DSI Quarter 1 report & Revised APP; Indigenous Knowledge Act update; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Technology

26 August 2020
Chairperson: Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual briefing to both the Portfolio and Select Committees, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) reported on its Quarter 1 performance and its revised Annual Performance Plan due to the June special adjustment budget which had resulted in a DSI budget cut of R1.435 billion. In addition, R324 million was set-aside to support DSI COVID-19 initiatives. The impact of the budget cut mainly affected Compensation of Employees and Goods and Services. Budget had to be directed to IT tools for employees to work remotely, for staff personal protective equipment and to make the organisation COVID-19 compliant. DSI had to revise several of its performance targets downwards due to this.

DSI made substantial investments through instruments aimed at boosting human capital development (HCD) initiatives in priority areas. In Quarter 1, DSI funded 2333 Honours, 2641 Masters and 1929 PhDs as a contribution to the NDP target of 100 PhDs/million population by 2030. A total of 570 graduates and students were placed in DSI-funded work preparation programmes in science, engineering and technology institutions (SETI). 732 women awarded research grants, while 790 black researchers awarded research grants through National Research Foundation (NRF) managed programmes. R35 million of Health Innovation and HIV Prevention and Treatment funding was diverted to COVID-19 research. To date, 14 research projects have been approved and funded, varying from surveillance, clinical trials and phylogenetic studies. DSI has established links with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) for the local manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, resulting in Biovac being one of the companies invited to be part of the international effort. The Medical Device and Diagnostics Cluster has been approved by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).

DSI reported it had made significant progress on developing regulations for the Indigenous Knowledge Act this Act, on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and establishing working partnerships with stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of the Act are met. DSI spoke to public awareness of the Act, bio-cultural protocol, specialised service delivery unit (SSDU) in the form of the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO), migration of the registration system and commercialisation.

Members sought clarity on the DSI clean audit; revision of public awareness timeframes for the Act; effects of Covid-19 on DSI; if there were efforts underway to prevent  DSI from cutting its research and development budget; Covid-19 interventions that will be rolled out and applied widely; interventions for combating gender-based violence; outcome of engagement with NRF on research grants; effect and mitigation of vacancy rate on programmes and initiatives; when recruitment will resume and which posts have priority; and what factors informed the substantial increase in supported postgraduate students. Members also probed the TIA engagement on the Innovation Development Project and sought details.
 

Meeting report

Mr P Mapulane (ANC) who was meant to co-chair the meeting was absent with an apology.

Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) Revised Annual Performance Plan 2020/21

Dr Phil Mjwara, DSI Director-General, said the revised APP was approved and tabled by 31 July 2020. The Special Adjustment Budget resulted in a budget cut of R1.435 billion for DSI. In addition, R324 million was set-aside to support COVID-19 initiatives. Affected areas included the parliamentary grants and human resource development.

The impact of the budget cuts included compensation of employees. However, there will be no negative impact, because there has been a general delay in filling vacant posts. Secondly, Goods and Services was affected - savings have been realized in areas where there was little or no activity during the lockdown. More funds have been directed to IT tools for employees to work remotely, for personal protective equipment for staff and to make the organisation COVID-19 compliant as per the workplace regulations. DSI had to revise several of its targets downwards owing to the budget cuts or COVID-19 related reprioritization.

He presented the Department’s programmes and how they were impacted by the budget adjustments (see APP document for impact of budget revision for each programme)

DSI Quarter 1 Performance for 2020/21
The highlights of this quarter was human capital development (HCD). DSI understands that skills acquisition is the greatest equaliser in reducing inequality, poverty and unemployment. DSI continued to invest in the development of skills required for economic growth and development through the NRF.

DSI made substantial investments through instruments aimed at boosting HCD in priority areas. During the reporting period, DSI funded 2333 Honours, 2641 Masters and 1929 PhDs as a contribution to the NDP target of 100 PhDs/ million population by 2030.A total of 570 graduates and students were placed in DSI-funded work preparation programmes in science, engineering and technology institutions. 732 women were awarded research grants, while 790 black researchers were awarded research grants through NRF-managed programmes.

