Technology Innovation Agency on challenges, innovation & SMME support: follow-up briefing

Higher Education, Science and Technology

10 March 2020
Chairperson: Mr Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology was briefed on the support provided by the Technology Innovation Agency to Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises, and grassroots innovators.

The Agency also addressed the geographic footprint of technology stations around the country, to delineate for the Committee the beneficiaries of support funds, and also two other issues which concerned (1) a “potential conflict of interest” concerning the Interim Chief Executive Officer, and also (2) the constitution of the Agency’s board and the appointment of a new Interim Chairperson thereto.

The presentation included, among other things, the composition of grassroots support packages, the sectors the Agency was focusing on and the racial breakdown of the various beneficiaries. It also touched on the number of applications received and also those which were rejected. The presentation concluded by giving an overview of two success stories.

The Chairperson for the Audit and Risk Committee of the Agency then responded to questions which had previously been received from the Portfolio Committee, which included queries regarding stakeholder dissatisfaction, turnaround-time for the funding of beneficiaries, and initiatives to mitigate stakeholder frustrations.

A breakdown was also given to the Committee regarding the staffing complement of the Agency, including by race and gender, but also persons with disabilities and the youth component within the organisaion.

The Chairperson of the Agency’s board then briefed the Committee on the recruitment process for vacant positions within the Agency, including for a new Chief Executive, the Chief Financial Officer position (filled in May 2019), and two key general manager positions.

The matter of baseline funding was also addressed by the Agency board Chairperson, in addition to legal matters concerning the Kapa investment, which caused the Agency to suffer, by their own calculations, an approximately $40 million loss.

Members posed questions concerning the age cohort of beneficiaries, the gender demographics, the response and potential challenges the Agency faced in the process of loan recuperation, and what kind of tangible outputs and national economic contributions the Agency was producing.

Members of the Committee also repeatedly raised a contentious issue regarding a “potential conflict of interest” concerning the Interim Chief Executive, who had conveyed to the board her interest in doing business with the Agency. The Chairperson and members felt that the question regarding this “conflict” was not adequately dealt with. The Agency responded by indicating that, because the hearing was public, they would put a detailed briefing in writing. Committee members pushed back saying that an elaborate response was not needed, and that the Agency should be upfront and give plain answers.

The issue of the appointment of three additional board members was also addressed, and which was pending Ministerial and Cabinet approval.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened by acknowledging apologies from the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology (who had another engagement in Pretoria), the Deputy Minister (who was attending a meeting at Northlink TVET College), and two members who were both attending other meetings.

He indicated that the Committee had been missing Mr P Keetse (EFF) for “some time”, and he had missed at least 3 meetings without apologies. The Chairperson did not know whether Mr Keetse was aware that rules adopted in the Fifth Parliament penalises absence without apology.

The Chairperson, after reminding the Committee about miscellaneous scheduling concerning various universities, acknowledged and welcomed the Director General in the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and invited the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA or “Agency”) to commence with their presentation.

Dr Phil Mjwara, DG, DSI,  said that his understanding was that there were three issues on which the Committee required a briefing: (1) the geographic footprint of the technology stations and the TIA’s support of SMMEs (including a breakdown of the recipients of the technology stations programme); (2) a breakdown of the support of recipients of the grassroots innovation programme, which the TIA hosts on behalf of DSI and (3) two specific issues which the Chairperson of the Committee had previously raised with the Interim Chairperson of the TIA board.  These two queries were (a) a set of “operational issues” and (b) an issue which related to the interim CEO.

Dr Stephen Lennon, Board Chairman, TIA, expressed his pleasure at being before the Committee and introduced his delegation and what they would each be presenting. He himself would take the Committee through the questions regarding vacancies within the TIA, the filling of the chief executive position, the matter of some efficiencies in the Agency, and the issue of the interim CEO.

