CSIR Annual Report: briefing

Arts and Culture

19 August 2003
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

19 August 2003

Chairperson :

Ms Njobe (ANC)

Documents handed out

CSIR Annual Report
CSIR Technology Report
CSIR Presentation (56 MB)
TechnoBrief April/May 2003

After the CSIR presented their annual report, questions were asked about its contribution to research that promotes the informal sector of the economy, its efforts to enlarge the pool of qualified scientists and researchers and whether the San had benefited yet from their indigenous knowledge regarding the miracle anti-fat drug.

The CSIR presented its Annual Report at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The Institute was represented by Dr Sibisi (CEO), Mr Jordaan (Finance Director) and Ms Eboko (Labour and Communications Officer). The Annual Report looked at the various aspects of the work within the CSIR - its technological achievements and research such as in information and communications technology and manufacturing. Also reviewed was its contribution to the national economy, and relations with international and local agencies (see document).

Prof. Turok (ANC) began the round of questions by stating that the CSIR belonged within a stable of institutions including the Development Bank and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). He noted that the CSIR raised money through contracts and accordingly wished to know if there was a blurring of lines between these institutions. He congratulated the CSIR on improving their funding situation.

Prof. Turok also noted that SA has a dual economy and that science and technology played a part in the advancement of such economy. He asked what was being done for the informal sector - apart from infrastructure - and to what extent the CSIR gave attention to the "second side of the dual economy", which he maintained the country largely relies on.

Mr. Sello Dithebe (ANC Arts & Culture Committee) expressed concern over the declining state budgetary allocation to CSIR, given the significance of the body. Did the CSIR intend to ask Parliament to assist it in ensuring that grants did not decline He was also concerned at the great number of good scientists CSIR loses to other institutions. He asked what the entity had done for poverty eradication, unemployment, community development and inequity.

Mr Lowe (DA) congratulated CSIR for establishing a Crime Prevention Centre. He referred to pages 37 and 38 of the CSIR Annual Report, especially in respect of SMME development and crime prevention. The question posed was in what context the CSIR was involved in these areas and what added value was being made by the CSIR.

Mr Lowe referred to page 64 of the Annual Report on the issues surrounding medical benefits. Mr Lowe noted the sharp monetary increases from R190 million to set up the scheme, only for the amount to be altered the following year. Mr Lowe queried whether or not this was correct.

Prof. Mohamed (ANC) echoed Mr. Dithebe's remarks saying that South Africa needs to keep pace with other countries in terms of budgetary allocations to science. He noted the declining state resources to science and technology. Government was not doing enough for research and development - he believed that there needed to be a greater governmental grant.

Prof. Mohamed noted that the Annual Report mentioned that the CSIR was losing highly-skilled people, however, this was inevitable because of the limited national grants given to students to study in this field. He gave the example of when he was younger he had only been able to get R500 for research he wanted to undertake with Wits University. The R500 did not enable him to carry out the research. A US based science organization came to his rescue with a grant of R100 000 to carry out the research.

Chief Executive Officer of CSIR, Dr S. Sibiso, was encouraged by the call for greater budgetary allocation to his organization. He said this would enable the entity to realize its "mandate more effectively".

Regarding the entity's contribution to the economy, Dr. Sibiso said a definition on what constitutes "a contribution to the economy" would have to be agreed upon before he could fully answer the question. The CSIR was not a service provider such as Eskom, rather the CSIR was in the business of developing technologies and saw itself as a partner with those with the expertise to roll out the technology as developed by the CSIR. He cited the supply of CSIR staff to entrepreneurs entering the manufacturing sector, and the provision of space for such businesses as one area his entity has been actively involved. The CEO pointed out that while community-manufacturing establishments can operate autonomously, they need technical advice.

On issues of unemployment, Dr. Sibiso, said the entity was not a development agency, but rather helped improve people's lives. He explained CSIR was in the business of building technologies and would like to partner with people who have expertise. The CSIR was not in the business of setting up SSMEs but rather the CSIR was in the position to provide the technological basis. The CSIR did not have a mandate to set up SSMEs, but rather the CSIR saw its role as one of partnership. An example was in the manufacturing sector CSIR provided support in the form of setting up facilities of a manufacturing nature which communities could then operate autonomously.

Briefly explaining the importance of CSIR's Crime Prevention Center, Dr. Sibiso stated that the CSIR considered peace and security very seriously and in this regard, acted in partnership with, for example, the Department of Defence. The CSIR saw its function as that of making a difference to safety and security procedures. The example cited by Dr Sibisi was that of using geographic information systems - that is, satellite images which monitor the frequency of crimes in a particular area. Here, one is able to look at the concentration of such activities and the patterns and thereafter deploy police services in an intelligent manner by using advanced technology to respond to this particular need.

A further example given by Dr Sibisi was the real time use of infrared to monitor fires and in so doing this could act as an early warning system. The same system could also be used in the early warning of possible flooding in particularly sensitive and vulnerable areas.

He further noted that it was difficult to find good scientists to serve as mentors for juniors. A female member lamented CSIR's reluctance to support a project proposal to manufacture vehicle accessories, apparently saying its too technical for the country. She asked whether there was a synthesized program that can ensure such a project in future.

