Four entities of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), namely the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI), the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF), the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presented their annual performance plans for 2017/18 to the Portfolio Committee.
The National Advisory Council on Innovation planned to expand its National System of Innovation (NSI), engage research expertise and stakeholders. It stated that with the current economic situation, it would be impossible to double up the budget and chances of moving from a 0.5% to a 1.5% increase were very low. NACI was planning on changing its financial situation. It addressed the issue of efficacy and stated that engagement between the Council and the Minister would take place.
Members asked how NACIs budget could be made more efficient and how long it’s structural reorganisation would take.
The Academy of Science of South Africa planned to align itself with governmental goals such as human capital development and the use of knowledge for development, raise science awareness and provide information on science careers through Quest magazine. It also planned to conduct a number of programmes to increase participation of young scientists, conduct a number of studies such as health, education, science for reduction of poverty and inequality, ocean and energy studies. It also presented its budget and indicated that the budget was an outcome of an exercise which considered posterity measures and some other funding which was outside the baseline allocation. This was deferred income for activities that overlapped into the current financial year.
Members commended the presentation and stated that the studies done were topical. They asked if there was any room to include the science advisory programme in the budget as it was the most important. They stated that diseases like cancer and studies on sexual behaviour were important.
The South African National Space Agency stated that space science and technology was global in nature and South Africa could not do everything, hence it had to figure out where the gap lied and leverage on that. It reported that most funding came from the Parliamentary Grant. It highlighted its racial profiling and stated that currently it employed 117 Africans, 14 Coloured, nine Indians and 14 Whites.
Members asked what the relationship agreement was with different Universities and if they had any input in their projects. The wanted to know what the uptake was in the agricultural community in terms of the kind of information offered, and wanted an elaboration on the satellite monitoring; whether it was one or different satellites. They commented that SANSA was very prominent at the Astrological Conference and South Africa could be seen as the core area for promoting Africa and competing in the Global space, hence its site was the most visited site at the conference. They remarked that the students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) had exposure to satellite engineering and asked if there were any other such programmes to get the students involved. Members commented that the allocation of these seven Universities had to be rural based and affluent Universities should not be the only ones benefiting.
HSRC remarked that its Boards’ term had come to an end. It planned to conduct research that provided decision support to government service, developed collaborative networks and applied research, preserved and analysed data, conducted institutional transformation and ensured financial sustainability. In terms of its budget summary, it reported that most of its funding came from the Parliamentary Grant.
Members said that the presentation was very good and thought provoking especially the problems of the day which was urbanisation, and asked why the HSRC stated that they lost direct funding from the United States, and if this loss of funds was due to the Trump initiative. They commented that South Africa had an opportunity in Brexit as it was not part of the European Union and could go directly to Britain. Members sought clarity on why the Board had targets for senior researchers and basic research. Members also encouraged the DST to work with the HSRC instead of using external consultants.
National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI)
Mr Mlungisi Cele, Acting Head, NACI, presented the 2017/18 Annual Performance Plan. He said that NACI’s contribution to NDP occurred through the provision of evidence based or informed, responsive and confidential advice. It conducted systemic monitoring, evaluation and learning as well as analysis, research expertise and stakeholder engagement through roundtable discussions. The goals of NACI included:
- To learn from previous experience to improve efficacy, relevance and ensure evidence-based, confidential and timely STI advice to the Minister of Science and Technology and, through the Minister, Cabinet
- To contribute to the building of NSI monitoring, evaluation and learning capability in order to assess the health of the NSI and its contribution to sustainable and inclusive development
- To contribute to the building of a well-coordinated, responsive and effective NSI and Transforming NACI into a smart, efficient and learning organization
Mr Cele said that selected medium initiatives and targets were set. He highlighted these were the development of STI decadal plan, development of STI data and information portal, enhance systemic policy analysis and monitoring and evaluation capacity. He said that analytical contributions in support of NSI governance, coordination and planning as envisaged in the NDP and DST Strategic Plans were identified in various reviews as key concerns. The NACI looked to deepen existing and build new networks and participate in local, continental and international forums-to learn and share.
Mr Cele highlighted that the NACI would continue to implement both the legislative mandate and 2014 Ministerial Guidelines (Inaugural Council meeting). He said that it would align the Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan with NDP, and DST Strategic Plan. Also, the NACI was aiming to strengthen planning, analytical and M&E capabilities and deepen and consolidate engagements with various NSI actors to improve policy coordination and coherence and reduce duplication.
