Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill [B42-2018]: DST briefing

Science and Technology

20 February 2019
Chairperson: Ms L Maseko (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Department for a briefing on the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill.

The new Bill seeks to harmonise the processes for termination of the membership of Boards of entities established by the principal Acts, clarifying the requirements for the disqualification from membership of Boards or Councils and to provide for the appointment of external persons to committees of Boards or Councils amongst other objectives. Some of the proposed amendments include sections 10 of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Act, 9 of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Act, 10 of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Act, 11 of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Act and 14 of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Act.

The amendments will address the disclosure of conflict of interest by Board members. A provision for all Board members to disclose any conflict of interest upon appointment by the minister will be inserted.

Members asked whether the Department received any negative comments from stakeholders involved, and since only two parties commented, could the Department base everything on only two comments. There was brief discussion about when the Committee will be able to finalise the bill.

Meeting report

Briefing by Department of Science and Technology (DST)

Ms Nombuyiselo Mokoena, DDG: Corporate Services, DST, took the Committee through a presentation on amendments to the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill. The Department recognises the need to harmonise the provisions which regulate the operations of the public entities that report to the Minister. There had been inconsistent and uncoordinated management of public entities reporting to the Minister and there are different requirements that regulate the operations of these entities.

The Bill seeks to harmonise the processes for termination of the membership of Boards of entities established by the principal Acts, clarifying the requirements for the disqualification from membership of Boards or Councils and to provide for the appointment of external persons to committees of Boards or Councils. The objects of the Act are not limited to these.

Some of the proposed amendments include the following sections: 10 of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Act, 9 of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) Act, 10 of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Act, 11 of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) Act and 14 of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) Act. The amendments will address the challenge of the Department not being aware of appointments of CEOs of entities and would make provision for consultation of the Minister during the appointment of CEOs. Additionally, sections 11 of CSIR Act, 6 of ASSAf Act, 7 of HSRC Act, 10 of TIA Act and 12 of SANSA Act will be amended. The amendments will address the disclosure of conflict of interest by Board members. A provision for all members to disclose any conflict of interest upon appointment by the Minister will be inserted.

All affected stakeholders were consulted individually, and the Office of the Chief State Law advisor also certified the Bill as constitutionally compliant.

The Bill was published in the Government Gazette for public comment in November 2017 and the DST also published the Bill on its website for interested parties to comment. On closing for comments, submissions from two organisations were received; namely, the Western Cape Provincial Government and the Technology Innovation Agency. The comments were reviewed, and responses were given to both in writing.

Discussions

Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) said that the amendments are positive because government must always be aware of changes in the departments and the assertion of the provision for members to disclose conflict of interest upon appointment is to be commended. She further asked whether the Department received any negative comments from the stakeholders involved. Also, since only two parties commented, could the Department base everything on only two comments?

Dr A Lotriet (DA) asked whether it would be possible for the Committee to access the two submissions that were made.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) said that the amendments to the Bill must be finished by Wednesday because there is no time. He asked the Department to tell the Committee what the submissions are and whether they are positive or not.

Ms Mokoena responded that the Department had already gone through all the comments and people had already engaged with the Department prior. The submissions were already forwarded to the Committee.

Ms Nomonde January, Head Legal Officer, DST, responded that entities already disclosed conflict of interest; it was just a matter of codifying that practice. One of the entities made a comment but the problem is that it made reference to the 2014 instead of reading it in conjunction with the new Bill. The Western Cape Government commented on a deleted section of being fit and proper. The Department contends that it is the jurisdiction of a court of law to determine whether someone is fit and proper, not just public opinion.

Mr Lihle Hlophe, Senior Legal Officer, DST, added that the Western Cape Government submitted that anyone with a criminal record must be disqualified. However the Department contends that that this must precede a period of ten years.

The Chairperson asked whether the Department will have received a response from National Treasury by next Wednesday.

Mr Hlophe responded that he could not be certain of that.

The Chairperson thanked the Department and handed over to the secretary of the Committee.

Ms Shanaaz Isaacs, Committee Secretary, stated that there had been a discussion with the NA Table and they were of the view that there should not be any new Bills coming in. Since the process had already started they asked if the Bill will be finished by 6  March. The NCOP may not be able to see it but if it is finished late the new Parliament could revive it. The Committee should have a meeting next week to see if it could be finished by 6 March.

Mr Koornhof asked whether the Bill will be allowed for debate if it finished by 6 March and whether it was possible to get a mandate from caucuses.

The Chairperson responded that it will be debated on 13 March if it is completed by 6 March.

The Chairperson thanked the Members and meeting was adjourned.

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