periodically to ensure alignment with the budget. The second area of concern was the validity, accuracy and completeness of the total number of postgraduate students and post graduate fellows awarded bursaries as reflected in the NRF and DST project reports. The third was the number of learners who attended science awareness week was incorrectly counted and there were inconsistencies in the recording of registers for learners who attended science awareness. An ongoing solution being pursued entailed increasing human resource capacity for data collection and collation and introducing a second data clearing stage for improved quality assurance. Investigations were underway to establish an acceptable margin of error since the problem might not be completely eliminated as the head counting was done manually and depended on people’s voluntary participation.
The DST was planning on improving the current DST performance from 84% to 90% through effective budgeting, planning and monitoring and evaluation. It also planned to derive the lessons learnt from MPAT excellence so as to enhance overall organisational performance management. The Department was also implementing an Audit Improvement Plan as recommended by the Auditor General in order to prevent recurrence of areas of concerns pointed out by the Auditor General. It recognised that the NSI must help improve South Africa’s global competitiveness by leading the creation and application of new knowledge, if South Africa’s economy was to advance along the trajectory set out in the NDP and reduce poverty, it would require a strong, coherent and effective NSI, working in a coordinated manner to achieve national priorities. The DST would continue to identify niche improvement areas and together with industry, implement new technology building blocks to increase economic competitiveness. Further the Department would use knowledge and innovation to support SME’s and contribute to improving the quality of life providing access to technological advances.
Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, Councillor, NACI, said that in the current season that the country was on, the system was in redesign and that was something that was evident from the Director General’s presentation. There was a large investment in review and in designing the future of the NSI. This was perhaps a result of two global phenomena that were significant, the first of which South Africa, like all the other countries in the US system had signed up to a set of very ambitious multilateral targets in the domain of climate change negotiations, in the domain of the Montreal Protocol and in the domain of sustainable development goals. The ambitious target was to effectively eradicate all the current ills in the world and organise for universal access to basic services within the next 15 years. It was clear that a 15-year goal could only be achieved with a very high investment in science and technology. The second note was that the world was currently in a global economic contraction.
Dr Mlungisi Cele, Acting CEO of NACI, first extended an apology for the Chairperson of NACI who could not attend the meeting due to the crisis in higher education institutions. He requested not to go through the mandate, vision, and functions to save time since these were outlined during the presentation of their Annual Performance Plan to the Committee.
NACI was audited under the Department of Health and did not receive its own separate audit from the Office of the Auditor General, but report showed that there had been some significant improvements since the last financial year. There were types of work that the Council was pursuing, some related to pieces of work that the Council inherited from the previous Council. NACI completed the first phase of reviewing the 1996 White Paper and there had been an agreement that the work needed to be enhanced and the second phase was almost completed. The result of this work was intended to be used by Government in formulating a new policy on STI. The Minister requested that given the fact that the Department nationally had a range of data sources scattered all over which did not provide one single land storage and one could be able to generate a comprehensive picture of how the system was performing. The Minister of the Department said that NACI should develop a national STI data and information portal where any person in South Africa, or anyone interested in the system, could go through that lens which would take one through a range of institutions that were doing research. The portal would serve as a platform that allowed one access to other data sources. The current council had a range of activities initiated which called for regular advice, these were water and sanitation, energy efficiency demands, site management and key issues related to nuclear power procurement programmes as well as food security. NACI produced on an annual basis an indicator’s booklet which was generally published with media coverage and this year NACI used the platform to host a Business Symposium in order to deal with a particular concept around the decline in business investment.
Dr Cele mentioned that when the current Council took over they found it necessary to do some revision on the annual performance plan that existed and the Council led the process. It was clear that unless they amended some of the poorly constructed performance indicators, the challenges experienced in the previous financial year would continue. NACI was mandated to make sure that the Council task team was set up which would be responsible for overseeing the work that the Minister asks the Council to advise her on regarding the development of the new plans. The task team was established and the plan was designed. NACI was a relatively small organisation and could not perform all duties on its own and its job was to recognise the existence of capacities in a range of institutions and tap into the existing capacities and add value particularly through analytical work which must then be utilised to generate advice.
NACI had a relatively small budget which had been fine so far but given the fact that NACI needed to make sure that they were able to spend the little that they had and have the necessary systems in place and their programme of work was solidified, it did not make sense to request more funding when NACI still struggled to spend the budget allocated to them already and the report showed that they could not spend the budget. NACI was committed to ensuring that its advice work was of good quality, and was relevant and responsive to the needs of society. The council was also obliged to improve its performance against predetermined objectives as it was critical for government to produce positive audits. The system was found to be lacking in terms of its capability to monitor, evaluate and learn from itself which was a well-established gap and NACI had been asked to deal with the gap.