The Chairperson asked how they could find ways to make the budget more efficient. She also asked how long the reorganization of NACI would take.
Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO: Water Research Commission, NACI, (first name and designation) responded that with the current economic situation, it would be impossible to double up the budget and chances of moving from a 0.5% to a 1.5% increase were very low. He asked the Portfolio Committee as to what they could do to help. He then remarked that the concept of “science” should not only belong to the DST but that it should belong to the government. He said that the DST needed to find ways to celebrate science and that innovation was one important element.
Mr Cele addressed the issue of efficacy of the NACI advisory board and said that it needed to be improved. He said that engagement between the Council and the Minister would take place. He said that they were also engaging to see if there were students straight from Universities and Science Councils who would want to work with NACI. He said that NACI would like to work with those who could do the work. He said that they would like to work with retired University experts to serve as part of the fellowship and provide services at a lessor amount.
The Chairperson remarked that Departments needed to complement each other and not to outsmart each other.
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
The General Secretary of ASSAF, Professor Himla Soodyall, presented the Annual Performance plan. Its goals were the:
- Recognition and reward of excellence
- Promotion of innovation and scholarly activity
- Promotion of effective, evidence-based scientific advice
- Promotion of public interest in & awareness of science & science education
- Promotion of national, regional & international linkages
Prof Soodyall explained the programme of the Academy. She said that it was related to promoting good governance through the ASSAf Council to ensure appropriate financial management systems. It also focused on the provision of HR management services and to provide effective & targeted communication to support the Academy’s vision. He said that ASSAf had a Scholarly Publishing Programme, which increased visibility, accessibility and searchability of South African accredited scholarly journals. This improved the quality of scholarly journals, books & conference proceedings. It also assisted with promoting visibility and impact of South African research through the publication of the South African Journal of Science and promoting awareness of science among youth.
Prof Soodyall commented that she represented the editorial board of ‘Quest’ magazine and that she could knowledgeably speak about the activities they were trying to accomplish with Quest. She stated that they were trying to increase funding for Quest as it provided access to knowledge by the learners and provided scientific knowledge. She said that with regards to the Liaison Programme, ASSAf was trying to increase and diversify the Membership of the Academy. This was to recognise and reward excellence in science and promote scholarly activity. Its aim was to establish, strengthen and sustain productive collaborations with African and overseas academies of science and like-minded organizations to enhance capacity in Science and Technology. ASSAf collaborated with and strengthened African and international science academies. It also supported the South African Young Academy of Science and increased participation of young scientists in science-related activities nationally and globally. ASSAf hosted the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) National Chapter and Gender In SITE regional focal point.
Prof Soodyall remarked that they were proud of the young scientists who were working hard. She said that through the Science Advisory Programme, ASSAf facilitated scholarly engagements on key national and global challenges. ASSAf also provided:
- Evidence-based science advice in support of policy development
- Health Studies
- Education Studies
- Science for Reduction of Poverty & Inequality
- Biosafety and Biosecurity
- Ocean Sciences
- Energy Studies
Prof Soodyall commented that all these programmes could only be achieved with funding.
Mr Morakeng Chiloane, Financial Manager, ASSAf, gave a summary of the projected Budget for the MTEF period 2017/18 to 2019/20. He indicated that the budget was an outcome of an exercise which took into account posterity measures. He said that the budget considered some other funding which was outside the baseline allocation, which was to a larger extent deferred income for activities that overlapped into the current financial year. He highlighted that they were aware that they were supposed to present the budget for 2017/2018, however, they included the budget for 2018/19 for information purposes. He remarked that there was no guarantee for funding from other sources outside the baseline allocation. He expressed gratitude for the support the academy was receiving from the Portfolio Committee and the DST.
Mr N Koornhof (ANC) asked a question concerning the budget. He said that he was of aware of the challenging times in terms of national and international programmes relating to science advisory. He asked if there was no room to add to the science advisory programme as it was the most important programme.
Ms J Terblanche (DA) stated that she mainly wanted to speak about the health studies (slide 30 of the presentation) that were conducted. She congratulated the Academy for work done. She remarked that the studies done were commendable as all of them were topical. She said that the Human Genetics and Human Genomics studies were not previously conducted as much. She noted that the increase in the number of old timers disease and cancer was of great concern and wanted to find out if there were studies being conducted on that. She then stated that the clamping down of people due to their sexual behavior was of great concern as people could not live their normal life freely. She said that she was grateful that the Academy was diversifying its studies by including human sexuality.