For a snapshot on Covid-19 interventions: R35 million of Health Innovation and HIV Prevention and Treatment funding was diverted to COVID-19 research. To date, 14 research projects have been approved and funded, varying from surveillance, clinical trials and phylogenetic studies. DSI has established links with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation for the local manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, resulting in Biovac being one of the companies invited to be part of the international effort. In the reporting period, the Medical Device and Diagnostics Cluster has been approved by TIA.

Ms Pretty Makukule, DSI CFO, said DSI planned to spend R2.028 billion during Quarter 1. The actual spending amounted to R1.065 billion (14.5% of the total adjusted budget of R7.362 billion). This translates to a material variance of R963 million or 47.5% of planned expenditure. Various measure are being put in place to address the material variance. These include: Revision of projections during the Adjustment Estimates of National Expenditure period; Fast track administrative processes. Total COVID-19 procurement expenditure on goods and services from 1 April 2020 to 30 June 2020 was R838 753. The procurement expenditure was mainly awarded to SMMEs, Black women and youth owned companies. DSI received a clean audit.

Indigenous Knowledge Act progress report
Prof Yonah Seleti's presentation covered the regulations, public awareness, bio-cultural protocol, SSDU, migration of the registration system, RPL and commercialisation.

On 27 March 2020, the DSI Executive Management Committee (EXCO) noted the draft regulations.  On 17 August 2020, EXCO was updated on the progress of finalizing the regulations. To date, the draft regulations have been submitted to the DSI Legal Service Unit for legal certainty. Once that process is complete, the regulations will be subjected to the interdepartmental committee for consultation before consultation with the general public.

As for public awareness, during the NCOP public hearings on the IK Act, DSI was requested to embark on a vigorous public awareness campaign on the Act in the languages of choice of communities and in deep rural communities. To date, public awareness campaigns have been conducted in the following provinces: Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Biocultural Community Protocols (BCPs) are instruments that set out clear terms and conditions to governments, the private sector, research, and non-profit sectors for engaging with indigenous and local communities and accessing their local resources and knowledge. They are developed through participatory decision-making processes within the communities and are based on the customary norms, values and laws of communities. Before the regulations on the IK Act are implemented, BCPs should be in place to empower communities on how to engage with third parties.  This process is consistent with the Nagoya Protocol which South Africa ratified in 2014.

One of the critical provisions of the IK Act is the establishment of the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) as its special service delivery unit.  The main function of the office is the implementation of the IK Act. DSI requested the Government Technical Advisory Council (GTAC) to conduct a feasibility study and a business case for NIKSO.  Following the approval of the two documents by EXCO, on 25 February 2020, an interdepartmental committee meeting comprising DSI, DPSA and National Treasury to consider the two reports. That committee recommended that DSI develops a funding model for the SSDU and Service Delivery plan.  These documents will be presented to EXCO in Quarter of 2020/21.

The migration of the IK Register to the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) infrastructure has been completed. What is outstanding is those Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centres (IKSDCs) that are ready in terms of data quality assurance and IT connectivity testing on the South African National Research Network (SANReN) to sync data to the Central Register, and the testing of the IK Register in the DIRISA production environment to implement secure access to the Register.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) provides for persons wishing to register their qualifications as an indigenous knowledge practitioner and be so certified and recorded in the Register of Designations. Structures have also been formulated for the establishment of RPL.

Prof Seleti noted six products/projects of communities that are in the process of being commercialised.

Discussion
The Chairperson sought clarity on the Director General’s comment that DSI received a clean audit and asked if it was a clean audit or unqualified audit with findings. Secondly, there was a comment on matchmaking during the indigenous knowledge presentation – he sought clarity on what that was.

Ms M Gillion (ANC, Western Cape) thanked the Deputy Minister and DSI for the briefing. She asked about the effects of Covid-19 on DSI. Given the current economic outlook and budget reprioritisation for Covid-19 purposes, are there efforts underway to assist DSI from having to cut its research and development budget? She asked if there were DSI Covid-19 interventions that will be upscaled and applied widely – referencing the work done by CSIR on personal protective equipment and other Covid-19 initiatives.

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) was pleased with the progress on the IKS regulations. He asked if the National Research Foundation, which has the task to fund postgraduate students, did not fall within the purview of the Higher Education sector.  