NACI has been asked by Global Forum of National Advisory Councils to host a third global forum in 2017 and this was part of ongoing work that NACI was doing and hoping to use as a basis of progress that could be made.
Mr N Koornhof (ANC) was interested to know the details of the contribution by the Department to the Medical Research Council (MRC) and whether the contribution was a single payment transfer and what the amount being transferred to the MRC was every year.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) congratulated the Department on its audit outcomes, and said the concerns brought up showed negligence from the Department. She asked the Director General to elaborate on a point he made where he said that he could ask for more funding and give Committee Members an idea of what the most pressing needs were at the moment.
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) also congratulated the Department on its unqualified audit opinion. The problem with DST was that it was a male dominated Department and after 21 years into Democracy the Department should open up to having more females because he would like to think that women were as interested in science and were equipped to work in the department the same way that men were. In terms of NRF grantees, how much of their research was related to service delivery challenges, and was the Department encouraging research in these areas as this was a challenge that South Africans faced. Science and technology was an enabling environment and the annual report did not show the exact relationship that the Department had with other government departments. Another question was raised which was directed to NACI, where Mr Paulsen asked how they determine what skills and competencies they required when the Department presents a particular problem.
Mr M Kekana (ANC) commended the Department on its unqualified audit opinion. He asked what the selection criteria for the students who received funding from the Department were, and was interested to know of the students’ background. Another question raised was how many vacant posts the Department had currently.
Mr C Mothale (ANC) said he expected the Department to have a report where they could tell the Committee that they have achieved all of the Department’s targets and not come with an overall achievement of 84%, which was a regression from last year’s target achievement of 88%.
Ms A Tuck (ANC) requested a breakdown of the 147 firms that the Technology Localisation Programme was said to deliver an excellent impact by providing technology assistance packages as well as a breakdown of the development of export capabilities for 20 companies and 32 projects mentioned by the DG in his presentation.
The Chairperson mentioned that the Department’s collaboration with DTI was a step in the correct direction and something that needed to be done so that there was real promotion of businesses supported or were growing so that they could be part of the system of being funded and be able to stand alone and to sustain themselves. When did the Department think the finalisation of the White Paper would take place. She also congratulated the Department on its achievements.
Dr Mjwara mentioned that there were two challenges at the moment, the first one was that National Treasury had put a ceiling on the budget for human resources and the Department was not allowed to move money from goods and services to funding. The Department decided not to employ new people because of the cap and this was affecting some areas of work and people were being moved around. Secondly, there were new sources of funding that the government received which had come mainly from economic competitiveness and support package. This was the funding that the Department has used for the New Sector Innovation funds. This was the money that the Department used to support Tech localisations and to support interns. The Department was worried about the Human Capital Development Programme because that was where they thought they may be doing three things for the country, one was training people so that they could go out and sustain themselves outside and contribute to the economy.
The DG apologised to Mr Paulsen for the delegation that the Department had at the meeting and mentioned that the Department’s statistics indicated that there was 47% of women in senior management within the Department. The Department would like to change that at DDG level because they only had one female Deputy Director General (DDG). Some of the work that the Department was doing to have science and technology support service delivery and improving people’s lives included working in partnership with the Water Research Commission where they developed a tool for looking at sanitation technologies from all over the world and the ones that need to be developed to ensure that they were developed in certain areas. He said the DST had partnership with all Departments and not just the ones highlighted in the presentation and had indicated the framework that the Department has with the Department of Agriculture, Energy and others. There was uncertainty regarding the exact number of vacant posts that the Department ha; most of the posts had not been filled because of the budget cuts.
Dr Mjwara said he agreed with Mr Mothale on the need to improve its performance; the Department was also not impressed with the regression and receiving an unqualified audit opinion instead of a clean audit opinion that was achieved in the 2014/15 financial year. The Department accepted the criticisms regarding the targets made and having some areas imprecise and intended to work and improve on the shortfall.
The DG responded to Ms Tuck, the Department did not have a breakdown of the 147 firms she requested but assured her that the Department would send the breakdown to the Portfolio Committee soon. The Department hoped to have a draft of the Green Paper by the end of the year and would then go through a round of consultations starting in January up until May and take all of the inputs, process them into a White paper in order to have the entire process completed and the legislation finalised by the end of 2017.
