CSIR on their Annual Performance Plan

NCOP Communications and Public Enterprise

28 June 2017
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research presented their Annual Performance Plan.
The Council has been in existence for 72 years and has a mandate to promote scientific and industrial development.  70% of their researchers are involved in the domains of Science, Engineering and Technology, of which 18% are PhD holders. The Council aims to ensure transformation in the area of human capital development by encouraging the emergence of black and female doctorates. The Institution’s mandate to promote innovation has led to collaboration with government departments’, such as the Department of Health and Department of Defence, as well as local municipalities. The Council has helped small and medium sized firms by investing upwards of R248 million in their activities. In the financial domain, the Council had obtained clean audits over the last twenty years and does not want to be a state entity which receives bailouts. The Institution aims to ensure that they engage with the public and will host conferences and interact with community radio stations to this effect.

Apologies were tendered on behalf of the Director General for his absence.
The Chairperson accepted the apology, but mentioned that the Minister to whom CSIR is accountable to, has never attended a Committee meeting. Although it is not a problem for a stakeholders meeting, the Minister’s absence creates the impression that she does not take Parliament seriously.

Members were interested to know how the assistance provided to the Department of Defence helps to protect our country as well how many African scientists have been developed; and inquired if the CSIR is happy with the amount of job creation they facilitated. Members also requested a breakdown of the institution’s racial diversity; and asked if CSIR had any partnership with the Department of Agriculture; asked if it has been able to or is in the process of developing technology which can solve the issue of reading water meters; and whether the recent credit downgrade had any effect of Council’s functioning and with regard to the U.S partnership they had, if they had safely protected their intellectual property.
The Chairperson desired to know more about the assistance Council is providing to firms and if it is going on in all the provinces. She also asked how itspreads information about the opportunities they offer and would like the CSIR to extend an invitation to the Committee so they can see first-hand what they are doing. 

Meeting report

Dr Thulani Dlamini, CEO: CSIR, thanked the Committee for enabling his institution to present their Annual Performance Plan (APP) and tendered apologies on behalf of the Director General for his absence.

The Chairperson accepted the apology, but mentioned that the Minister to whom CSIR is accountable to, has never attended a Committee meeting. Although it is not a problem for a stakeholders meeting, the Minister’s absence creates the impression that she does not take Parliament seriously.

Ms S Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape), explained why it is important that the Minister is present and suggested that it should be made clear to the Minister in future, if she is to attend a meeting ahead of time.

CSIR on its Annual Performance Plan
Dr Dlamini highlighted that the APP is a blueprint for what is to be done throughout the year and outlined the mandate of CSIR, which revolves around scientific and industrial development. The CSIR has a broader scope of objectives than other science bodies in South Africa because their mandate has a direct impact on improving the lives of South Africans. The CSIR’s existence for 72 years has allowed them to develop strong organisational capacity, but the downside of such an old institution is the outdated infrastructure.

70% of CSIR researchers are trained in the domains of Science, Engineering and Technology, while the rest are support staff and amongst these researchers, 18% have PhD’s. It is hoped that the number of PhD holders in the organisation will increase, thus indicating that CSIR is an organisation driven by innovation. The CSIR will invest significantly in human capital development with the overall aim being to promote transformation by growing the number of black and female South Africans at CSIR. CSIR therefore intends to have 30% of researchers as PhD holders and increase the number of Chief and Principal Researchers. The fact that CSIR has a national imprint will enable the organisation to fulfil these stated goals.

Objectives included; conducting high quality and relevant research, transforming human capital (producing 40-50 PhD’s) as well as maintaining sustainable and good governance practices. Dr Dlamini stated that forging and maintaining the right partnerships is central towards attaining these objectives as it allows CSIR to be relevant and have access to resources. Dr Dlamini provided the example of how the CSIR’s partnership with the Department of Health enabled the latter to improve efficiency at their healthcare centres. Moreover, Dr Dlamini presented the case of the Department of Defence whereby the CSIR has assisted in helping to transform the industry which supplies material to the Ministry, by building the capacity of black-owned small and medium sized enterprises. He mentioned of the water treatment project being carried out in Limpopo in which algae was utilised to treat water. Other departments such as the Department of Science and Technology work with the CSIR in areas related the CSIR’s scope of work.

Dr Dlamini pointed out that the CSIR provides support in the areas of technology localisation, beneficiation of mineral resources, and product creation in a bid to add value to their interventions and as a result, CSIR made a total investment of R248 million in firms operating in these areas.

Mr Kenny Kristen, CFO, spoke about Personics, which is one of the companies which CSIR partnered with the Industrial Development Corporation to establish. It was a pharmaceutical company and was registered in Boston, USA in order to ensure it could operate around well-established laboratories. This is beneficial to South Africa because this is a South African company developing products for international consumption.

Dr Dlamini reiterated that human capital development will ensure transformation but expressed that there are certain challenges which have been faced in the domain. Attracting and maintaining key skills in the organisation was a problem because keeping researchers at CSIR ensures a healthy pipeline to recruit from exists, as well as a pool from which to improve capacity and attain its’ objectives. The CSIR Campus and Internship Programmes were initiatives meant to remedy these challenges.

