National Research Foundation Amendment Bill: briefing

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

14 November 2018
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC, Western Cape)
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Meeting Summary

The consideration and adoption of the Films and Publications Amendment Bill and the Indigenous Knowledge Bill did not take place because of a lack of a quorum.

The Committee heard a briefing from the National Research Foundation (NRF) on the National Research Foundation Amendment Bill [B23-2017]. The NRF said the amendment bill was the most significant amendment to date. The presentation focused on the timeline of the bill since its inception in 2014.  The NRF welcomed and supported the bill as the bill provided clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the organisation. It also welcomed the amended mandate of the NRF, the empowerment of the Minister to determine national policy and issue policy guidelines, the enablement of the NRF to operate outside of SA, and of the NRF’s new function to advise the Minister formally. The NRF also welcomed the revised object of the NRF.

Members asked who proposed the amendments to the bill, the delay in the bill coming before the Committee, the organisation’s eligibility to receive funding from outside SA and the additional functions given to the foundation.

The Committee was informed that because the bill is a s75 bill the Committee did not need mandates from the provinces. It could suggest amendments and write it up in its report on the bill. If this was agreed, then the bill would be referred back to the National Assembly committee.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said there would be no consideration and adoption of the Film and Publications Board (FPB) Amendment bill and the Indigenous Knowledge Bill because there was no quorum at the meeting.

Briefing on National Research Foundation (NRF) Amendment Bill
Dr Molapo Qhobela, CEO, NRF, said the NRF would be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. There had been two other amendments but the amendment bill is the most significant amendment.

Work on the bill started in 2014 and the first draft was presented in 2015. There was a draft Science and Technology Amendment bill published in 2016, and elements of that bill were incorporated into the NRF Amendment bill, which was finalised in August 2016. Cabinet approved the bill in July 2017. In May the National Assembly supported the bill and it was now before the Select Committee of the NCOP.

The NRF welcomed and supported the bill as it provided clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the organisation. It also welcomed the amended mandate of the NRF, the empowerment of the Minister to determine national policy and issue policy guidelines, the enablement of the NRF to operate outside of SA and of the NRF’s new function to advise the Minister formally.

The NRF also welcomed the revised object of the NRF which was to support national development by -
Supporting, promoting and advancing research and human capital development, through funding and the provision of necessary infrastructure, in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology, including humanities, social sciences and indigenous knowledge;
Developing, supporting and maintaining national research facilities;
Supporting and promoting public awareness of, and engagement with science; and
Promoting the development and maintenance of the national science system and supporting government priorities.

Section 3A provided powers for the Minister to determine national policies and issue policy guidelines and
The NRF had already identified two areas where national policies were needed.

The bill provided for the NRF to undertake research outside of South Africa. Fishing for example was an area where a research into the Agulhas current could be studied for the benefit of South Africa and neighbouring countries like Namibia and Angola. Another example where it could be beneficial was the Lesotho Water Highlands project which provided a significant amount of water to Gauteng.

The NRF welcomed advisory role to the Minister and if required to the Minister of Higher Education who was responsible for universities where a lot of research was done.

On governance, the NRF had a small board appointed by the Minister and there was an amendment to the board committee which would allow any other person with suitable skills and experience to be co-opted to the board as the board may consider necessary. This was because sometimes the board needed extra expertise.

Discussion
Mr J Parkies (Free State, ANC) asked who proposed the amendments to the bill: the Minister or the Deputy Minister. On the rationale of the bill, he asked for an explanation on adding to the mandate of the foundation in extending the functions, powers and duties of the NRF to include the determination, withdrawal or transfer of national research facilities.  He wanted clarification on the NRF’s eligibility to receive funding from outside SA and what was the role of the Minister regarding such funding. He wanted an explanation of  the introduction of new governance arrangements. He wanted an explanation of section 3A(1) “…determine national policies for  research and funding to be implemented by the NRF” and of what was meant by “ … undertake research in any territory outside of the Republic on behalf of any person …” 

Mr A Nyambi (Mpumalanga, ANC) said that in relation to the timeline of consultations mentioned in the presentation, why was the Committee only receiving the bill now in November when it had been at the National Assembly in May.

Dr Qhobela said the the National Assembly had its own processes, the speed of which could not be influenced by the Department.

The bill was introduced by the Minister.

On the rationale of the bill, to determine national policy and issue policy guidelines, he gave an example of the NRF which had suggested that one of the policies needed was the funding of post graduate students, in terms of financial need, completion of studies within a specified time, and gender equity.

On funding, he said the Minister would identify those entities that were eligible to receive funding. Section 7 gave the criteria allowing for the withdrawal of an institution’s right to receive funding.

The national research facilities were institutions the country had established to enable the entire research community to use at no cost to them. The identification of a national research facility lay with the Minister after consultation with the NRF. There was a clause which allowed for the growth of a facility through an incubation phase until it was able to do it at a national facility. The status of a national facility could also be withdrawn.

On undertaking research in any territory outside of the Republic on behalf of any person, he said this was within the authority of the Minister. The person being referred to, was a juristic person to ensure good accountability.

The Chairperson said the bill was straightforward and wanted to know what the process was going forward.

Dr Barbara Loots, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, said because the bill was a s75 bill the Committee did not need mandates from the provinces. It could suggest amendments and write it up in its report on the bill. If this was agreed, then the bill would be referred back to the National Assembly committee.

The Committee Secretary added that if the Committee was happy it could adopt the bill but there was no quorum present.

Mr Nyambi said a meeting had to be scheduled where it could be ensured there was a quorum

At this point the NRF were excused and the Committee held a closed session. Upon resumption the meeting ended.

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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