The Deputy Director General, Technology Innovation, Mr Mmboneni Muofhe addressed the question on the amount of money transferred to the Medical Research Council. The amount was R63 million per year. The use of the MRC was primarily to ensure that the Department’s focus research exceeded the priority killers in the country. These funds were actually not used for the work of the MRC but the MRC coordinates the work done.
Mr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director General: Research, Development and Innovation: DST explained that funding provided to students was different from the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which was a loan, theirs was a bursary scheme and the Department did not expect the funds to be repaid. The bursaries were awarded to students through a number of different mechanisms, one of those involved a call for proposals by the National Research Foundation where students submitted proposals and requests for bursaries and then were accepted through NRF. Another way of awarding bursaries was that universities were given grants from which the universities then awarded bursaries to the students according to selection criteria that the NRF provided. The administrative and selective processes were managed within the university. Selection of students was done according to a set of guidelines, in part, these guidelines came from the Minister, who has given guidelines for the allocation of bursaries. The Department had also made provision for the NRF to establish a full cost bursary system because the capital level of bursaries that the Department and the NRF could afford to give to students was far less than what the students actually needed. This system was for poor students and in order for a student to qualify for this particular bursary, the NSFAS prescripts were used.
Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, NACI, addressed some of the questions related to the entity. In terms of how NACI accessed the expertise that it needed, the very redesign of NACI when the Minister appointed the new Council was to take that factor into account. The expectation from NACI was to be able to use the entire network of expertise in the National System of Innovation, in particular the public institutions to rapidly get what was being done and not start a new project around it.
Mr M Kekana (ANC) requested that the Department make provision for the poorest of the poor students to receive full bursaries because that was one of the reasons for the fees must fall protests that were currently taking place in the country. He did not think that it made sense for his child, for example, to receive a bursary regardless of exceptional marks and have a poor child denied a bursary.
Technology Innovation Agency
The Chairperson of the TIA board, Ms Khungeka Njobe, introduced the TIA delegation that was present.
Mr Barlow Manilal CEO, TIA, said TIA’s strategic impact was to contribute towards an innovation economy and the advancement of the country’s economy and how it contributed to getting a vibrant ecosystem. At the core of what TIA did was improving the lives of society through technology and innovation looking at jobs, how we could improve the tax payers trade balance and bringing about global competitiveness for the companies that TIA worked with. TIA ensured that it found alignment with the NDP and that it did so in all of its endeavours. There was a project that the TIA was running through the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University called the WeldCore which improved the maintenance of electrical infrastructure like Eskom and other state owned companies. It reduced down time significantly in terms of the drilling equipment and plants of the state-owned companies. Another project was Amino South Africa, which was a start-up company in the Industrial Biotechnology Sector based in KwaZulu-Natal that TIA helped to provide support. It involved the production of amino acids from vegetable raw materials.
TIA had 10 technology platforms. There were 63 students supported and 34 internships placed at technology platforms. The total client project support by platforms (for prototypes and patents) grew from 70 to 102 in 2015/16. The Global Cleantech project was another project that TIA had, which supports SMMEs and specifically looks at clean energy in partnership with the Global Intech Innovation Fund. The highlights of the project were that applications increased from 68 to 102 in 2015/16. 60 ground-breaking innovation solutions were unearthed. TIA emerged from common-place bad publicity arising from its past poor performance and the restructuring process. There had been a total of 137 positive stories with advertising value equivalent of R 7 531 761. In the 2015/16 there had not been a single negative media engagement from TIA. TIA received a clean audit opinion from the Auditor General for the 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years.
There had been budget cuts and yet the funds dispersed had not been cut. TIA tried to absolve them in operation of costs in terms of becoming more efficient as an organisation to ensure that the beneficiaries did not suffer from the budget cuts. TIA had turned around and was moving towards the right direction, what was important now was sustaining it. In terms of overall business performance, TIA achieved an overall of 93% of its targets and were now looking into increasing the percentage. The goal to provide customer-centric technology development, funding and support had been fully achieved as well as the goal to provide an enabling environment for technology innovation in collaboration with other role players.
The Chief Financial Officer for TIA, Mr Werner van de Merwe, took Members through the financial report. There was a significant improvement in irregular expenditures of TIA which was shown in the report, and for the first time in their history made no fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the 2015/16 financial year.
The CEO, Mr Manilal, mentioned that TIA dispersed just over 2 Billion Rand (2.1 Billion) but it had created employment of over 14 000 jobs. The number of people that benefited from the money was 3 600, that was individuals and entities. TIA invested R2,1 billion that turned out almost 6 billion rand in investment. The impact to the economy had been very positive and it showed that TIA was a good investment for government and it would get double the money that they give TIA in terms of value to the economy.