Presentation on Support to SMMEs and Grassroots Innovators

Mr Patrick Krappie, Acting General Manager and Executive Manager of Strategic Engagements and Corporate Relations, TIA, advised that he would share with the Committee some information regarding the TIA’s support of SMMEs through their Technology Stations Programme, information regarding the Grassroots Innovation Programme, and operational issues which came up in the preceding meeting when the Agency presented their annual report.

Mr Krappie started with an illustration of the six programmes that the TIA hosts and manages. They include:

1. Technology Innovation Cluster: Collaborative RDI programmes that leverage the strengths of partners to develop a technology product or service
2. Technology Stations Programme: Enables universities to provide innovative SET solutions to SMMEs
3. Technology Platforms Programme: Facilitate access to key infrastructure and expertise for technology innovation
4. Youth Technology Innovation Programme: Promotes innovations by youth between ages of 18 and 35 with funding, mentorship and enterprise development
5. Innovation Skills Development: Strengthens the fundamental business skills required by “technopreneurs”
6. Global Cleantech Innovation Programme (UNIDO): A business acceleration programme for SMMEs in renewables, energy, waste and water

The main programme which would be addressed is the Technology Stations Programme, which is managed alongside the DSI since inception of the TIA. The second programme to be addressed is the Technology Platforms Programme. The difference between a “station” and a “platform” is that the latter concerns the bio-economy and bio-science-related innovation whilst the former concerns the engineering and industrial sector.

The Youth Technology Innovation Programme, which has been running for several years, has made an important impact on the youth.

The Innovation Skills Development is a programme which, when the TIA was founded, was meant to address the dearth of innovation culture in South Africa, notwithstanding the strong established systems. 

The Global Cleantech Innovation Programme, which is run with ten other countries, is a programme contracted with UNIDO. The programme ended in 2019, but given its success in the clean-tech sector, the TIA has decided to take it over and run the programme themselves.

Mr Krappie then presented the geographical locations of the TIA’s physical technology stations. These were intended to help SMME’s develop prototypes and improve their products. The slide illustrated the eleven universities of technology at which these stations were located, and which sectors they covered. The TIA is looking into ways to optimise the model in order to reach the underserved part of the country.

He then pointed to the sectors of the economy supported by the technology stations in the 2018/19 financial year. There were 18 technology stations in various sectors, including agro-processing, manufacturing and metal-fabrication, electronics, and green industries. The number of enterprises supported were 3 227 (Note: the slide showed 3 372, but this was due to an overstatement of the automative, manufacturing and metal-fabrication sector by 100; the error was pointed out to the Committee).

The services that the technology stations provide to beneficiaries involves mostly testing, analysis and simulations (total: 1 374) but also, and significantly, product and process improvements (804). Research and Development accounted for the least rendered service-type at 64. These services are provided to both SMMEs and individual entrepreneurs.

As regards the outputs and performance of the technology stations, the indicators show that, in the 2018/2019 financial year, people assisted in Short Learning Programmes, tailor-made demonstration and skills training accounted for 2 331, and that Product Design and Process Development accounted for 804. Technology assistance packages accounted for the least at 5. Technologies stations have been shown to assist even students who are still at university to acquire work experience and associated skills.

Mr Krappie then gave a breakdown of who the beneficiaries of the TIA support were. In 2018/2019, entrepreneurs without science, technology and engineering skills accounted for almost three-quarters of the support given; those with such skills accounted for approximately ten percent. This shows that those accessing the support do not necessarily come from a mathematical or technological background, but mostly “ordinary” SMMEs with “good ideas”. Moreover, among the recipients of support, females accounted for 1 481 recipients of support, “black and HDI” (which was undifferentiated by gender) accounted for 2 660 of recipients. Disabled persons totaled 55. 95% of all services rendered by the TIA originate in the technologies stations.

