Three entities of the Department of Science and Technology – the Human Sciences Research Council (HRSC), South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP), and the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) presented their annual reports for 2016/17 to the Portfolio Committee.
The HSRC had obtained an unqualified audit opinion with no audit adjustments. Audit findings were raised mainly on Information Technology and Supply Chain Management (SCM) and they related largely to costs incurred due to refurbishment when the HSRC relocated from an old building in Cape Town. The HSRC had been given a three-month notice period by the landlord to vacate the old premises. Irregular expenditure was related to supply chain management in the movement to a new office and improvements made therein. Despite the constrained funding environment, the HSRC‘s external income had increased, although the parliamentary grant had decreased.
Members asked to what extent the HSRC had raised awareness amongst the citizens and other government entities to explain the work the entity did. Others sought an explanation as to how the irregular expenditure came about and why the organisation had R3.3m awarded against it by the CCMA.
SACNASP had attained an unqualified audit for the 2016/17 financial year. SACNASP continued to increase registration figures. As a self-funding statutory entity, the funding of all its activities was based on registration and annual fees. The Department of Science and Technology had allocated R12.6m over a three-year period for special projects to develop the Information Technology, Continuous Professional Development and Candidate Mentoring Phase. Members asked how the organisation kept tabs on students who had been funded. Others asked how SACNASP could achieve the lofty goal of registering 25 000 scientists by 2022 when it currently had only 2 507 members. Members queried where, besides subscription and registration fees, funding for SACNASP come from.
ASSAf received an unqualified audit for 2016/17 financial year. The entity was not required to prepare a report on its performance against predetermined objectives as it did not fall within the ambit of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). In accordance with the Public Audit Act (PAA) and the General Notice, ASSAf had a responsibility to report material findings on the compliance of the entity with specific matters in key legislation. It performed procedures to identify findings, but not to gather evidence to express assurance. ASSAf was the official National Science Academy of South Africa, and represented South Africa in the international community of science academies. ASSAf was part of a network of over 130 global science academies and a member of the Network of African Science Academies.
Members wanted to know to what extent ASSAf’s non-adherence to PFMA in compliance to Section 2 (2) of the Act affected the organisation’s audit outcomes. ASSAf was asked whether it had any intention of discussing an amendment to the ASSAf Act so that it could comply with the PFMA Act.
The Chairperson welcomed all present and stated that the Committee was doing its best to advocate for more funds for the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and all its entities, though its powers were limited in that regard. The Committee would continue to advocate for all the entities under the DST to utilise the services of the HSRC instead of commissioning external bodies that produced undesirable results. The Chairperson of the HSRC Board, Ms Nasima Badisha, thanked the Committee for their diligence and cooperation with the entity and informed the Committee that that was her last engagement with the Committee because the term of the current Board was coming to an end that year. Appreciation was further shown for the Committee’s advocacy for further funding because the HSRC, having been mandated to research Human Sciences, always had to compete for funds with other research agencies. The Chairperson announced that three entities of DST, namely HSRC, SACNASP and ASSAf, would present their Annual Financial Reports to the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Annual report
Prof Leickness Simbayi, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Research at HSRC, said that at the beginning of the financial year annual targets were agreed upon and approved by the Minister of Science and Technology as contained in the Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan. Overall performance against those pre-determined objectives at the end of 31 March 2017 was 76% (34/45). The HSRC was currently digitizing its information.
The HSRC convened 50 out of a target of 64 research seminars during the year while the number of research fellows from elsewhere in Africa at the HSRC was 6 out of a targeted 14. The HSRC had targeted 52 interns (research trainees) enrolled in a Master's programme and appointed at the HSRC, the actual number was 42, while 49 of a targeted 52 enrolled in a PhD programme were appointed at the HSRC.
The Auditor General’s Audit for the HSRC had been completed and an unqualified audit opinion was issued. No audit adjustments were processed to the HSRC’s AFS and audit adjustments were raised mainly on information technology and supply chain management, particularly on the HSRC refurbishment costs when the organisation relocated from its old building in Cape Town. In 2016, the Cape Town office had relocated to new premises. HSRC had been given a three month notice by the landlord to vacate the old premises. The R6.4m mentioned as irregular expenditure was related to supply chain management in the movement to a new office, and improvements made therein. R4m was used for improvements made to the new premises, which exceeded the approved contract value. That was not unusual when changes were effected to new premises. Management had requested a value for money review to establish whether due process was complied with. The HSRC internal auditors concluded that the prices were competitive and value for money had been achieved, hence it was not regarded as fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The balance of R2m related to emergency procurement at project level and that was largely due to unanticipated timelines that had been set. Funders had recommended that certain service providers be used. At the time payments had to be made, the tax clearance certificate of one of the service providers had expired. The service provider had had a valid tax certificate when contracts had been awarded. That was regarded as irregular expenditure by the AG. As a result, a new control system was in place to ensure that all service providers had a valid tax clearance before any payment was made. Those deficiencies were being identified and addressed by management.