TIA intended to maintain the standard of performance achieved in the 2015/16 financial year and planned to ensure that they sustain it and not go back to an unqualified audit. The current TIA Board ends its term in March 2017.
South African Council for Natural Scientific Profession (SACNASP)
The Chairperson of SACNASP, Ms Gerda Botha, said SACNASP was a statutory body established under the Natural Scientific Professions Act 2003, which registered scientists in three categories namely, professional natural scientist, certified natural scientist and candidate natural science. The Council was mandated as the Accounting Authority to implement the provisions of the Act, under the oversight of the Minister of Science and Technology. The purpose of the Act was to provide for a credible professional registration and regulatory body for natural scientists to establish, direct, sustain and ensure a high level of professionalism and ethical conscience in the natural scientific professions sector. The purpose was also to improve standards of services rendered by professionals, maintain their integrity, enhance their status and manage liabilities attendant to the practice of natural science professions.
SACNASP interacted with various groups such as natural scientists, voluntary association of all science fields, DST and various government departments (aligned to Agriculture, Environmental, Water, Home Affairs, Education), the Higher Education sector by providing advice on science requirements, science councils, the private sector as well as learners and high school teachers through outreach programmes. The Council was appointed by the Minister and serves a four-year term where it provides strategic directive and approvals. It addressed aspects of the National Development Plan and Ministerial directive. The Minister of Science and Technology gave the Council a directive that said” SACNASP should not be considered merely as a regulatory and registration body. It should also help DST to enhance South Africa’s standing insofar as the natural scientific professions were concerned”, the Council has a strategic focus to:
- Proactively advise government on the natural scientific profession
- Ensure the registration and enhancement of registration status of natural scientists in South Africa.
- Promote the understanding of the role and importance of the natural sciences professions
- Foster good corporate government principles
- Expand the influence, impact and reputation of SACNASP.
The Executive Director of SACNASP, Mr Pradish Rampersadh, gave some highlights of the 2015-16 annual report and mentioned that there were important key positions that remained vacant. SACNASP in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries undertook to register Extension Scientists. During the 2015/16 period 608 Extension Officers were registered as scientists. There were many challenges, mainly associated with the delivery of the correct paperwork but SACNASP was well prepared to register remaining extension officers by end of 2016. The Council broadened its horizons by adding three new fields of practice which were the Conservation Science, Specified Science and Statistical Science. SACNASP was a self-funding statutory body and survives on the membership fees of the professional scientists that pay annually to the Council in the form of registration fee. The Council used the funding to fund all activities of the office. DST allocated R12,6 million to SACNASP over a three-year period for the development of special projects such as Information Technology, Continuous Professional Development and Candidate Mentoring Programme. There has been a decrease in income compared to the financials from 2014/15 financial report to the 2015/16 financial report. The reason for this was the Project with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries resulted in an increase in income in one financial year. The reason for the increase in expenses was to increase the number of staff and increase in rental costs since the Council had to change office space, financial services were outsourced to assist in cleaning up the financial system.
The way forward for SACNASP was to have prudent budgeting, filling of important key positions such as managers for Finance, operations and registration. The Council also intended to hold active marketing activities so as to increase revenue. Management worked tirelessly to ensure that tighter budgetary controls were in place to minimise the deficit going forward. SACNASP aims to break-even in the current financial year.
Mr Paulsen asked how TIA determined the social impact of the work it did.
The CEO of TIA replied that the impact that TIA brought to society was positive because it created jobs.
The Chairperson congratulated TIA for putting the entity to where it was now and for its improvement and thanked the delegation for the presentations given.
National Research Foundation (NRF)
Mr Koornhof chaired the second half of the meeting and explained that the Chairperson was held up at another meeting.
The Chairperson of the NRF board was unable to attend the meeting as he was currently engaged with the Fees Commission.
Dr Molapo Qhobela gave the bulk of the presentation and mentioned that he would focus on the substantial issues and assume that everyone had read through the presentation. The foundation’s key objective was to transform society through knowledge. In terms of performance against the Annual Performance Plan target for 2015/16, NRF met and exceeded 52% of its targets. There had been positive percentage increases in terms of transformation of researchers and graduations of Masters and PHD graduates. In the 2015/16 financial year the NRF supported 4190 Honours students, 4853 Masters students, 3181 Doctoral and 785 Post-Doctoral students. The foundation also supports researchers through research equipment, and over the period of April 2013 to March 2016, the NRF invested R627 million in research equipment at the Universities, which supported 7 393 users of these research platforms and 5 261 publications that emanated from the use of these research platforms.
