Committee Legacy Report

Science and Technology

13 March 2019
Chairperson: Ms L Maseko (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson took the Committee through the Legacy Report, highlighting issues pertaining the Department’s key focus areas, critical issues pertaining to the science, technology and innovation sector, the Committee’s oversight visits and its engagement with entities, despite time restrictions.

She also addressed the implementation of the new Science, Technoogy and Innovation (STI) White Paper, and informed Members that the STI ten-year plan indicated a recommendation for better coordination and governance of the of the National System of Innovation (NSI).

Member expressed great concern over the finalisation of the Science and Technology Amendment Bill. They wanted feedback on the processing on the Bill, and also wanted know who was responsible for pushing this matter forward. Members were told that although feedback on the Bill was included in the Report, the matter would be pushed into the 6th Parliament as they were unable to finalise it during the 5th Parliament due to the influx of Bills that were currently being processed by Parliament.

Members said they were also disappointed at the lack of attendance at science and technology oriented conferences. The Chairperson said there were various reasons why very few Members attended these conferences, the main one being that they were either never informed, or simply not invited. She gave an assurance that this matter would be added as a recommendation for the new Committee.

On the issue of oversight visits, Members conceded that they often did not quite understand what happened during these visits owing to their lack of specific scientic knowledge. The Committee Secretary suggested that most of the vists were based on financial constraints, and therefore Members should suggest ways of dealing with this issue. The Chairperson also proposed that there should be academic courses in which Members could enrol in order to broaden and enhance their knowledge of science and technology.

Meeting report

The Chairperson informed the Members that the Legacy Report had been incorrectly printed, particularly the 2018 section of the report. The Committee Secretary, Shanaaz Isaacs, would redistribute the edited and corrected document.

She highlighted that the first three pages were a summary of what the Committee had done as the executive team, which was taken from the key focus areas during the 5th Parliament. The initial briefing of the Committee had focused on the mandate and the work programme of the Department of Science and Technology, as well as the entities that reported to the Department. This particular briefing had allowed the Committee to identify critical issues pertaining to the Science and Technology and Innovation sector. These critical issues informed the development of the Committee’s strategic plan, and also informed the Committee’s term programme.

She said that the Committee had achieved its objectives. However, it would have preferred to have had further engagements with the entities that reported to the Department, as well as conducted more oversight visits. She suggested that if the Parliamentary programme had granted the space and time for these issues to be undertaken, the Committee would not have been affected by these issues. She asked the Members to include these issues under the recommendations section. She emphasised that if the Department was merged with any other department, there needed to be a special focus on science and technology. Furthermore, the approach of the Committee should be different from others, as it was a technical committee. She also pointed out that it still did not have a researcher.  

Also, the issues on oversight were different from those of other departments such as Education, Police, etc. Therefore, in order for people to understand these issues, they needed to physically visit the oversight facilities.

The Chairperson said there had been an issue about the Committee’s focus areas during the 5th Parliament, and asked the Members if there was anything that needed to be added to that point. The Committee had been able to ensure that the Department did not work in a ‘silo,’ although the Committee did not have much time in beginning. However, if given more time, there would have been more focus on having more joint committees, as well as having greater engagement with entities. That said, the Committee had been able to ensure that the Department was not working in a silo when it dealt with the the Indigenous Knowledge (IK) Bill and the National Research Foundation (NRF) Bill on integration and working with other departments.

On the issue of harmonisation, she was not quite sure where the Committee should fit it in. Did Members have anything to add on the key focus areas of the Committee in Parliament? Thereafter she addressed the item on key areas for future work. Regarding the implementation of the new Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) White Paper, she said the STI ten-year plan revealed a recommendation to have better coordination and governance of the National System of Innovation (NSI).

Discussion

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) argued that the recommendations were the important part of the report. He asked that by looking at future key areas for future work, where they could suggest that the Department needed to finalise the Science and Technology Amendment Bill. He wanted to know who was to take this matter forward and where this matter would fall under in terms of the recommendations.

