Department of Science and Technology on its Quarter 3 performance; with Minister

Science and Technology

15 March 2017
Chairperson: Mr C Mothale (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on its Third Quarter Performance and Financial Report (October 2016 to December 2016). The Minister of the Department was present in the meeting.  It was reported that during the period under review, the total number of planned output targets was 46; and the Department achieved 67% of the planned output targets with 33% of the planned output targets not achieved. A sanitation service delivery launched by the Department with regard to the innovative sanitation technology demonstration projects in some distressed rural municipalities enabled access to sanitation services to a number of people in rural areas.

The Committee asked about vacancy rates and if this impacted on performance; when the Research and Development tax incentive report would be submitted to Cabinet; for a gender breakdown of bursary recipients; what the values of the interdepartmental programmes were; for more information about the Audio Visual Upgrade project; if the transfer payments were monitored; if the Department’s website had been updated; and for clarity about the administrative delays and the inability to achieve targets. Members wanted to know if bursaries were often only to South African students. It was explained that the Department adhered to the SADEC Protocol on Education which allowed for 4% of bursary applicants to be from the African continent outside of South Africa. The Department was commended on its performance but encouraged to do better and to do more.

Meeting report

Due to the Chairperson, Ms L Maseko (ANC), being away, Mr C Mothale (ANC) was elected as the Acting Chairperson. He apologised for the delay which happened as a result of the traffic situation on the N2. Minister Ms Naledi Pandor was welcomed to the meeting. Apologies were received from the Deputy Minister.

Minister’s briefing
The Minister thanked the Committee for allowing her to start this briefing. She raised the concern of the President that several ministers were leaving Cabinet to go to Portfolio Committees. The Chairperson had asked her to speak about a letter she had written to the Minister on behalf of the Committee about the changed targets, about which the response from the Department was not sufficiently detailed regarding the changes. The reason for the change was that the Department had to do certain reconfigurations. The configuration used by the engineering company was not to the standard required. When the fault was discovered the Department decided to stop as it was more cost effective to do so. Also, if it went ahead with the plan by March 31 as the number in the original APP (Annual Performance Plan), there would have been a huge amount of cost because everything would have had to be repaired. Hence the decision was to halt the process to provide the time to get all the reconfiguration right and begin again. The Department was moving well now and confident about meeting the deadline on 31 March 2018, and was also ready to meet all its bio engineering needs. The Minister said she felt very lucky to be in this position in this Department.

Department of Science and Technology and its Third Quarter Performance and Financial Report (October 2016 to December 2016)

Mr Tommy Makhode, Acting Director-General: Department Science and Technology (DST) outlined the policy mandate of the Department and its contributions to Government Outcomes. The DST’s Strategic outcome-orientated goals were: A responsive, coordinated efficient NSI; Increased knowledge generation; Human capital development; Using knowledge for economic development and Knowledge utilisation for inclusive development. It was reported that during the period under review, the total number of planned output targets was 46; and the Department achieved 67% of the planned output targets with 33% of the planned output targets not achieved. Bursaries were awarded to 3239 PhD students and to 9353 honours and masters students.

The DST’s Performance per programme in the Third Quarter was as follows:

Programme 1 achieved 73% of its targets, with 27% not achieved;

Programme 2 achieved 80% of its targets so far, with 20% not achieved;

Programme 3 achieved 56% of its targets, with 44% not achieved;

Programme 4 achieved 67% of its targets and 33% of the planned targets were not achieved; and

Programme 5 achieved 67% of its targets, with 33% not achieved.

Mr Makhode concluded that the DST would continue to play a central role in providing SETi (Science, Engineering and Technology Innovation) initiatives that enhanced service delivery and development. A sanitation service delivery launched by the DST with regard to the innovative sanitation technology demonstration projects in some distressed rural municipalities enabled access to sanitation services to a number of people in rural areas. (See enclosed Annual Report)

Dr A Lotriet (DA) referred to slide 59 regarding vacancy rates and positions not filled due to budget cuts. She asked on which levels the vacancies were located and if this had an impact on the performance of the Department.

The Minister replied that Parliament had urged that government reduce their public wage bill, and this was part of the effort at doing that. There was agreement in government that there was a process which included the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Service and Administration, that where that process had to be initiated they would do so. The Department was also in consultation with National Treasury where a framework has been developed to look at areas where concessions could be made and for areas of co-ordination to improve efficiency.

Mr Makhode said the Department currently had 42 vacancies.