Mr Koornhof asked when the academy would finalize the consensus study on the “State of Energy Efficiency” in South Africa.
Prof Soodyall responded that in relation to how best they could allocate their limited resources to more activities like the science advisory programme, some of the activities were ongoing and the council would meet for the July strategic plan. She responded to the question relating to old timers and cancer and stated that those diseases were mostly associated with old people. To know two out of ten people have died out of cancer, meant that “these diseases are now living in people’s minds and psychics”. She stated that most types of cancers were genetically inherited and only 5% were sporadic. She said that researchers were now conducting improved research on what caused cancer.
Prof Soodyall responded to Ms Terblanche’s question on sexual behavior. She remarked that this question was well received and then gave an example of an SMS she received concerning a lesbian woman who was murdered. She was burnt to death and as a result could not be immediately identified, hence her family was still waiting on the results confirming her identity. She compared this situation to the recent bus tragedy that killed several school children. She stated that some of the results confirming the children’s identity were immediately available. She wondered why the forensic unit was reluctant in finalizing the deceased lesbian woman’s identity but were quick to release results confirming the identity of the children killed in the bus crush, hence the need to intensify studies in this subject area.
South African National Space Agency (SANSA)
Ms Joy-Marie Lawrence, Chairperson of the Board, SANSA, introduced the members of the Board of SANSA and stated that the mission of SANSA was to lead and inspire the South African Space Community and create a better future.
Dr Valanathan Munsami, CEO, SANSA, presented the performance plan. He stated that environment and resource management was a key focus area for SANSA. He went through the strategic goals which included high-impact research, productivity, transformation and human capacity. SANSA aimed to grow the space industry by creating global partnerships, growth and stability by becoming a high performance agency.
Dr Munsami remarked that some of the goals could be very problematic in terms of funding and long term sustainability. He also stated that space science and technology was global in nature and South Africa could not do everything, hence they had to figure out where the gap lied in South Africa and leverage on that. He said that SANSA focused on operational information. He added that SANSA was effective in implementing its APP’s to date under the current financial conditions. It was refocusing its core business to do even more in the future and had a bigger focus on Africa as well as a broader industry participation. It was also to maximise impact to the user communities.
Dr Munsami stated that most funding came from the Parliamentary Grant. He highlighted that they had racial profiling in SANSA and that they currently employed 117 Africans, 14 Coloured, 9 Indian and 14 White individuals.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked what the relationship agreement was with different Universities and if they had any input in their projects. She also wanted to know in terms of food security, what the uptake was in agricultural communities in terms of the kind of information SANSA could offer.
Mr Mothale (ANC) asked for an elaboration on the satellite monitoring; whether it was one or different satellites. He commented that he read somewhere that “we had a visitor not far from earth and that object was not troubling anyone” and he asked what it could have been. He then asked to what extent was the government viewing SANSA Eco solution as a catalyst. He asked about how SANSA related with the Universities and if SANSA could be viewed as an institution which Universities could work with.
Mr Koornhof asked about the payment for capital assets and if that payment was dedicated for the APP’s. He asked if there was more contract opportunity because of the APP as it could be seen that there was a margin for the APP’s.
The Chairperson commented that SANSA was very prominent at the Astrological Conference and South Africa could be seen as the core area for promoting Africa and competing in the global space, hence the SANSA site was the most visited site at the conference.
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) remarked that the students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) had exposure to satellite engineering. He asked if SANSA had any other such programmes to get students involved.
Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell, Managing Director, SANSA, stated that relationships with various Universities were very important and that SANSA sponsored students from different Universities all over the country. She said that they also provided guidance on projects for students who needed guidance. She stated that they provided policy support for Universities who would like to get involved in space but did not have the expertise and teaching support, which was done by giving a few lectures. She said that SANSA ensured that every year, it went out to give presentations to the Universities and maintained relationships and in the previous weeks, about 10 000 learners were engaged in the workshops.
Dr Paida Mangara, Acting Managing Director: Earth Observations, SANSA, said that they ran a programme which incorporated different Universities. He then said that in terms of food security, they needed to get their products for fertility and cultural monitoring. They were working in corporation with the Department of Agriculture and other agricultural projects.
