Finalisation of Report on NACI; Conference on Genetically Modified Organisms: discussion

Arts and Culture

08 April 2003
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

8 April 2003

Chairperson: Ms A Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Committee Report on the National Advisory Council on Innovation Annual Report (Appendix)

The Sub Committee Report on the 2001 Annual Report of the National Advisory Council was accepted by the Committee, after concerns regarding the inadequate financial reporting were reiterated. The Committee was then briefed on an upcoming conference on Genetically Modified Organisms to be held in Stellenbosch.

Prof Ismail Mohamed (ANC) read the Sub-Committee Report on the NACI Annual Report 2001. (Please see Appendix)

DiscussionMs Njobe, Chairperson, asked whether the Committee Members were happy with the report and approved its adoption.

Mr Dithebe (ANC) commented that since Members were silent and raised no objections they were happy with the report and agreed that it should be adopted.

Mr Opperman (DA) objected that silence did not always mean that the Committee approved of the report. He concurred, however, that the report should be accepted as is. He asked whether the financial shortcomings of the NAC Report (2001), as highlighted by the Sub-Committee, were picked up by the Auditor-General in his Report.

Prof Mohamed replied that he could not remember seeing any mention of it and he did not think that it had been picked up.

Mr Ngcobo (ANC) mentioned that the Auditor-General would have picked up the shortcomings in the NAC Report.

Ms Njobe asked whether they could check if this was indeed the case.

Prof Mohamed confirmed that this information was captured in the Financial Statements section of the Auditor-General's Report. He said that the figures intertwine with the Department's figures. He referred the Committee to the Auditor General's Report and asked for permission to comment on the figures. He explained that the report gave broad figures but did not give details of how the money was spent. Had proper financial statements been provided, the Auditor-General would have been able to pick up what went to NACI. He said that this was not done.

Ms Njobe asked whether the new format of reporting did not mean that a financial statement accompanies each report.

Prof Mohamed added that this was even a requirement of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). He explained that their point was that the NACI Report should have been clear enough to pick out these items.

Ms Njobe asked whether Prof Mohamed was just reiterating what was in the Sub-Committee Report.

Prof Mohamed added that NACI did not really say which of its functions are fulfilled.

Ms Mbombo stated that the NACI Report had three pages of personal achievements. She asked whether they could receive any comment on those from the Sub-Committee.

Ms Njobe stated that this information was in the NACI Report. She proposed that the Sub-Committee report be accepted by the Committee.

Mr Opperman (DA) seconded this proposal.

The Committee accepted the report.

Ms Njobe asked how the NACI would come to know of their concerns so that they did not repeat the same mistakes the following year.

Prof Mohamed said he did not know, but mentioned that the report would go to Parliament, who would inform the NACI of the Sub-Committee Report.

Adoption of minutes
Previous minutes of meetings could not be adopted as they were not made available to Members yet. Members expressed their dissatisfaction, proposing that documents be emailed to Members before each Committee meeting.

Briefing on GMO Conference
Mr Dithebe (ANC) briefed the Committee on the upcoming Conference on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on 14 and 15 April 2003.

Mr Dithebe said he was alerting Members to the conference but not discussing the issues which would be raised in the Conference. He explained that there had been preparatory meetings for the conference the previous week. The Portfolio Committees on Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Agriculture and Land Affairs had been involved in the issue for quite some time. South Africa has a Genetically Modified Organisms Act of 1997. Some farms in Kwazulu-Natal were already growing genetically modified vegetation. There was concern raised from some quarters about the safety of GMOs. He explained that what would be of interest to them would be how GMOs could be used to alleviate poverty and ensure food security. This did not mean that they were oblivious to the ethical and health issues. If there was a need for legislation to be tightened, they would definitely take these issues into account.

Ms Njobe said that they would wait to hear who of the Committee Members would be attending this particular conference. She noted that she had information that the Natural Scientific Professions Bill that would be debated on Wednesday, 16 April.

The meeting was adjourned.

Report on the National Advisory Council on Innovation
Annual Report 2001

Parliament referred the National Advisory Council on Innovation Annual report 2001 to the Portfolio Committee on Arts, Culture, Science and Technology for assessment. The committee having considered the NACI Annual Report 2001 recommended acceptance thereof but wish to raise a number of concerns.

The statutory mandate has been converted into the following strategic mission statement. "NACI will strive to become a relevant, prominent, credible and responsive advisory body to the Minister on national matters concerning innovation, including science and technology, thereby contributing to the achievement of national objectives of South Africa. NACI will give effect to its mission by utilizing accountable science approaches and the best available resources. NACI's ideal is to be seen as the premier source of advice."

It has committed itself to the following vision: "NACI, as the key source of science and technology advice to government, will successfully promote science and technology as the primary driver behind South Africa's economic and social development."

A sketchy report and projects engaged in does go some way to justify the mission statement and vision. Reports that were only completed in 2002 eg

  • "The development of a research and development strategy for South Africa" is commendable and addresses this fundamental issue on human resource development and crucial barriers to economic development to bring the poor and marginalized into the mainstream of the economy and society.
  • The report on "Open software and open standards in South Africa " will help to build local skills base and could rapidly mobilize to achieve growth and make South Africa less dependant on imported technology and skills.
  • The report "on the impact of 11 September 2001 on science and technology" is timely particularly as we have the experience of the collapse of the former Soviet Union (USSR) and the consequent flight of mathematicians, engineers and scientists for pastures abroad where their skills and expertise could be utilized.
  • The report "Facts and figures on research and development in South Africa" would be particularly useful. The reporting on this is sketchy but highlight some crucial statistics like GERD/GDP dropping from 0.72 in 1997/98 to 0.64 in 2000 and which compares very poorly with many other countries. (GERD: Gross Expenditure on Research and Development)

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Annual Report is that there is no clear indication on how NACI legislation is being implemented. This aspect should have been clearly outlined - insufficient information leaves the Portfolio Committee with a sense that the legislation is not clearly implemented.

The only reference to a financial report is that "A provision of R4 million was made in the activities of NACI for the 2001/2002 financial year of which R3.194 million has been spent on projects as at 31 March 2002" and an explanation that NACI's financial expenditure is currently still integrated in the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology's Budget Vote. This is not acceptable. We need to know how the R3.194 million was spent and what the outputs and outcomes were. Why an amount of R806 000 was rolled over needs an explanation. The NACI financial accounts should have been extracted from the DACST accounts.

There are five pages of the profile members of the Executive Committee, three pages of personal achievements of NACI members and five pages of South African S&T highlights during 2001 "culled from the mass media, home pages and corporate publications." These pages could have been better used informing stakeholders about programmes, inputs, outputs and outcomes as required by the PFMA.

NACI is a very important organization in the whole innovation strategy of DACST with highly credible professionals. Our view is that every effort should be made to account responsibly when financial statements are made public.

Incorporating these serious concerns, the Portfolio Committee recommends the Annual Report to Parliament for adoption.



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