Despite the constrained funding environment, the HSRC‘s external income had increased from R164m in 2016 to R264m in 2017. 91% of external budget income had been achieved. Parliamentary grants decreased from R271m to R255m compared to the previous financial year. That decrease could be attributed to R17m received from DST for mobile clinics in the previous year.
The CEO of HSRC, Prof Crain Soudien, in his closing presentation, stated that the organisation would continue to research so as to influence policy. The New Strategic Research approach for 2015/16 - 2020/21 would include a closer alignment of the HSRC’s Strategic Plan to national priorities:
- The South African National HIV Behavioural and Health Survey was conducting a major survey that would encompass 16,000 households throughout the country. Its aim was to understand the incidence of HIV/AIDS.
- The Trends in Mathematics and Science Survey (TIMSS) research showed the country making only marginal improvements in these important subjects.
- The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was looking at Operation Phakisa.
- The Research on Economic Activities was looking at township areas, and more specifically at the impact on consumers and the owners of small ‘spaza’ shops of big retailers moving into those areas.
The Chairperson thanked the HSRC for the presentation and was particularly full of praise for the outgoing Board of the HSRC and hoped that a good number of Board Members would be retained. The Committee would continue to encourage various government departments to utilize the HSRC for their research instead of consultants. She also wanted more clarification with regards to the TIMSS Survey.
Mr C Mathale (ANC) thanked the HSRC for the good job that they were doing and for the presentation. It was imperative that people could see the output of the organisation’s work. The books published by HSRC should have been presented to Members, even if the Members were required to purchase the books with their own money. The book that was of interest to him was the one about Thomas Sankara. It would be interesting to know from which angle the author had approached that colourful African personality. To what extent did the HSRC raise awareness amongst the citizens and other government entities to explain the work they did? Did the HSRC go to municipalities to sell itself as an organ of state? It could partner with municipalities to deliver effectively on their responsibilities. As a young person growing up, it had been fashionable and proper to read, especially dialectical materialism. They had had a scientific approach to issues and to questions and whatever differed from that school of thought was reactionary. Today the HSRC was supposed to change the mindset of the current generation. What then could be done to understand HSRC better? If the departments and entities reach out to each other, it would lead to the HSRC becoming the preferred choice of all government entities.
Ms C King (DA) commended HSRC for their good work and the explanation of how the irregular expenditure had come about, but the concern was why the CCMA had awarded R3.3m to an ex-employee of HSRC. The Committee would like to know what had happened at CCMA. If the fired employee could get such huge pay-out, surely that person could not have been in the wrong. That was such a waste as it could have been used for publications. The HSRC’s overall performance was 76%, achieving only 34 of the 45 targets in a year. That did not paint a good picture for the organisation, despite the rosy image portrayed in the presentation. That could be a problem if the HSRC had competitors who could reach 80% to 90% of targets in a year. On 9 December, the HSRC always organised an international anti-corruption day. Did it have any publications on that? Another concern was whether the HSRC was consulted by the Department of Basic Education regarding its consideration of lowering the Maths pass rate in Grade Nine to 20%? That was a scary proposition. What was HSRC’s point of view?
Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked what further artefacts, as spoken about last year, the HSRC had as a result of research being done. Those would strengthen the chances of getting further research. Surely there had to be books as a result of research undertaken by HSRC, but what other artefacts were there to showcase the work of the organisation? Other than vying for research for government, what other research was being done with external bodies and how was it funded? In terms of not meeting its targets of having senior researchers who were African, did the organisation perhaps have any relationships with tertiary institutions to meet the target of, not only black, but other under- represented groups in South Africa? Of the HSRC’s R271m budget, what percentage went to actual administration and research?
Dr A Lotriet (DA) believed that the questions regarding irregular expenditure had been addressed and went on to congratulate and complement HSRC for their good work.
Ms A Tuck (ANC) wanted to know if the HSRC had conducted any research on marginalised and vulnerable groups. Were its books sold? Nothing in the presentation reflected income generated from the sale of its books. Did the books get to the public and, if so, and how?