In response to Mr Koornhof’s question, Ms Isaacs informed the Members that there was an area in the report that specifically dealt with the legislation where the Department had finalised the process, and that there was a bit of feedback on that which could be found on page 12 dealing with challenges emerging. On this page, she highlighted all the Bills that were listed and the issues to follow up. 

Mr Koornhof furthered his argument by insisting that the feedback on the legislation should be clearly stated and should be placed under the recommendations or under the emerging challenges section.

Ms A Lotriet (DA) said that she was in agreement with Mr Koornhof, and said that the Committee had specifically stated that in the 5th Parliament that they would be able to take this legislation forward.

Mr M Kekana (ANC) expressed uncertainty on whether the additional issues that had been brought up could be recommended or taken as key areas for future work. Essentially, his main concern was whether these issues would fall under recommendations of key areas for future work. He referred to the situation where the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) and others had looted the money in the Department, and had only been suspended. Due to this incident, the Department had been unable to find a way forward. The Committee had requested information on all the companies that were involved in this incident, but had been waiting for this information since 2016. Therefore, he asked where they could possibly get this information.

Ms Isaacs suggested that the question Mr Kekana had brought up stemmed from questions that were being asked during certain briefings, where Members were promised that they would receive feedback on the issues that they had brought up, but had never received.  She ttherefore suggested that they use this as an example or simply phrase it in such a way to suggest that there were outstanding issues that needed to be responded to accordingly. Essentially, she suggested that there needed to befollow-ups on outstanding issues on both the Department’s side and the Committee’s.

Ms A Tuck (ANC) said she was in agreement with Mr Kekana’s argument. She also insisted that these issues be passed over to the new Committee, so that everyone could be aware of these challenges.

Mr Koornhof mentioned that he wanted to add two points to the recommendations. His first point was that the Committee should actively canvas to speed up the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spending ion science and technology, so that they could try to reach 1.5% in the coming years. His second point was that Members should suggest to the new Committee that they should encourage having greater attendance at science and technology oriented conferences in South Africa. He argued that it was not good for Parliament to be so isolated due to the lack of attendance at these conferences.

Ms Isaac responded to Mr Koornhof’s points by stating that she would thoroughly go through the recommendations he made.

Ms T Motshidi (DA) added to Mr Koornhof’s two points by saying that as a Member of the Committee, there were certain things she had found out through the media, so she suggested that there should be some sort of synergy through the participation of the Committee Members. Furthermore, she reiterated and emphasized the point Mr Koornhof had made on attendance at science and technology oriented conferences. She contended that some Members had been unaware and uninformed that there was a science and technology conference recently. Therefore, the Department should ensure that all Members of the Portfolio Committee were well informed and taken on board with such activities.

The Chairperson added to Ms Motshidi’s point by suggesting that there were additional issues that resulted in the lack of attendance to these conferences. These issues were based on not receiving any invites pertaining to the conferences, or there would be a Portfolio Committee meeting scheduled on the very same day of these conferences.

Ms Isaacs referred back to the recommendations section in the report, where she pointed out all the visits that the Department had made. Essentially, the main issues pertaining to oversight activities were always on financial constraints, interactions with other departments, incubation periods and lastly taking products up to the market. She informed the Members that the first oversight visit they did had been to the Centre of High Computing in Pinelands, and that these were mostly one day visits. It was important to have the briefing on these oversight visits so that there could be an understanding of how these visits started out and so that people could get a better understanding of what the entities were about.

Apart from getting the Department to understand how these visits worked and how they fitted into the science and technology portfolio, the main thing that could be drawn from these visits was the issue of insufficient funding. She expressed concern as to how they could push this idea forward to the new Committee while also making them aware of the financial constraints that had been a challenge for a very long time. She therefore asked Members to think and suggest ways of putting this issue forward as one of the recommendations.

The Chairperson said she wanted Dr Rene Osborne, the Committee Content Advisor, to contribute to the discussion, based on her research, particularly the frustration or challenges that she may have encountered. She also asked the Committee if there were any other issues that needed to be discussed.