In relation to the Grassroots Innovation Programme, Mr Lennon had highlighted in a previous Committee briefing that the TIA was attempting to respond to challenges at the grassroots level in conjunction with the Department of Science and Innovation, which latter pioneered a programme for this purpose, called the Innovation for Inclusive Development Programme. Generally, this programme is intended to address issues of access to support. There are sixty such projects which fall under this programme.

The grassroots support package comprises not only grant funding of R260 000, but also idea development, support on the creation of business models, technical and business skills training and mentorship packages. R60 000 has been set aside as a travel cost allocation (for one year) for the grassroots innovators to address a shortcoming in the system which previously did not account for travel.

He then touched the thematic focus and racial breakdown of the TIA support. 76% of approved projects went to black African applicants, 18% to white applicants, 12% to Indian applicants and 3% to coloured applicants. As regards the thematic breakdown, a third went to the ICT sector, 13% to advance manufacturing, and 12% to health and natural resources, respectively.

TIA has a total of 64 projects which have been approved, 48 (approximately 75%) of which are to the “youth”; and for women 20 projects are being supported (31%). The age profile of the applicants are around 25-34, mostly graduates who have started work and subsequently have wanted pursue their own ideas.

As regards the gender breakdown, the data show that males are still dominating the received applications, particularly in the Gauteng (46%) and KZN (21%). TIA needs to increase its exposure and reach, and increase the number of applicants from other provinces and also increase female application.

The total number of applications received amounted to 447, of which 285 were rejected, 60 approved, 58 pending and 42 referred to other entities because their ideas do not fall within the mandate of the Agency.

Mr Krappie outlined two success stories resulting from the programme, which included an entrepreneur who developed a highly effective biopolymer and another who created a non-toxic reflective spray designed to make stray animals visible at night. The Road Accident Fund has purchased about 3 000 units of the reflective spray.

Responses to questions raised in preceding Committee meetings

Mr Krappie then addressed the question regarding TIA’s challenge of negative stakeholder sentiment. From 2018 to 2019, stakeholder satisfaction decreased by 0.6 basis points (from 5.7 to 5.1)—the norm is usually around 7 points. However, certain innovators have reported increased satisfaction. The areas of concern relate to delays, slow turnaround-time, lack of detailed communication and a frustrating application process.

With regard to the challenge of turnaround-time, it was practice to go through a two-stage process, which has now been reduced to only one stage; there has been a standardisation of legal agreements; the credit approval process is being restructured; and a pre-investment unit has been establish to assist entrepreneurs with their application submission to mitigate delays.

There are a number of other initiatives to mitigate stakeholder frustrations. The Interim CEO (and senior management) have been traveling around the country to engage with stakeholders. An IT-based customer liaison management system has been established and rolled out. A complaints log system has been introduced, which are captured, monitored and reported on monthly. These initiatives have resulted in a decrease in complaints from 1 155 in June 2019 to just 5 in January 2020.

On the HR employment equity question within the Agency: a question was previously raised regarding the racial breakdown at the TIA. African females constituted 62 employees within the organisation, 13 Indian females, 12 white females and 8 coloured females. There were 35 African males, 12 white males, 6 Indian males, 4 coloured males and 4 foreign national males.

There were 8 people with disabilities in TIA as at 31 March 2019, which accounted for 5.1% of the staff complement; the target was 3%. These include professional and skilled staff, and also senior and top management.

In relation to the youth staff complement, 40 staff members were between the ages of 20 and 35 (25%) as at 31 March 2019. The TIA also provides opportunities for the youth through internship programmes.

Recruitment: Filling of Vacant Positions

Dr Lennon advised that, on the question of filling the vacant positions and as indicated in a previous Committee meeting, the Agency had been prioritising and fast-tracking the recruitment of a new chief executive officer. The Agency was pleased with the number and quality of applications they received. It has identified a suitable candidate and the process is in its final stages; the Agency is waiting on Ministerial approval, and a final announcement regarding an appointment is expected in the “very near future”.