The Chairperson asked if there were mechanisms in place to boost the number of female researchers.
In reply Ms Badisha, Board Chairperson of HSRC, said that on the issue of targets, some targets were easier to attain than others. The participation of female researchers was tied to the pipelines from the universities, with which HSRC had close working relationships. There was a huge demand for well-qualified Masters and PhD female black researchers. Some of the targets not being met were not within the ambit of HSRC but were dependent on external parties. South Africa faced the problem of people taking much longer than usual to complete a PhD. There were more structural difficulties than met the eye. Even administrative challenges were inherent in the work HSRC did. Attracting research fellows from the rest of the Continent suffered the constant problem of the HSRC’s inability to obtain visas for them, besides other Home Affairs difficulties. There were resource issues as well, and the budget did not match up to ambitions.
Prof Soudien, the CEO of HSRC, further clarified the issue of moving to a new office in Cape Town. The HSRC had been given six months to move but found out the process had been contracted to another company, which sliced the moving time to three months. That had put the organisation under a lot of strain. The emergency was not project managed and the HSRC had lacked the right capacity to deal with the situation. Because of the lack of time, mistakes were made. Perhaps an expert project manager would have done a better job. On the CCMA finding against the organisation, the HSRC did not agree with the CCMA report but was led to understand that further challenges would have cost implications, especially with regard to legal and related costs. Though the issue was not yet over as it was in the High Court, the organisation had decided to cut its losses for the moment. It was a very unhappy situation. On meeting targets, as the Board Chairperson had said, there were only 30 female black professors in the country at the moment. Within all the universities in Cape Town, there were just five black female professors. One of the female professors in the HSRC employ had just been recruited as the Deputy Vice Chancellor at Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. The HSRC was criticised for not having female black researchers, but the challenge was a structural one outside the organisation’s control.
Prof Soudien explained that a range of research outputs came from the HSRC. The organisation would like to showcase its work next time it came to Parliament, including most books in its stable. The HRSC undertook research reports for municipalities including a very big report recently completed for eThekwini municipality. It had also completed a five-year report for the Department of Justice and Correctional Services which was ground-breaking in many respects. The HSRC research impacted on government policy and programmes through reports, briefs and research that shaped various government decisions as they translated into actual practice.
The HSRC made a loss on its books because no academic publisher in the country was able to publish on a profitable basis. The books were highly subsidised. The costs to produce books for this financial year was R1.9m while income generated was R1.68m, and royalties amounted to R561 000. The loss for the previous year was more than R1m, although it was reduced in the 2015/16 financial year. Only commercial publishers were able to make decent returns on their publications. The books were available in public spaces and were presented at major conferences. Unlike academic books from overseas that sold for R600, the books published by the HSRC were still in the range of R200. The HSRC was presently unable to take the books to the townships where they were needed but that had to be figured out. All the books were available online, including the anti-corruption day research papers, which benefitted many students and researchers. A Memorandum of Understanding had recently been signed with Parliament for the research training of its staff.
The Chairperson agreed that work needed to be done in changing the mindset of citizens on the activities of the HSRC. The organisation also needed to blow its trumpet by becoming more visible to the public and in showcasing its work. The HSRC was commended for being a breeding ground for South Africa’s budding researchers.
South African Council for National Scientific Professions (SACNASP) Annual report
Dr Pradish Rampersadh, Executive Director, SACNASP, said that SACNASP had attained an unqualified audit for the 2016/17 financial year. SACNASP was mandated to regulate the Natural Science Profession and Natural Scientists who worked within that environment. A Professional Conduct Committee had been created in June 2015. From June 2015 to March 2017, 14 misconduct cases were concluded as it ensured compliance to the NSP Act (no. 27 of 2003). That included:
- Reviewing and proposing amendments to the Code of Conduct
- Monitoring compliance to the Code of Conduct
- Overseeing investigations and disciplinary processes
- Providing input to proposed amendments to the NSPA
- Deliberating on legal issues relevant to Council.
SACNASP had obtained an unqualified audit report on financial and governance matters for the 2016/17 financial year. Its goal was to maintain effective and efficient systems of financial management and controls. Some of the highlights for the year were that SACNASP had appointed managers in the finance, operations and registration departments. Contracts with some outsourced contractors were terminated and key operational positions were filled. Contract and temporary staff positions were made permanent and, in terms of transformation, SACNASP had 22 permanent staff with 20 being female, and 19 were from the designated groups. A performance management system had been in place from the 2016/17 financial year.
