Department of Science and Technology Quarter 2 performance; with Minister

Science and Technology

14 February 2018
Chairperson: Ms Maseko (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on it Second Quarter Performance and Financial Report 2017/2018. The Department achieved 61% of its planned output targets. Underperformance was noted in Programme 3, which did not achieve 78% of its quarterly targets; Programme 2 (50%) and Programme 4 (44%).

Members asked when it came to international cooperation, what percentage of the Department’s initiatives were spent in SA Development Community countries; how many vacancies the Department had; what progress had been made with the implementation of action plans recommended to address the shortcomings identified by the Auditor General; what explanation was given by the National Research Foundation Chief Executive Officer for the cash holding in the SKA Holdings Project; why were bursaries not given to undergraduates; and if they did what criteria was used to select; if exhibitions were held because people in rural areas did not have access; how many disabled people were in the Department; if anything had been done to any underperformer and in terms of ‘not achieved’ and ‘achieved’, was there a plan to achieve what was not achieved.

The Committee was very keen to see the final product with regard to the Square Kilometre Array and enquired about dates for this venture.

Meeting report

Department of Science and Technology (DST) on its 2017/2018 2nd Quarter Performance and Financial Report
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General, DST, said during the period under review the total number of planned output targets were 36, of which 61% were achieved, and 39% were not achieved.

Programme performance in the second quarter
Programme 1 achieved 83%
Programme 2 achieved 50%
Programme 3 achieved 22%
Programme 4 achieved 56%
Programme 5 achieved 90%

Both the DST executive and the Minister noted the underperformance in Programme 3, which did not achieve 78% of its quarterly targets, Programme 2 (50%) and Programme 4 (44%).

On strategic action, the DDGs whose programmes have not met some of their quarterly targets were requested to identify challenges and develop improvement plans to ensure targets were met. The implementation of the performance improvement plans would be monitored and reported during the presentation of the third quarter report.

Addressing the non-availability of supporting evidence was the main reason for the poor performance reported. The DST through DG’s Office would continue to ensure the implementation of the approved roles and responsibilities document, including the declaration forms that were meant to hold the Chief Directors and Chief Directors –General who were accountable for the reported performance information.

The resolutions taken during the extended Exco (Executive Committee) of 15 December 2017 on performance management to improve data quality integrity would be diligently implemented.

Financial performance per Programme in terms of Actual expenditure
Programme 1 – R160, 644
Programme 2 – R486, 632
Programme 3 – R57, 066
Programme 4 – R1, 096,841
Programme 5 – R803, 333

Ms Pretty Makukule, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) said the above figure provided a breakdown of the second quarter expenditure per programme excluding parliamentary grants. The variance from the projected expenditure ranged between 27.4% and 87.3%.   (See full report attached)
Mr N Koornhof (ANC) asked, when it came to international cooperation, what percentage of DST’s initiatives was spent in SADC countries, and if from the Department’s point of view was it happy, could it do more to assist in SADC.

Dr Mjwara replied that he might not have the details at the level of investment but he did know that the DST had a bilateral agreement with for example Mozambique and Namibia. Swaziland last year had asked the DST for assistance in setting up a hub, but there was no exchange of resources with institutions in Swaziland. There was an arrangement with Lesotho and Ireland but it did not get enough support. With Botswana there was a vibrant cooperation because of the SKA and 10 students were coming as part of that. There was not much happening with Malawi. With Zimbabwe and Zambia there was just an on and off arrangement. Very little work was done with the DRC, there was a very vibrant programme with Angola but this had stopped because they started to run out of funds because of the increase in the oil price. Madagascar and Mauritius were participating heavily in the SKA programme. The DST also had about four flagship initiatives with Sun Bio. The DST would gather information about all the areas of bilateral arrangements it was involved in and send this to the Committee.

The DST had identified a number of initiatives it was doing with SADC partner countries. As part of the industrialisation strategy that SADC had embarked upon, it was a science and development innovation programme. Once this was finalised it would be presented to the Committee. The DST would also send bilateral arrangements and budgets to the Chairperson and at a later stage, once finalised, the SADC Industrialisation Strategy.

Dr Isayvani Naicker, Chief Director, International Resources, said the DST was involved in the Southern African Innovation Support instrument with the Finnish government across Africa where it built knowledge partners but also a funding partner where the DST was adding to a pool of money which was going to support regional initiatives looking at innovation that went towards initiatives around science and technology entrepreneurship with the objective to realise regional innovation cooperation and national innovation cooperation leading to inclusive business and development.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) asked how many vacancies the Department had because at the last presentation it had said there were 42 vacancies.