She said that in the beginning of the term, it had been good for the DA to bring in people who were already Members of this Committee, and were able to follow up. On the other hand, people from the ANC had been all new coming in to the Committee. Therefore, since they were new, they had had to rely on their reading skills and had to familiarise themselves with what the Committee was about. This type of Legacy Report was therefore very helpful for people who did not know much.

Once again, she said she really wanted Dr Osborne to share her frustrations and challenges as she had spent half of the term working without a researcher in the Committee, so she had had to do double the work.

Referring to page 5, under “methods of work of the Committee”, Ms Tuck made a suggestion that it was important to include other outstanding provinces in the next term in order to accelerate growth in all of these provinces.

The Chairperson said that Ms Tuck’s suggestion would be added as a recommendation.

Ms Motshidi said that she was not quite sure where she could place her train of thought. In her experience in local government, the Committee would not just come in only for a particular meeting, but would rather be coming in for Committee workshops dealing with different types of issues. Therefore, in addition to Ms Tuck’s point, having workshops would help the Committee with eliminating the Department’s distance between technical jargon and Members not being scientists. Essentially, half the time when scientists came to their meetings, they brought high-level reports that the Committee could not engage with. She was therefore uncertain of where and how they could schedule proper workshops that would assist Members who needed to be brought up to speed with what was happening on issues pertaining to oversight.

The Chairperson said she thought it would be best to have the workshops at the beginning of each term. Additionally, it would also be beneficial to maybe have a course or courses funded by Parliament where Members could be enrolled so they could sharpen and broaden their skills and knowledge of science and technology. It would be ideal for Members to come out with some sort of qualification, and therefore she suggested that that be added under the recommendations. She added that generally the report looked okay.

She informed Members that they should send their recommendations and suggestions that should be added, to the Department. She then suggested that the report be adopted, with the amendments.

The Chairperson said that during the previous week they had been informed that due to the number of Bills and matters before Parliament, it would be impossible to have their Amendment Bill pushed through, so it would be a recommendation for the 6th Parliament. The processing of the Bill was supposed to be done by Parliament in order for the Bill to be taken forward to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

On the issue of minutes, she informed the Committee that they would be circulated throughout the day so that Members could have a look at them.

Lastly, she thanked the Committee and all the staff members of the Department for all their hard work throughout the Parliamentary term. She said that the Committee was one of the most renowned Committees, as they were able to put the issues of the country and those of science and technology before their own personal issues. The Auditor General had also expressed feelings of gratitude towards the work done by the Committee. She asked Ms Isaacs to extend the Committee’s gratitude to the Parliamentary Legal Services, the Department, the Ministers and all the entities who had been cooperative, but that they should rather write a letter of gratitude to the Minister and the Director General (DG).

The Chairperson also mentioned that she had had an opportunity to meet with the chief executive officers (CEOs) and chairpersons of various entities both inside and outside of the Committee. They had expressed great frustration at the lack of resources. She argued that as a Committee, she knew that they had done their very best to recommend and request more funding. On that point, they were quite impressed with how they had dealt with issues pertaining the incubation of small businesses. Thereafter, these incubated small businesses should be given a market to display their products both locally and internationally.

Ms Lotriet spoke on behalf of her colleagues by thanking the Chairperson for granting each and every Member of the Committee the opportunity to participate fully in the Committee itself. She also thanked all the staff members for their interactions with the Committee. Lastly, she thanked the Chairperson for her guidance.

Mr Koornhof wished the Chairperson well on her future endeavours as a newly admitted Advocate, and thanked her for her work and efforts as the Chairperson of the Committee. He applauded her for obtaining her LLB while working as a Member of Parliament.

The Chairperson thanked the Committee Members for their comments. She again thanked all Members of the Committee and the Department, including the staff members and relevant entities that the Department worked with.

She informed the Committee that this would be their last meeting for the 5th Parliament.

The meeting was adjourned.

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