Registration numbers were increasing and at the end of the reporting period, SACNASP had 10 429 scientists registered on its database. SACNASP, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, had undertaken to register Extension Scientists. During the period 2016/2017, 753 Extension Officers were registered as scientists. There were many challenges, mainly associated with the delivery of the correct paperwork, but the project would be completed by the end of 2017. As part of SACNASP’s ever-broadening horizons, a new field of practice - Atmospheric Science, including Climatology and Meteorology - was added.
SACNASP continued to increase registration figures. In the 2016/17 financial year, according to race, 413 Whites, 1970 Coloureds, 74 Black Africans and 51 Indians had been registered. SACNASP was a self-funding statutory entity and the funding of all its activities was based on the registration and annual fees that were levied on registered persons. DST had allocated R12.6m over a three-year period for special projects to develop the Information Technology, Continuous Professional Development and Candidate Mentoring Phase. Its revenue had increased by 18% compared to the previous year, and operating expenses had decreased by 11% compared to the previous year. SACNSAP had a surplus of R324 772 and an amount of R4m had been allocated for the DST project
Looking forward, SACNASP would ensure prudent budgeting and effective utilisation of resources, and be active in marketing its activities, including networking sessions so as to increase brand awareness. SACNASP aimed to improve service offerings, including greater engagement with the private sector in order to assist the youth and unemployed scientists, and to have greater engagement with the education sector to establish where there were weaknesses in basic Science Education and develop mechanisms to assist. It would drive the Continuing Professional Development Programme and Candidate Mentoring Phase to all registered scientists and strongly align with the National Development Plan 2030 vision and be responsive to government mandates.
The Chairperson thanked SACNASP for its presentation and urged the entity to continue the good work.
Dr A Lotriet (DA) was happy that the entity had touched on the whole issue of Maths and Science as the country needed all the help it could get to improve those subjects. However, were there any tabs kept on students who had been funded and what they were doing as scientists? Since they were required to be registered with SACNASP as scientists, a collaboration with the Department of Higher Education could help the country to track down scientists and to know what they were doing.
Ms C King (DA) referred the presentation in which SACNASP had mentioned that it would want to have about 25 000 scientists registered by 2022. Was 2 507 the total number of scientists currently registered? If so, it would take a quantum leap to register 25 000 scientists by 2022.
The Chairperson welcomed SACNASP’s engagements with higher institutions in the country and its engagements with final year students. Besides subscription and registration fees, where else did its funding come from?
In reply, Dr Rampersadh clarified that the 2 507 scientists mentioned was an annual registration target and the organisation had 10 470 registered scientists in South Africa at the end of reported financial year. The aspiration was to register a total 25 000 by 2022. Apart from mentoring teachers, the crux of the matter was that SACNASP wanted to ensure that scientists in South Africa had the basic skills needed when they went into the industry. Skills such as legal, ethics, communication, business and financial skills were important. A very key concern for the organisation was the improvement in Maths and Science in schools. The good thing, discovered during the organisation’s interactions during Science Week and the Expo in the provinces, was that not only teachers, students and pupils, but even parents, were asking more questions. The Education curriculum needed to be developed around that. The organisation was involved in the Schools Expo as judges and, as such, helped to motivate and grow an interest in the Sciences in schools. Gauteng Expo Organisation had asked SACNASP a few weeks ago to assess how they could collaborate. That was a good thing, although other mechanisms beyond that would have to be found. On what had happened to students who had been funded, that would have to be investigated and presented to the Committee the next time the organisation was in Parliament. According to an article recently published, not all Science graduates entered into Science professions. In fact, about 40% of Science graduates moved into the financial sector. With regards to funding, the funding mechanisms within the organisation was the registration and application fees and evaluations paid by the applicants. SACNASP received a grant of R12.6m from the Department of Science and Technology for specific projects but not for operational costs. SACNSAP’s partnerships with universities ensured that when those institutions submitted their Science programmes for accreditation, they always asked SACNASP for input, endorsement and guidance.
The Chairperson thanked SACNSAP for continuously striving to excel and hoped that they would meet the targets set.
Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Annual report
Prof Roseanne Diab, Executive Officer, ASSAf, presented the organisation’s Annual Report and Financial Statement for 2016/17. ASSAf was the official National Science Academy of South Africa, established by an Act of Parliament (No 67 of 2001), as amended, and represented South Africa in the international community of Science Academies. ASSAf was part of a network of over 130 global Science Academies known as the Inter Academy Partnership (IAP) and was also a member of the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC).