Mr Raoul Hodges, Managing Director: Space Operations, SANSA, stated that the space observation decided to work on the speed of the satellite and speed of data. He stated that there were several satellites coming within our horizon. They were busy tracking twelve satellites which were all international satellites.
Mr Amal Khatri, Executive Director: Space Programme, SANSA, stated that they were busy tracking asteroids and this was important to avoid any collisions. He stated that they made a launch with the German Space Agency in terms of tracking debris and this was a new initiative.
Ms Lawrence said that the government was the biggest user of their Earth Observation and SANSA was working in partnership with them.
Mr Marius Rezelman, Chairperson: Strategy and Investment, SANSA, said that satellite investment had many benefits and could save the government up to R35 million. He said the space programme was meant to make young students excited about science. They intended to increase satellite engineering knowledge to a list of schools and later expand this programme nationwide.
Dr Munsami said that they were looking at establishing a Pan African University programme which would include seven Universities in South Africa and CPUT was one of them.
Mr Mothale (ANC) commented that the allocation of these seven Universities had to be rural based and affluent Universities should not be the only ones benefiting.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Ms Nasima Badsha, Chairperson of the Board, HSRC, gave introductory remarks and stated that the term for the HSRC board came to an end and it was the last time they were appearing before the Committee.
Professor Crain Soudien, CEO, HSRC, outlined the changes to the strategic outcome oriented goals for 2017/8. He said that it included stronger alignment with DST and National Priorities, removal of compliance indicators to focus on core business, and strategic intention to focus on quality, relevance and impact, alongside quantitative performance indicators. He highlighted that HSRC advanced knowledge and scientific excellence through developing collaborative networks and applied research and enhancing research skills and public awareness. It was also focused on preserving and sharing data for further analysis, institutional transformation and financial stability.
Mr Richard Matambo, Acting CFO, HSRC, presented the budget summary. He also outlined the institutional risks.
Prof Soudien expressed gratitude for the last time for the stakeholders that gave support to the board.
Mr C Mathale (ANC) said that the presentation was very good and thought provoking especially the problems of the day which was urbanisation. He said that urbanisation was the problem and asked what was being done to manage the situation.
Mr Koornhof thanked the HSRC for the presentation and said that they needed to be supported. He asked why the HSRC stated that they had lost direct funding from the United States. He asked if this loss of funds was due to the Trump initiative. He then commented that South Africa had an opportunity in Brexit as it was not part of the European Union and could go directly to Britain. He lamented that South Africa had an opportunity and asked if they were exploring this path.
Dr Lotriet said that the presentation was concerning. She said that in terms of the budget cuts, she had previously asked a question on the effect it had on staff vacancies and the response she got was that the cuts were done across the board without taking into consideration special skills. She suggested that the matter be passed further. She said that the board had targets for senior researchers and basic research and sought clarity on these.
Mr Paulsen said that last year he asked a question about how the impact of the research done could be measured. He asked if the impact of the research done could help curb poverty.
The Chairperson encouraged the DST to work with the HSRC instead of using external consultants. She said that the Committee would continue to ensure that there was funding towards the HSRC.
Ms Badsha said that dealing with the conversion of current contract staff to permanent staff because of changes in Labour legislation in an ideal world would be the right thing to do however, they were not in an ideal world and their core functions were being threatened. She said that concerning the uptake, as a knowledge institution, they had to be concerned about the indicators of their work.
Prof Soudien said that it was important to form relationships with the Municipalities and they would then help them understand their problems. He then commented on the issue of Brexit and stated that they had returned from Europe and sought partnerships with the Germans. They would go to the Americans and seek re-assurance from them concerning their plans and intentions but had not yet thought of approaching the United Kingdom. He then said that they had relationships with different departments.
Professor Leickness Simbayi, Deputy CEO: Research, HSRC, said that he would speak about the MRF ratings and that until recently, science councils were excluded. He said that they had a growing number of researchers.
Dr Temba Masilela, Executive Director: Research use and Impact Assessment, HSRC, said that they launched a research council which examined the impact of research methodologies and another project was examining artefacts and their utilisation. The outcome would be how to improve utilisation and the impact thereof.
Ms Vijay Reddy, Executive Director, HSRC, commented on the opportunities presented by Brexit which included research opportunities.
The Chairperson thanked the HSRC for their presentation and stated that it was one of the core entities the country needed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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