National Research Foundation Bill: public hearings

Science and Technology

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

The National Research Foundation briefed the Committee on its submissions and proposals to the National Research Foundation Amendment Bill [B23-2017]. The Committee had planned for and advertised for a two-day public hearing but only the National Research Foundation had responded with submissions and proposals. The time period for the public hearing had therefore been reduced to one day.

Members asked for a clear explanation about the link between human capital development and the extension and transfer of knowledge; clarity around the proposed deletion of Section 17, and the limiting of the number of committees that Board members could serve on.

 

Meeting report

The Chairperson said legislation was desirable to amend the National Research Foundation Act 1998 so as to delete and insert certain definitions, provide for the Minister to determine national policies, and issue policy guidelines for implementation to extend the function, powers and duties of the foundation, empower the Minister to make regulations to determination of national research facilities, provide for the withdrawal determination to transfer of national research facility, empower the Minister to declare a research institution and its eligibility to receive funding, provide for the liquidation of the foundation, and to provide for matters incidental thereto and that the Bill referred to the Committee be taken as a basis. This had been advertised but no interest had been received from the public. It had been advertised for a two-day public hearing, but given the lack of interest there would not be a meeting the following day. Hence today the National Research Foundation would be heard and the Legal Advisor and the State Law Advisor would be included in the discussion. Dr Molapo Qhobela, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was invited to take the Committee through the amendments.

National Research Foundation (NRF) on Submissions and Proposals to the National Research Foundation Amendment Bill [23-2017]

Dr Qhobela said the NRF welcomed the Bill, firstly because it was 20 years since the establishment of the Foundation and it was therefore opportune to reflect upon how it had been going for the last 20 years. The Bill was very enabling and provided an opportunity to think creatively within the boundaries of the principles given to do research. There were aspects of the Bill that would be clarified through implementation.

Some of the submissions & proposals in respect of the National Research Foundation Amendment Bill:

Paragraph 1

Wording of the Bill

e) by insertion after the definition of “Minister” of the following definition:

                        “’national research facility’ means an institution that provides unique

                        and substantial infrastructure, capabilities and services for competitive

                        research, innovation and human capital development in science,

                        engineering and technology, and has been determined as such

                        under section 5;”

the motivation was that the insertion of the comma between ‘infrastructure’ and ‘capabilities’ provided a more accurate reflection of the purpose and functions of national research facilities.

Paragraphs 1 and 26

Wording of Bill

All references to “human capital

The motivation was that the term ‘human capital’ in commercial business speak was associated with the notion of developing people as commercial assets. It was the view of the Foundation that ‘human capacity’ was more accurate and more aligned to the mandate of the NRF.

Paragraph 4

Wording of the Bill

Powers of the Minister to issue policy guidelines

  1. It was proposed that the heading to the section be revised to read:

            ‘Powers of the Minister to determine national policy’.

  1. In addition, it was proposed that subsection (2) be deleted.

The motivation was that the power to issue policy guidelines is inherent in the power of the Minister to determine policy in terms of subsection (1)

Paragraph 5(b)

Wording of the Bill

“(b) promote and support research;”

It was proposed that subsection (b) be revised to read as follows;

“(b) promote, support and advance research;”

The motivation was that the addition of ‘advance’ in the subsection enhances streamlines and affirms the current functions of the NRF.

Paragraphs 5(c), 5(i) & 5(j)

Wording of the Bill

Amendment of section 4 of Act 23 of 1998

(c) by the substitution in subsection (1) for paragraph (d) of the following paragraph:

“(d) allocate funds for research and promote multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary collaboration;”

  1. By the substitution in subsection (1) for paragraph (m) of the following

paragraph:

“(m) manage, support and monitor the operations of national research facilities;”

(j) by the insertion in subsection (1) after paragraph (m) of the following paragraphs:

“(mA) investigate and assess the need for new or additional national research facilities or the withdrawal of an existing national research facility, and make recommendations to the Minister;

“(mB) incubate qualifying facilities prior to its declaration as a national research facility;”

It was proposed that those subsections be deleted because they were operational activities which were inferred in the objects of the NRF Act.

With specific reference to (mA) and mB), it was submitted that those subsections belonged in the realm of regulations, which the Department was currently formulating in collaboration with the NRF.

Paragraph 5

Wording of the Bill

Amendment of section 4 of Act 23 of 1998

5. Section 4 of the principal Act is hereby amended –

(m) by the insertion in subsection (2) after paragraph (a) of the following paragraphs:

“(aA) coordinate relevant institutions, and targeted science advancement and outreach activities;”

“(aB) coordinate science engagement by –

  1. Supporting the involvement of targeted groups of the society in science engagement;
  2. Designing and implementing science engagement initiatives and activities; and
  3. Managing the Department supported science engagement programme;”

It was proposed that subsection (aB) in paragraph 5(I) of the Bill be deleted because the subsection was operational.