ASSAf had received an unqualified audit for 2016/17 financial year. The entity was not required to prepare a report on its performance against predetermined objectives as it did not fall within the ambit of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and such reporting was also not required in terms of the entity’s specific legislation. In accordance with the Public Audit Act (PAA) and the General Notice issued in terms thereof ASSAf had a responsibility to report material findings on the compliance of the entity with specific matters in key legislation. It performed procedures to identify findings, but not to gather evidence to express assurance.
The material findings in respect of the compliance criteria for the applicable subject matters were that ASSAf did not fully comply with section 2(2) of the ASSAf Act which required that the Academy had to comply with the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act, 1999 (No 1 of 1999); oversight responsibility with respect to the finalisation of the status of ASSAf in order to determine the framework for the review and monitoring of compliance with legislation was not completed.
ASSAf’s liaisons were:
- Increase and diversify membership
- Recognise and reward excellence in Science and promote scholarly activity
- Collaborate and strengthen African Science Academies
- Increase participation of young Scientists in Science-related activities
- Increase participation of women in Science-related activities and promote the application of a gender lens.
ASSAf’s strategic national partners included organisations in the National System of Innovation (NSI), particularly Science Councils and industry. ASSAf was the secretariat for the Committee of Heads of Organisations of Research and Technology (COHORT) and had a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI). Engagement with Parliament was a focus of activity; primarily to ensure that ASSAf’s many and varied study outputs were brought to the attention of the country’s policymakers.
The goal of ASSAf’s Science Engagement Strategy was to develop a relationship between Science and society, and thus create ‘a scientifically-engaged South Africa’ through providing high‐level science-based scholarly advisory reports to the government (including Parliament), through fostering relationships with Science organisations, non-government organisations (NGOs) and industry groups, as well as stimulating community thinking on the big national challenges. ASSAf was also increasing public scholarly input into scientific research and policy agendas through ASSAf awards, scholarly lectures, workshops and conferences.
The Chairperson appreciated the presentation and asked about the impact and outcomes of the Mathematical Science workshop organised by the organisation. The question could be answered later when they came back to the Committee if they did not have the answers with them.
Ms C King (DA) thanked ASSAf for the presentation and commended them for the clean audit. The concern was on the financials. There was no record of how much irregular expenditure was in the books, if any. There were debtors to the entity. How long did it take the organisation to recover its debts and for debtors to pay? There seemed to be no debt recovery plans in place.
Dr A Lotriet wanted to know to what extent ASSAf’s status of not adhering to the PFMA in compliance to Section 2(2) of the Act, had affected the organisation’s audit outcomes.
The Chairperson asked if ASSAf had any intention of discussing an Amendment to the ASSAf Act so that it could comply with the PFMA Act. As things stood, there were contradictions to be noted on the Act in relation to ASSAf because the Performance Information stated that the entity was not required to prepare Performance Reports on predetermined objectives as it did not fall within the ambit of the PFMA Act and such reporting was also not required in terms of the entity’s specific legislation. It further stated that the entity did not fully comply with Sec 2(2) as required in the ASSAf Act. Surely that meant it must comply with the PFMA?
Prof Diab, in reply, stated that in terms of the PFMA Act, there was a contradiction because ASSAf was not a listed entity and that contraction was in the process of being resolved. Meanwhile, ASSAf was being audited as if it had to comply, but it did not report on the Performance Audit. Not complying fully with PFMA would not affect ASSAf’s governance regulations. It was also difficult to fully comply when an organisation had a very small budget. On the question regarding irregular expenditure and the disclosure thereof, that also had to do with ASSAf’s status. As stated in the Annual Report, until clarity was obtained on ASSAf’s legal status, it was not obliged to disclose information relating to irregular incurred expenditure. Irregular expenditure had been incurred but, as the Committee was aware, that could be the case where three quotations had not been obtained etc. In terms of a figure, irregular expenditure was below R1m. That irregular expenditure was mainly in relation to an IT provider who was non-compliant with the Central Supplier Database directory. Efforts were being made to eliminate that kind of situation. Most of the debtors related to membership fees. All efforts were being made to collect the fees, but most members did simply not want to pay, even though the fee was only R200 per annum. Even the Director General was a member of the Academy and had not paid membership fees.
The Chairperson thanked all present and the meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.