The CSIR Financial Director, Mr Jordaan, responded to the issue of the medical aid by stating that this was a liability on the books and noted that there were two external changes in this regard - namely, the Office of the Registrar of Medical Aids had instituted guidelines as to the funding liability carried in the particular medical aid and that this must be brought back to the annual reporting. The second external change related to AC116 which stated that future liability must be shown on the income statement as a non-cash item and not new money. This, according to Mr Jordaan, did dent the income statement from henceforth. He pointed out that this was the first time that the amount had been brought to book. If the gap narrowed then there would be a profit, however, if the gap were to widen then this would carry a cost. The hope was that this gap would narrow over the next ten years.

Ms Eboko, Human Resources and Communication Manager, responded to the issues raised relating to poverty and unemployment by stating that in terms of the annual report there was a certain requirement and format which had to be adhered to. She drew the members' attention to the Technology Impact Report which addressed such areas of relevance and impact to that of work, information, communication and aerospace technology. The report pointed out the focus and impact of rural communities in different sciences - for example, food safety and affordable safe drinking water. The Technology Report was more exciting than the Annual Report and the mandate under which the CSIR operated was that such work be done in partnership.

Ms Eboko also touched on the issue of mentors and those in the profile with high skills and experience. It was noted that it was difficult to find good scientists to serve as mentors for juniors. She noted that this number was minimal. There seemed to be a large number of skilled people with the required resources that leave the country and that skills and resources should not be limited to looking within the CSIR but also to other institutions that could provide suitable mentors and alleviate the problem of insufficient mentors and skilled people.

Mr Ngcobo (ANC) asked about the strategy used by the CSIR in recruiting those with sufficient research skills and whether or not such recruitment included historically disadvantaged persons - and if in fact such persons fell within the category of research.

A further question by Mr Ngcobo was whether or not the CSIR also included poverty alleviation in its strategy.

Dr Sibisi stated that there is limited money with which to perform all its tasks and accordingly the CSIR must limit itself in its activities. Dr Sibisi went on to point out that there was no such thing as poverty alleviation technology, but there was rather an interplay of the various sciences - for example, the preservation of food as also a whole host of other activities which make a difference to poverty alleviation. Another issue was clean water to the community which would be a failure if there is no connection with CSIR technology and those that facilitate the provision of clean water. Thus, if technology were developed for clean water then such technology must be partnered with those that are able to facilitate the 'movement' of such water to the required areas.

Another member asked if the CSIR had any partnership with other institutions. A further question posed related to the San indigenous knowledge regarding the anti-fat drug [Hoodia] - had the San benefited from this drug as yet?

In response to the question of partnership, Dr Sibisi stated that the CSIR was involved with the design of schools for education and then after hours, the same schools were used by the community for multipurpose requirements and development of skills. A further partnership included the Department of Education together with advanced work with various universities and people with skills in order to stimulate indigenous industry.

As far as the benefit to the San people, the agreement, according to Dr Sibisi, had not as yet been signed. No money had been received from any royalties as no sales had been made because the product had not as yet been marketed. Royalties would be paid to the San when sales of P57 commenced.

A committee member lamented CSIR's reluctance to support a project proposal to manufacture vehicle accessories. The SA patent had to be registered with the EU for the manufacture of prototype machinery for vehicles - as the CSIR had advised that the particular prototype was too technical and that machinery in SA was not of a sufficient standard. The question raised from the example was whether or not SA had the mechanical and synthesised programmes to link with other institutions that deal with engineering innovations.

The panel responded that the problem was the limited number of people and infrastructure and that it would be wrong to say that the CSIR could answer any scientific question as far as the innovation of technology was concerned. With regard to the mechanical prototype, SA may not have the correct machinery to test the particular prototype, plus there may be insufficient computer power to carry out such testing. An appropriate partnership could be made with a relevant international motor company.

Ms Njobe (ANC) referred to junior and senior researchers and asked if it was possible to reach their targeted number of recruits. Ms Njobe went on to ask if the problem did not also lie with the Department of Education. She also asked if the particular technology reached the people it was intended to meet.

Ms Njobe also alluded to the anti-fat drug and enquired as to when it would be in the market as she was certain to also try its wondrous properties.

Another member enquired about the transformation in the admission numbers of black researchers and noted that those researchers at the high-end of the table did not include sufficient black researchers. The similar trend in female researchers was also noted.

Dr Sibisi acknowledged that there were transformation problems and challenges which were considered to be major issues. This problem could be dealt with in tandem with the mentoring issue. The point as well-taken and something that must be considered by the CSIR. He at the same time admitted omission of the disabled on the part of his entity, stressing the importance of interaction with parliamentary committees, which raise areas omitted by the them. He assured them that the matter would be looked into, hinting that they would look at possibilities of employing disabled people in future. Meanwhile, the organization was working towards making its premises more accessible to people with disabilities.

Ms Eboko went on to elaborate on recruitment issues by stating that the CSIR was working with other recruitment networks. She acknowledged that a scientific career is not considered 'sexy' enough and many scientists move into other areas or companies, usually multinational companies. The CSIR had linked with other universities in research areas as well as mentoring programmes. She noted that the CSIR had an internship programme where a researcher worked for one year within the CSIR. The programme was limited to 120 researchers which included bursary schemes.

Ms Eboko pointed out that as far as catering for people with disabilities, an analysis of CSIR infrastructure was being attended to and required additional work.

Regarding bead work, Ms. Eboko said her entity had done a number of feasibility studies around craft activity, and hopes to get a program around this area going.

The meeting was adjourned.



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