Dr Mjwara replied that to date there were 61 vacancies. The DST had stuck to the National Treasury directive not to fill posts when they became vacant. It tried to fill posts through contract positions

Ms Ndongeni asked what progress had been made with the implementation of action plans recommended to address the shortcoming identified by the Auditor General (AG) and what was the status of the key control concerning governance and performance

Mr Makhode said the DST would track the AG findings on a quarterly basis. Out of the 32 findings from the AG the DST had made a lot of progress. 30 of the findings had been dealt with. He ensured that Chief Directors and Directors in all programmes took responsibility for under-performance. On a quarterly basis they had to submit declaration forms which would state that the evidence that was uploaded on the system was verified.

Ms Ndongeni asked what explanation was given by the NRF CEO for the cash holding in the SKA Holdings Project.

Dr Mjwara said the NRF had been requested to give the DST the projections for the cash holdings for the project. The DST had received numbers but went back and asked further questions because it wanted to know in relation to the original project what had been achieved with the money that had originally been spent; and what the cash holdings that they still had were for. The DST was not happy with some of the explanations, but it was generally happy with what it got. It was hoping to get the revised set of inputs back within a month. At the heart of it, it was just the scheduling of the project and execution of it when one spent the money. That was really where the delay was.

Ms Makukule said that part of the cash holding was attributed to the delays in the acquisition of land.

Mr M Kekana (ANC) referred to Human Capital Development page 11; he asked why bursaries were not given to undergraduates; and if they did what was criteria used to select.

Dr Mjwara said the DST did not have bursaries for undergraduates because the Department of Higher Education provided this directly to the institutions. And therefore, it then looked at postgraduate students going forward. For postgraduates the DST only provided plus minus 10% and 90% was provided by the Ministry of Higher Education and Training. For some targeted areas the DST did provide bursaries like the SKA for example.

Mr Bheki Hadebe, Chief Director: DST said that it was not the mandate of the DST except perhaps in strategic areas in building the pipe line. The one symbolic project that the DST funded was for the top students in all provinces where they became part of the ceremony in Pretoria.

Mr Kekana said one of the entities had a serious case whereby CEO, CFO and Secretary of company were involved; wanted to know how far that case was and did the Department get the money back.

Dr Mjwara said in his recollection it was the previous CEO and CFO of the Technology Innovation Agency. He did not know how that matter was finalised.

Ms T Mfulo (ANC) asked if exhibitions were held, because people in rural areas did not have access.

Dr Mjwara replied that this varied. The DST held exhibitions in Parliament during the Budget Vote. It also held exhibitions during the National Science Week and for the Indigenous Knowledge System.

Mr Tommy Makhode, DDG said the DST did host a number of exhibitions throughout the country on an annual basis. There were permanent exhibitions at all science centres. There were about 36 science centres across the country. For rural areas there were mobile science centres. The science centres were linked to universities so post graduate and undergraduate students could be tapped into.

Ms Mfulo asked how many disabled people were in the Department

The DG said there were 12 disabled people in the Department. This translated to about 4% which was above the target. Five of the 12 were senior management staff.

The Chairperson asked if anything had been done to any underperformer.

Ms Mfulo asked in terms of ‘not achieved’ and ‘achieved’, was there a plan to achieve what was not achieved

Dr Mjwara responded that the Department met every year to track the targets. Where it was seen that things were slipping between the cracks the Department engaged with the DDGs in writing asking what their catch-up plans were. The DDGs and CDs were to take responsibility for this. This had been tracked for the second quarter and there was agreement. The Department did not have to do anything about this because the Department had always been a little over 85%.

The Chairperson asked about the bursaries being given; not those in the mainstream already but those who were struggling and had advanced on their own.

Dr Mjwara replied that the DST did provide bursaries for Honours students. It used its guidelines in terms of the percentage of women and blacks. In general, it had no firm answer. The NRF had to be engaged with because they did it and therefore had more detail. One had to see how to broaden the pool. The Department would think about it and come with a proper answer.

The Chairperson said the Committee wished to go and see the SKA final product, and asked about the dates.  

Dr Mjwara said the Department would work with the SKA office to see what be the best time would for the visit. All 64 dishes were up.

The Chairperson said that last week it was called to a Joint Portfolio Committee meeting looking at drought. This Department was one department which could research solutions for drought. In one of the exhibitions in Gallagher Estate a person came up with the idea of harvesting water from the rain. This seemed to be a good project that could be used further in RDP projects.

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