The iThemba Laboratory for Accelerated Based Science (LABS) was the only nuclear facility of its kind on the African Continent. Its core research centres around Nuclear Physics, Materials Research, Radiation Biophysics, and Radionuclide research. The National Facility was the only producer of accelerator-based radiopharmaceuticals for nuclear medicine and also produces mainstream radiopharmaceuticals for positron emission tomography (PET) studies in South Africa. iThemba LABS was the only facility in the Southern hemisphere offering both proton and neutron therapy as a cancer treatment modality. The trans-disciplinary research agenda of iThemba LABS brings together scientists working in the physical, medical and biological sciences to solve real world problems while still considering the origin and evolution of the universe.
The NRF was awarded an unqualified audit opinion for the year under review. The management intended to focus on some areas of improvement raised by the Auditor General such as irregular expenditure of R7, 58 million was disclosed with fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R 44 000 condoned. An issue of criminal conduct that resulted in a potential loss of R2, 615 million rand due to a cyber-phishing incident perpetrated by an external syndicate was also being looked into. The NRF used historical performance as a base of analysing what it was that they needed to do differently and better going in to the future. The foundation intended to have a greater focus on Human Capacity Development (HCD) performance, especially graduate output as well as a greater focus on impact of initiatives, especially achieving a representative and transformed workforce for the NSI. NRF also intended to work closely with Universities to minimise the impact of current instability on organisational performance.
Dr Lotriet congratulated NRF on its audit outcomes and mentioned that she was concerned about what was currently happening at Universities. She asked if NRF was factoring in the possibility that bursary holders might not finish this year’s academic year and what the impact would be on the bursary system. Was there already a system that could be used to track whether bursary holders and successful students were already in the science profession?
Mr Paulsen congratulated the NRF on its audit outcomes. He suggested the NRF make its mandate a bit more challenging given that it received clean audits. He asked why the entity failed to meet targets set for 2015/16. There was a very slim chance of the academic year in Universities continuing for this year; what plans did the entity have in place given that the bursary holders would not complete their qualifications this year. He asked how the NRF expected students to complete PHDs with just R90 000, or a R150 000 per year if students were lucky, when students had other responsibilities such as generating an income and taking care of children.
Mr Qhobela replied, in terms of the currently instability, the NRF was doing quite a detailed scenario and were planning on dealing with whatever possibilities came through and there were a whole range of implications if the academic year was cancelled. The NRF was currently able to track students that were at University but it was a lot more difficult to track those that were outside and the only way to track them was if the foundation went to the Stats and Revenue service. The reasons for not meeting targets were not linked to funding. Including human behaviour, an example would be the target of having more females receiving funding. The foundation could not force people to express interest in post graduate studies but could only encourage them and could not just allocate funding to people who had not expressed true interest in a particular research field because their system also did not allow them to do that.
Dr Beverly Damonse, NRF, agreed with the idea of reaching more public audiences and the foundation was making an effort in various ways. The NRF put word out through its partnered organisations and was currently using websites and social media to increase notifications about events that the foundation.
Dr Bernard Nthabeleng, Executive Director, NRF, addressed the question on tracking students. The NRF was running a project aimed to track students funded by the NRF and the project would provide information on the impact of the bursaries. The foundation followed Ministerial guidelines when it came to awarding funding to students.
Dr Faranah Osman, Executive Director for Governance, NRF, said the foundation had a fairly matured risk management system and they had started to do a risk impact analysis on the current ‘fees must fall’ campaign. The risk was the suspension of the academic year and the incompletion of qualifications, negative impact on current research projects that were being conducted where some students would have to start their experiments over because there had already been restricted access to campuses, compromising ongoing research experiments. The foundation intended to quantify the impact of the protests from a financial perspective and find ways to deal with it.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee thanked Koornhof for standing in for her when she had to attend another meeting. She thanked the NRF for its hard work. The Committee was aware that some of the issues were beyond the control of the foundation. The Committee was there to oversee all the programmes in relation to the Department of Science and Technology and its entities and to also advocate for more funds.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) 2015/16 Annual Report presentation
- National Research Foundation (NRF) 2015/16 Annual Report presentation
- Department of Science and Technology (DST) 2015/16 Annual Report presentation
- National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) 2015/16 Annual Report presentation
- South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP) 2015/16 Annual Report presentation
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