He informed the Committee that the former Acting CFO had resigned to pursue a career in New Zealand, but another official, who had previously been in the CFO position, and who was until recently in another acting role within the Agency, had again taken up the mantle of the CFO position on 15 May 2019.

The Executive Corporate Services position has been filled on 1 April 2019.

Two of the key General Manager positions (Sector Funding and Bio-economy) has not yet been filled. The recruitment process was followed but no suitable candidates have been identified. The head hunting process has therefore commenced.

Dr Lennon added the Agency wishes to ensure that the incoming CEO plays a role in the recruitment process of these General Manager positions. There is therefore a timing issue.

On the matter of baseline funding, Dr Lennon acknowledged that the existing funding allocation has not grown to sufficiently meet market demand, and it is not likely that the TIA will receive more funding. Yet other funding opportunities include (a) contract-based project management, (b) royalties, (c) loan repayments from matured investments, (d) reducing operational costs, and (e) partnerships with the SMME Fund and others.

The TIA was asked to give feedback on the Kapa investment, which was an investment of R24 million via the Cape Biotech Trust in 16 March 2006. The Agency accepted the offer of $4.931 million (approx. R60 million) on 25 March 2015. The Agency was made aware through media reports, however, that Kapa was sold to Roche, an international pharmaceutical company, for $445 million eight months subsequent to the offer from TIA, whose 10% share equates to $44.5 million. Thus the loss calculated is $39.569 million. The Agency has therefore instituted legal action and the matter is scheduled to be heard by an arbitrator between 25 May and 12 June 2020, and the Agency believes there will be a positive outcome.

Briefing on Conflict of Interest of the Interim CEO and other Agency Board Matters

Dr Thabiso Ramasike, Board Member and Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee, TIA, started by giving a bit of background before going into the “potential conflict” of the Interim CEO, Ms F Levy.

Dr Ramasike indicated that in terms of the TIA board, it comprises seven members, with three vacancies. The Agency has been able to introduce a social and ethics function which was split between the Audit and Risk as well as Human Resources Committees. The purpose of this split is efficiency, given the staffing complement.

Secondly, as a principle, there is no member of the TIA board that could, at any given time, be entitled to do business with the Agency.

The Chair of Audit and Risk has been mandated to be “actively involved in any matters which relate to potential conflicts of interest” which relate to any TIA board member.

Moreover, a code of conduct has been introduced at the TIA, duly approved by the TIA board, “in relation to dealings, regular declaration that board members should do” (sic).

Dr Ramasike stated that the Agency had also created an “embargo” or “cooling off period” for members who, when they leave the board, cannot do business with the Agency for a period of at least a year, which is in line with the board Charter.

Dr Ramasike added that the Agency wanted to add “quite categorically” that any interest in, or any submissions for, potential business with TIA would have to be given to the board for prior approval. So the Interim CEO, who, in her capacity as a board member and prior to her appointment to the interim CEO position, was at no stage considered or approved for any TIA business. So what we then… we were made aware, she did appraise the board that she may tender for business which we said ‘okay, we will take note thereof, but we will monitor the matters as they progress’ and also we felt that the board, that we had close proximity, and it was not going to be a management decision should a bid be submitted but it was going to be a matter that the board would have to exercise its powers” (sic). The Agency has now taken an “extreme” position in its code of conduct, in line with the Board Charter, that “a member of the board cannot, not even through an entity that they are not actively running, not through their proxies, not through their representatives, cannot bit for any business for TIA” (sic). 

Dr Ramasike advised that the Agency wanted to give comfort to the Portfolio Committee that it would walk out of this exercise as a much stronger entity in relation to governance and how it makes sure that it becomes a transparent, open entity in the public space, and to become one of the better-run SOEs, certainly within the DSI.