Paragraph 6

Wording of the Bill

Insertion of section 4A in Act 23 of 1998

6. The following section is hereby inserted in the National Research Foundation Act, 1998, after section 4:

“4A Exercise of powers of the Foundation outside the Republic-

  1. The Foundation may at the request….
  2. Subject to the provisions of subsection (3), the provisions of this Act shall, in so far as they can be applied, apply mutatis mutandis in connection with the exercising by the Foundation of its powers in terms of this section as if the territory in which it so exercises it powers were within the Republic.

It was proposed that the phrase “in so far as they can be applied” in subsection (2) be deleted because the phrase was superfluous if considered and read with the immediately following phrase (i.e. “apply with necessary changes”)

Paragraph 18

Wording of the Bill

Amendment of Section 17 of Act 23 of 1998

18. Section 17 of the principal Act was hereby amended-

  1. By the substitution in subsection (1) for paragraph (b) of the following paragraph:

“(b) money paid to the Foundation [by the users of] to be used for the national research facilities, [and of] their products [of national facilities] and services;”

It was proposed that this section be deleted because monies received by the national research facilities were covered under subsection (1)(d).

Some of the submissions and proposals in respect of the National Research Foundation Act

Section 1

Wording of the Act

division’ means a division of the Foundation established under section 12;

It was proposed that this definition be deleted because it was an operational organisational matter that ought to reside under the authority of the Board and Management, and not legislated. If the NRF proposal herein was accepted, section 12 of the Act (which was Paragraph 15 of the Bill) would also need to be deleted.

Sections 3(a) and 4(2)(a)(iii)

Wording of the Act

All references to “human capital”.

It was proposed that the term ‘human capital’ be replaced throughout the Bill and the NRF Act with ‘human capacity’ because the term ‘human capital’ commercial businesses speak was associated with the notion of developing people as commercial assets. It was the view of the Foundation that ‘human capacity’ was more accurate and more aligned to the mandate of the NRF.

Section 4

Wording of the Act

4 Functions, powers and duties of the Foundation

  1. The functions of the Foundation are to –
  2.  Promote the development of appropriate human resources and research capacity in the areas of science and technology;

It was proposed that the subsection be revised to read as follows:

“(a) promote the development of appropriate human resources, research infrastructure, and research capacity in the areas of science and technology;”

It was submitted that the addition of ‘research infrastructure’ in the subsection enhanced, streamlined and affirmed the current functions of the NRF.

Sections 4(1)(e), 4(1)(h) & 4(1)(m)

Wording of the Act

“(e) promote and support research by the awarding of contracts, grants, scholarships or bursaries to persons or research institutions;”

“(h) review research proposals and results promoted by the Foundation;”

‘(m) manage, support and monitor the operation of national facilities;”

 It was proposed that these subsections were deleted because they were operational activities which were inferred in the objects of the NRF Act.

Section 6(6)(b)

Wording of the Act

6 Board of Foundation

(6) A member of the Board ceases to hold office if-

(7)        (a) he or she resigns by written notice to the Minister;

             (b) the Minister, after consultation with the board, terminates his or her period

             of due to misconduct, incapacity, incompetence, or any other reasonable

             ground;

It was recommended that the word “office” be inserted between ‘of’ and ‘due’ in subsection (6)(b) because this was a grammatical error which should be corrected.

Section 8

Wording of the Act

8 Committees of the Board

(5) A member of the Board may not serve on more than two committees at a time.

It was proposed that this subsection be deleted.

Section 9

Wording of the Act

9 Executive management committee

  1. The executive management committee of the Foundation must consist of-
  2. the chief executive officer, as chairperson;
  3. the heads of the divisions; and, if necessary,
  4. any other member of the staff of the Foundation appointed by the chief executive officer.

It was proposed that subsections (1)(b) be deleted, and subsections (1)(a) and (c) be revised to read:

  1. the chief executive officer, as chairperson; and
  2. any other member of the staff of the Foundation’.

The proposed revisions clarified the roles of both the CEO and the Board in terms of good governance and existing practice.

Discussion

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) referred to Paragraph 26 and asked the Foundation to link human capital development and the extension and transfer of knowledge.

Mr Qhobela replied that through the provision and promotion of research, both basic and applied and human capacity development in the various fields of science and technology, a clear link would be established between the two concepts.

Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked for more clarity around the proposed deletion of Section 17(b) which stated “money paid to the Foundation [by the users of] to be used for the national research facilities, [and of] their products [of national facilities] and services;”.

Mr Qhobela explained that monies received by the national research facilities were covered under subsection (1)(d). Otherwise any other funds were covered under subsection (1)(a).

Ms T Mfulo (ANC) asked why Board members could not serve on more than two committees at a time.

Mr Jacob Mahlangu, Head of Legal Services: NRF, replied that it was understood that with tight board membership board committees of entities such as the NRF would not be able to function and execute their mandates. Furthermore, these types of controls were best left to be dealt with in Board Charters, as opposed to being legislated.

The Chairperson thanked the NRF, the Department, the Legal Advisor and the State Law Advisor for their presence and contribution to the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

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