Mr Kristen, on the financial status of CSIR, said it is a financially sustainable institution which does not want to be eligible for bailouts and is always targeting growth. The CSIR obtained a clean audit over the last twenty years and hopes to obtain another one for 2017. CSIR did an evaluation and was on par with other Registered Training Organisations (RTO’s) found around the world however, CSIR is lagging in the areas of producing research papers, patents and producing PhD’s. Other challenges revolved around the outdated campus infrastructure which was not conducive for research to be carried out in the modern era and thus, changes in the infrastructure layout need to be made.

Dr Dlamini intervened and said the CSIR is trying to promote the impact of science in our daily lives and has developed programmes in order to engage with stakeholders and push across this point. The CSIR Conference is a platform of engagement which falls in line with the assertion. The CSIR will carry out community engagement by working with community radio stations to sensitise the population on their mandate and objectives.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked the CSIR delegation for the comprehensive and organised manner of their presentation.

Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) suggested the CSIR visit his constituency on the border of Eastern Cape and the Free State. He provided an example of a boy in the Eastern Cape who is fabricating cleaning chemicals and wondered how he could obtain assistance from the CSIR. Furthermore, he asked how the assistance provided to the Department of Defence helps to protect our country as well how many African scientists have been developed; and inquired if the CSIR is happy with the amount of job creation they facilitated.

Ms Z Ncitha (ANC, Eastern Cape) complimented the CSIR because in relation to state entities, they are always prepared to receive negative feedback. In the context of Radical Economic Transformation state entities must be at the forefront. She requested a breakdown of the institution’s racial diversity; and asked if CSIR had any partnership with the Department of Agriculture. She was happy with the Department of Health partnership and suggested that CSIR collaborate with Coega and East London Industrial Development Zones (IDZs). She acknowledged that the CSIR cannot be everywhere but believes that this would be beneficial.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) congratulated the CSIR on their work and presentation and asked if it has been able to or is in the process of developing technology which can solve the issue of reading water meters. He brought up this point in relation to CSIR cooperation with local municipalities. He mentioned some American scientists he had met who wished to establish exchange programmes with South African institutions and therefore stated his willingness to provide their contacts if the CSIR were interested. He asked whether the organisation provided disadvantaged youth with bursary opportunities.

The Chairperson desire to know more about the assistance CSIR is providing to firms and if it is going on in all the provinces. She also asked how the CSIR spreads information about the opportunities they offer and would like the CSIR to extend an invitation to the Committee so they can see first-hand what they are doing.

Ms Ncitha was curious about whether the recent credit downgrade had any effect of CSIR’s functioning and with regard to the U.S partnership they had, if they had safely protected their intellectual property.

The Chairperson inquired if the CSIR has taken steps to research on why the rivers are drying up for reasons besides climate change.

Dr Dlamini thanked the Members for the questions and said that some of the answers will only be provided at a later period. He expressed his desire to visit Mr Parkies’ constituency and that CSIR supports SMME and start ups and should put the boy from Eastern Cape in contact with them to see if they can help. R500 million was provided by the Department of Defence to build their capacity because there are certain technological and research functions in the area of defence, which for the purpose of sovereignty and security cannot be outsourced to foreigners. Concerning the number of African scientists, there are close to 1000 scientists in the pipeline of which 80-90% are black, but the biggest issue they have is ensuring that these scientists climb the career ladder into positions of leadership.

Dr Dlamini stated he was not satisfied with the number of jobs created, although CSIR does not create direct jobs but rather partners with institutions and people to develop capacity and act as an enabler.

Concerning the partnership with Department of Agriculture, most of the research in that area is done by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) but there has been collaboration in the area of genetic modification of crops.

Dr Molefi Motuku, Group Executive in charge of Research and Development, cited the case of work they did with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation which had a direct link with rural areas to explain that CSIR might not work directly with institutions involved in rural development but the programmes they carry out still impact those areas.

In the area of security Dr Dlamini said they had engaged with the South African Police Service on how to carry out finger printing and undertake crowd control.

Mr Kristen supported this assertion and added that CSIR is becoming more aware of the cyber security domain.
Regarding diversity, 80-90% of students in the pipeline are black and they also hope to increase the female participation.
The credit downgrade had no direct impact on CSIR but when they carry out transactions with foreign partners and ask for cash down payments, the partners now request for more guarantees. The credit downgrade might affect them down the road in terms of reduced grant allocation but this would not be problematic because CSIR is a financially viable institution.
 Securing intellectual property has been done and the patents were all done in the name of CSIR and the licence agreement was signed based on performance.

Dr Dlamini said that a response on the meters and the drying up of the river levels will be provided after relevant research has been conducted.

Dr Dlamini indicated that 5 and 6 October would be an ideal time to invite the Committee to the CSIR and would take the opportunity to present their energy plan while they are present.

The Chairperson thanked CSIR once more.

The meeting was adjourned. 

Present

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