The Chairperson thanked the members of the Agency for the presentation, but noted that Dr Lennon had not given the Committee an update on his own situation (which appeared to be a reference to Dr Lennon’s prior absence, as the Chairperson of the TIA, from a specific Agency board meeting) as well as the details pertaining to the CEO. He asked Dr Lennon to take the Committee into his confidence and explain what happened. This was raised by the Committee in a preceding meeting.

Dr Lennon apologised to the Chairperson and advised that he thought he had covered those issues, including his status as Interim Chair of the TIA board, in a prior meeting. His situation remained unchanged, and that it was probably more appropriate to allow the Director General, Dr Mjwara, to respond.

Dr Mjwara advised that after the previous briefing, the Minister had received the “concern, or rather the observation” of the Committee. The Minister is currently looking into the matter and he presumed the Minister would inform the Committee in due course.

The Chairperson asked when this meeting was that Dr Lennon had referred to.

 Dr Lennon replied that it was in November 2019.

The Chairperson advised that the Committee would come back to that, and then queried about the status of the “bidding of the work of the TIA by the now acting” COE—he queried what the nature of this was.

Dr Ramasike advised that perhaps it would be appropriate to put the details in writing, since the Committee briefing was a public event. He went on to say that the TIA would detail the events sequentially, but that at the present time it would be willing to give a “high level” rendition of the “highlights” in the briefing, since the Agency had only looked at “the concept”. The matter referred to here was concerning the “potential conflict of interest” of the Interim CEO who had tendered for business with the Agency.

The Chairperson confirmed by asking if Dr Ramasike was able to give details now or if he wanted to do so in writing.

Dr Ramasike said that because of the nature of the matter it would be better to “provide a written submission that provides the sequence from the start, every single detail in relation to the potential conflict” of interest of the Interim CEO, Ms Levy. “We are comfortable as a board at the moment that the way that it has been managed, it will address the issues of the Committee, but I think a written submission with more details would add much more value to the oversight of the Committee”. 

The Chairperson acknowledged this response and welcomed Mr Keetse, who had arrived late, and told him the Committee had been missing him for “a while now”.

The Chairperson opened the Committee for discussion and questions.

Discussion

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) had a question about where the “missing age cohort of 35 to 40” was, since the only age range reflected in the presentation concerning the programmes of the Agency (slide 3) was between 18 and 35. She believed that Science and Innovation was the sector in which everyone had to be given an opportunity to find expression and to be a beneficiary of the Agency.

Ms Mananiso also wanted to verify whether slides 5 to 8 were related, since she believed that the issue of gender demographics must be part of every facet of the presentation. She recommended that the Agency integrate its presentations with an analysis of gender demography.

Ms Mananiso then queried how responsive the Agency’s systems were as regards the turnaround time for collection of loan repayments. She wanted to know if there were any challenges in this regard, and if so what was the Agency’s response to these challenges.

Ms Mananiso advised that she and a colleague had visited an “expo at CSIR” and could confirm that different communities and provinces were represented and who were beneficiaries. There were others, however, who were dealing with delays of “indigenous products” and wanted to find out the progress in this regard.

Mr Keetse wanted to know, with regard to the geographical locations (slide 4), what the Agency’s goals were, and what the “end products” were. He wanted to know what it was that the agency was producing; “are we able to touch it?” Further, he wanted to know what kind of impact these outputs make to the economy. He raised this question because some of the stations, for example at the University of Johannesburg, were merely a “money making scheme” since students would end up doing nothing at those stations, there were only four machines which no one could operate.

Mr Keetse then referred to comments by Dr Ramasike concerning the fact that “the public is looking”; he clarified that the Committee simply wanted to understand whether the Interim CEO, Ms Levy, was in fact doing business with the TIA. He did not think that the answer to this question required “sophisticated lenses” to understand and to respond instantly. “Was she or was she not doing business?” and whether she is currently still doing business with the Agency. “It would be a very serious conflict of interest to appoint someone as an Interim CEO who has been previously doing business with the Agency” and the answer to this question should not be “far-fetched”. He said the Committee has information in this regard but wants to hear from the Agency itself in relation to this query. “If you want to lie in front of the public, we can take you on,” he said, “but we know […] the Interim CEO did business with TIA, and it’s a fact” which had been raised in a preceding meeting.