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked if there was work underway to enhance interventions on combating gender-based violence. She advised DSI to look into its staff policy on people with disabilities as she was not pleased that DSI working conditions were not friendly for people living with disabilities.

As for the public awareness plan for the IK Act, she asked that Gauteng province should not be left out.  DSI needs to improve on its use of indigenous languages particularly with much needed information, like it did in their Covid-19 pamphlet.

Ms A Maleka (ANC; Mpumalanga) said that in 2019/20 Quarter 4 DSI indicated that research grants were awarded to 3 205 students and 4 500 researchers, but the reduction in the number of researchers supported was due to the adjustments in the funding model. With the revised model only a certain number of researchers were awarded grants. DSI indicated that it would engage with the National Research Foundation on this. What was the outcome of the engagement?

In Quarter 1, the roll out for the Innovation Development Project under TIA was delayed due to the material deviation in the project which expanded the content and scope of the project beyond what was contractually agreed on. Was this resolved with the TIA?

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC; Eastern Cape) asked about the current vacancy rate and which programmes and initiatives were negatively affected and how would this be mitigated. When will the recruitment process resume and which posts would be given priority? What factors informed the substantial increase in the number of the supported PhD and postgraduate students?

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said there was a huge outcry from Bachelor of Science graduates across the country. BSc graduates feel that the system has no place for their qualifications and they do not get absorbed into the workplace, so they end up working for the institutions in which they studied. She asked if there were considerations by DSI to ensure an eco-system that allowed BSc graduates to be employed.

There was a 40% target for the inclusion of women in procurement of rendering services to DSI. Is this indeed 40%?

She acknowledged the work done thus far on the IK Act. We need to emphasise the importance of ensuring the inclusion of indigenous knowledge systems did not mean the exclusion of other knowledge systems.

Mr L Ngcobo (IFP) asked about recognition of prior learning. He heard that this was going to be under the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). How many National Qualifications Framework (NQF) levels are there going to be for this recognition? DSI was unable to meet its timeframes for the awareness campaign, have the timeframes been revised yet? He asked for the location of the centres and asked DSI to share these with the Committee as soon as they have been identified.

The Chairperson commented on indigenous knowledge and spoke about midwives in villages. He asked how the midwives would be recognised. As for prophets and others, is there a way of regulating on who qualifies to be a prophet as is the case for traditional healers. There are pastors and prophets that have made people eat grass, snakes and drink petrol under the guise of spiritual prophecy and religion – these should not be accepted or permitted. Has work been done on this by DSI in partnership with the Department of Health?

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that it is commendable that there was no corruption related activities in DSI; he asked DSI to confirm if there was indeed no Covid-19 procurement corruption.  

Responses
Dr Mjwara welcomed the suggestion about catering for people with disabilities in DSI.

Prof Seleti replied that DSI has looked at the role of IKS and the redress issues form a political perspective important for social cohesion for the country. The IKS is an important exercise for national building. Redress is an objective in DSI contributing to the steps of the building blocks of the IKS. The redress part of it is to ensure that IKS is integrated and part of knowledge systems to enrich all the knowledge systems. We are talking about interfacing the knowledge systems and we have activities that attempt to bring in different practitioners together like traditional healers and others in the same forum, so they can enrich one another. This is the basic methodology we are taking up.

Language is important and it is at the centre of knowledge generation and knowledge collection within the indigenous knowledge sphere. However, the DSI mandate does not include indigenous languages which fall within the scope of Arts and Culture and Basic Education. However, we see the importance of playing a role in this and are working closely with Arts and Culture and Basic Education and others in streamlining the use of indigenous languages in the science and other portfolios.

On the recognition of prior learning, all discussions – whether in different language s– all exchange the norms and standards using indigenous language and understanding as well as indigenous philosophy.

In the public awareness activities, we conduct these in the languages based where we hold the awareness sessions. With the legislation and regulations, this is one of the aims DSI wishes to embark on.

In regulating the traditional practices in the sector, the main aim is to look at what would have been considered African health systems. We have moved between provinces to establish that. In each one of the provinces, we discovered that there were pastors that combined traditional health practices into their religious practices. According to the traditional health practitioners, these pastors are not part of their healing systems. The idea is to develop an ideal indigenous knowledge systems approach, and the norms and standards that would be developed would be in that context.