Dr Lotriet referred to slide 66 the R & D tax incentive report and the delays mentioned. She asked for some indication when this completed report would be submitted to Parliament.

The Minister replied that the memorandum on tax incentives had actually gone through already.

Dr Lotriet referred to slide 67 regarding Preapproval decisions within 120 days. She asked if there was any way this problem could be alleviated.

The Minister replied that a programme had been put in place to deal with the backlog so this was being dealt with. Backlogs were very difficult to deal with as she had experienced when she worked at the Department of Home Affairs.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) referred to Slide 15 on bursaries awarded and asked if there was a gender breakdown of recipients.

The Minister replied that the Department had a directive to the National Research Foundation that the majority of bursaries were awarded to black men and women. There was a concern however about ‘black’ referring to the African continent in general and not South Africa specifically. This was being taken into consideration when reviewing bursary allocation process.

Mr Paulsen asked what the values of the interdepartmental programmes were.

Mr Andries Shila, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DST replied that in terms of the (South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) Chairs, the R98 million spoken about basically funded the Chairs. The emoluments for Research Chairs were about R2.6 million for tier one Chairs and R1.8 million for so called tier two Chairs. There were a number of ways that interdepartmental operations were not only including the amount of money available for research and development, but also increasing efficiency between departments.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) referred to slide 60 and the slight delay in the Audio-Visual Upgrade project. He asked for more information about this project like what it was used for.

Mr Makhode said that this had to do with IT and old Servers that needed upgrading, some of which still required approval.

Mr Koornhof referred to slide 70 where it was shown that 92.5% of the budget was for transfer payments. He asked if this money was followed and monitored to see if it was well spent.

Mr Shila said that each of these transfers was covered by an internal agreement accompanied by high level shareholders and governed by independent contracts as well. In terms of the PFMA, it was required to monitor the use of those funds and each of the entities had to provide the Department with annual and quarterly reports. The Department had extensive oversight as to what happens to those funds.   

The Minister said that the transfers were as such because the Department used institutions to achieve its objectives. It did monitor and met with each of the entities regularly.

Ms C King (DA) asked if the Department’s website had been updated.

Mr Makhode replied that the Department was currently using internal staff to upgrade the website.

Ms King referred to Slide 51 and asked if the figure for PhD students referred only to South African students.

Mr Shila replied that the Department funded mainly doctoral students and was able to cover about 18% for doctoral students, 14% for masters and 4% honours. South Africa adhered to the SADEC Protocol on education which allowed for 4% of places at SA universities to be awarded to SADEC nationals on local terms and conditions.

Ms King referred to slide 60 where a virement had been referred to. She asked from which department the virement took place and the amount involved.

Ms J Terblanche (DA) referred to the Department’s budget and the R11 million deduction. She supported Dr Lotriet’s question and asked which posts were going to be fulfilled.

The Acting Chairperson said it was commendable that three departments were involved in the Beneficiation project. He asked to what extent the other departments and organisations were involved.

The Minister said that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ocean Economy, AgriParks, and a hair product company called Elida were some of the companies and organisations involved in the beneficiation project.

The Acting Chairperson asked for clarity on the administrative delays and inability to achieve targets and what had been done to alleviate the problems.

Mr Makhode said this related partly to the quality of reports received from some agencies. The Department was working with the internal audit, finance and Monitoring and Evaluation to ensure quality.
He commended the Department on how well it had done so far.

The Minister said the Department had to ensure that targets were met and responded clearly without rhetoric to the problems on the ground.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) said that she just wanted to make an addition in terms of calls for innovation. This particular call was made for her constituency and their entities and partners to start to initiate a better response for innovators that were not part of formal institutions of innovation. For instance there was an organisation that was based in Mamelodi where there was an innovation that could in the long term be commercialised. This would allow one to be able to respond in a positive way. They were working on other relevant campaigns and had also started engaging provinces like the North West Province encouraging them make their own calls.  

Ms Christina Pinto, Department of Science and Technology said with regard to return on investment, the position was on a grant basis, so in most instances one was not looking at a direct return on investment. One was looking at a return on investment in terms of the impact of the initiative, like for example job creation. A survey would be launched in universities soon looking at what has been happening to the projects they have been funding.

Mr Paulsen said essential services should not be cut down to be able pay the wage bill and this was not about reducing the wage bill. Proper skills were required to solve real problems. He would push for improving capacity and improving the quality of service so that the citizens of this country could benefit.

The Acting Chairperson thanked the Committee and again commended it on its achievements, but said it could do more and better.  

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