Mr W Letsie (ANC) advised that the question Mr Keetse was asking was addressed last year in November and that the Committee had already received a comprehensive response, but he had missed that response because he “went outside”.

Mr Letsie also expressed his desire to have certain universities (e.g. the University of Fort Hare) to come before the Committee to address certain issues previously raised by the Committee.

Mr Letsie then welcomed the TIA presentation and asked if by “HDI” (on slide 8) the Agency meant “historically disadvantaged institutions”. If so, he queried whether the Agency funds both those which are black institutions in addition to those which are HDIs.

Mr Letsie referred to the complaints logging system which had significantly reduced complaints. He wanted the Agency to elaborate on what actually happened in this regard, whether its development was in-sourced or out-sourced.

Mr Keetse then queried whether there was an explanation as to why the previous chief executive’s resignation was committed from the Agency’s annual report.

The Chairperson responded that Mr Keetse must have been “out or not part of that meeting” where the matter of the omission of the CEO’s resignation from the annual report was explained in November 2019. In response, the report was re-tabled and revised.

The Chairperson then addressed Dr Lennon and referred to his prior comments in the PMG Committee meeting minutes of 13 November 2019 concerning the conflict of interest with the Interim CEO, Ms Levy, which he then read aloud for the Committee:

“The Chairperson said he was worried about two issues regarding the appointment of the interim CEO. These included the fact that she had been a member of the board, and had then declared a conflict of interest when she was earmarked for the position. This raised serious ethical issues, especially in light of the interim CEO having submitted a bid for a tender from the TIA when she was in the private sector. This was a worrying situation, and the TIA had to attend to this matter. It was not a matter that could be swept under the carpet, and although no contract had been awarded to the interim CEO, the interest had been there to secure a tender” (https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/29341/).  

Therefore, the manner in which the Agency had addressed the issue of the Interim CEO, Ms Levy’s interest in bidding for a tender from the TIA was, in the present briefing, unsatisfactory, the Chairperson said. He then queried why the Agency would not identify someone for the acting position who did not have such a conflict, since an acting capacity was not substantive.

The Chairperson conveyed his worry about the conflict because it shadowed the good work of the Agency. He implored the Agency to confront and deal with the issues which face them. He then reflected on the poor economic condition of the country and how everyone is being affected by these adverse conditions, yet the Agency is unable to address this issue adequately.

Responses to Committee Questions

Dr Lennon started by apologising to the Committee and stated that the TIA was committed to being a transparent organisation. He acknowledged, however, that the Agency’s response to some of the questions posed by the Committee had been inadequate and assured the Chairperson that the organisation would correct that.

Dr Lennon said that, on the matter of the “potential conflict of interest”, the organisation had responded to the question, but that it was clear that the “level of detail that was in the response, and the bottom line out of all of that is that in terms of the application of the policies of the board, as well as good practice, is that we believe that that conflict had been appropriately managed, and to respond to Honourable Keetse’s question is that was the Interim CEO doing business with TIA, the short answer there is no” (sic). He indicated, however, that the Agency will come back with a lot more detail. He emphasised the “potential conflict of interest” was declared three months prior to the board considering the “individual” as the Interim CEO”; the Agency will provide detailed timelines.

Dr Lennon indicated to the Chairperson that as regards the matter of the timelines, the appointments of the incoming CEO and the status of Dr Lennon himself, that the Director General would respond to these.

Dr Lennon then responded to the question raised by Mr Keetse in regards to tangible outputs of the technology stations, saying that he believes that was covered, although the Agency had not gone into detail. If there are specific issues which relate to the University of Johannesburg station, the Agency welcomes the opportunity to get that detail and to follow up accordingly.