It would be more sensible to partner with SAQA from the time of conception in developing the NQF norms and standards, from levels one to 10, and interface them with the norms and standards coming from indigenous health practitioners or any other areas or disciplines.

DSI has also worked together with Department of Health and presented the work that has been done to the Traditional Health Practitioners Interim Council. This work has also been presented to the House of Traditional Leaders and in the provinces. DSI is ensuring that people involved are mobilised.

As for the location of the centres, DSI can send the list of the centres and the communities that it has worked with along with details on the work that has been done.

The gender-based violence matter has been raised before and DSI sent a report to the Committee detailing the extent of the work. The work has been on knowledge generation relating to violence against women. As much as DSI has invested on research on this matter, we have began raising legitimate questions on gender based violence and interventions.

On the discussions with the NRF, it is helpful to understand that the revision of the rules for grants was to release resources for emerging researchers. This is to ensure the efforts of DSI are not exclusive only to the excellence of people selected but on growing a broad-based research community through the emerging researchers, on an international level. We agree with the purpose and intent of the NRF revision in terms of growing emerging researchers. The impact will be seen much clearer in the future.

The awareness campaigns plans were at an advanced stage at the time lockdown was introduced. We are ready with the plan to roll out the public awareness campaign. In the Northern and Western Cape, the locations where the campaigns will be done have already been identified.

Ms Makukule replied about DSI's clean audit. Audit opinions are defined in the International Standards of Auditing. The clean audit is not an official audit opinion. It is a term adopted by Auditor General South Africa to distinguish between an unqualified audit opinion that has no material findings on compliance and an unqualified audit opinion that has findings. In addition, the financial statements submitted for audit by DSI were free from material misstatements.

The target for women procurement stands at 40%. This is aligned to the pronouncement made by the President on Women’s Day. DSI had already received a notification about this early in the financial year from the Presidency and this was the reason it was integrated into DSI plans so quickly.

DSI did not spend R800 million on procurement of Covid-19 goods and services; it was R800 000. Correct procurement processes were followed that included the instructions issued by National Treasury for Covid-19 procurement.

Our internal audit has just completed an audit on Covid-19 procurement. Although the report as not yet been presented to DSI EXCO, the report noted that there were no audit findings.

On the Covid-19 budget outlook, DSI has so far reprioritised R324 million towards Covid-19 initiatives in 2020/21. This money was reallocated as part of the Special Adjustment Budget concluded last month.

DSI has not yet finalised quantifying the budget cut impact on its initiatives for the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period. This work is yet to be concluded as we are busy with 2020/21. The details can be provided to the Committee as soon as DSI finalises quantifying the work that will be done to assist combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

DSI Head of Human Resources replied that DSI had secured international funding for about R50 million from various donors to undertake a comprehensive study on the occurrence of gender-based violence. This project has started and the outcome would be used for policy formulation.

Dr Mjwara replied that a number of vacancies were left vacant after the 2020/21 budget was revised downwards and there were a number of staff members that had moved. This will be provided in writing. DSI then prioritised which vacancies are key and important positions for DSI. This process has already started but it is moving at a slow pace because some of the posts had to be evaluated. To give an estimate of the rate, DSI was at around 70%.

DSI is encouraged through the biomedical research that has been done to support Department of Health on Covid-19. The Minister of Health has shown willingness to work with DSI on devising bio medical interventions and technologies to assist in the fight against Covid-19.

The Chairperson thanked everyone present and adjourned the meeting.

DSI delegation at the virtual meeting included:
Dr Phil Mjwara: Director-General: Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)
Mr Imraan Patel: Deputy Director-General: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnership (SEIP)
Mr Mmboneni Muofhe: Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation (TI)
Mr Daan Du Toit: Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation Resources (ICR)
Prof Yonah Seleti: Acting Deputy Director-General: Research Development & Support (RDS)
Mr David Mmakola: Acting Deputy Director-General: Institutional Planning & Support (IPS)
Ms Pretty Makukule: Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Ms Nomkhosi Peter: Director: Strategic Planning.
Prof Yonah Seleti: Acting Deputy Director-General: Research Development & Support (RDS)
Mr Tom Suchanandan Director: Advocacy and Policy Development
Ms Shumi Pango Deputy Director: Advocacy & Policy Development

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