Mr Krappie responded to Ms Mananiso’s question and indicated that the age cohort used by the Agency was based on a longstanding analysis of applications received. He acknowledged that politically it’s a difficult number to “explain and defend”. He advised that the Agency was revisiting the issue of the age cohort, which was established by previous executives.

Mr Krappie said the loan repayments are part of the contractual obligations that beneficiaries undertake when they are funded. Typically, they are “soft loans” which are entered into after due consideration of type of business and the kind of innovations they come up with. The Agency does not force people to repay when they are unable to do so, but there have been no difficulties with repayments. The interest repayment is typically around one percent.

Mr Krappie responded to Mr Keetse’s question regarding technology stations at the University of Johannesburg. The technology station is not closed but is fully functional. Perhaps Mr Keetse had observed the particular technology station on a day on which it was not optimally performing. There a those which function optimally and those which function sub-optimally, and there are different measures in place to improve results.

Ms Fuzlin Levy, Interim CEO, TIA, responded to the question concerning loan repayments. If beneficiaries are successful, they need to repay the loan. If the beneficiary is unsuccessful, the terms of payment will be renegotiated as not to induce an undue burden. However, there are instances in which companies are able to repay the loan but they do not, in these cases legal action is pursued to recover the funds for reinvestment.

Ms Levy then addressed the complaints logging system query. The system was not developed in-house, but rather the Agency embarked on a procurement process in which it had observed the 80/20 principle in terms of BEE and transformation. The Agency supplied its own requirements for the system even though it was outsourced. Moreover, any system is only as good as the monitoring which succeeds its installation. Many of the complaints have centred around the lack of sufficient reason given to applicants upon rejection; this has been heeded by the Agency.

Mr Mboneni Muofhe Deputy Director General: Technology Innovation, DSI, then addressed the indigenous knowledge system in Mamelodi that the Department was piloting and gave details about the “land issue”. The Department made some progress with regard to the lease agreement where the various articles of such an agreement have now been finalised by all parties (i.e. the City of Tshwane, the beneficiary, and the legal team at the TIA). The Department hopes that by the end of April 2020 the lease will be signed. The Department has also managed to negotiate favourable rates. One of the challenges encountered was that, prior to the terms of the lease being finalised, the necessary facilities could not be installed at the site, but after the lease is signed this will become possible, which will enable agro-processing in the facility.

Dr Mjwara clarified that, on the issues concerning (1) the new CEO appointment and (2) and the TIA board, what happened after the Committee raised their concerns in the preceding meeting, the Department learnt that the board of the TIA required three additional members. Advertisements for nominees have therefore been procured for that purpose. A panel will then be constituted which would look at the list of possible candidates. Once suitable candidates have been shortlisted, their names will be forwarded to the Minister, who will either approve of certain candidates or require additional candidates. If he is not satisfied, it goes to the Cabinet. In this regard there is a Cabinet memorandum which the Minister is finalising, which also includes the issue concerning the Chairperson of the TIA board and who the Minister wishes to recommend for that position. Additionally, with regard to the appointment of a new CEO, a name was recommended to the Minister, who subsequently raised “one or two” issues with the TIA board; the board has responded to these issues so, again, the process is en route to the Cabinet.

The Chairperson indicated that the finalisation of the appointment of the additional three board members and the also the board Chairperson, should be done as a matter of urgency. He expressed his concern and disappointment that four months done the line, the issue had not yet been addressed fully, and that it is still in progress. Additionally, the issue of the Interim CEO does not require long and elaborate Cabinet processes in order to appoint a replacement: the TIA board itself has the authority to assign any other person in the interim, and this also applies to the interim Chairperson of the TIA board.

The Chairperson thanked the Department and the TIA for their responses.

The adoption of Committee meeting minutes was postponed to Tuesday, 17 March 2020.

The meeting was adjourned.

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