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ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE : Ms M Njobe
26 November 2003
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN NEPAD; AIMS INSTITUTE; ARTS NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL: BRIEFING; PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ANNUAL REPORT: ADOPTION
Documents handed out:
ARTS, CULTURE, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
: Ms M Njobe
Science and Technology in NEPAD: Briefing
Building a Brighter Future for Science in South Africa
Portfolio Committee Annual Report 2003
The Committee was briefed on role of the Department at the NEPAD Science and Technology Forum that had recently taken place in Johannesburg. The event had been attended by significant agencies and donors and 34 countries, with most of the latter delegations being led by Ministers of Science and Technology. The outcomes of the negotiations included the Square Kilometre Array Declaration endorsed by all attending Ministers. The Committee was briefed on the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Institute's speciality, intake criteria, objectives and developments. The Committee's 2003 Annual Report was adopted with amendments. The Arts and Culture Director-General briefed the Committee on the suspension of members of the National Arts Council and the developments surrounding the matter.
The NEPAD Science and Culture briefing was presented by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) delegation, followed by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (Aims) Institute briefing presented by Professor Neil Turok.
Mr D Naidoo (Group Executive: International Co-operation and Resources from the Department of Science and Technology) led the presentation on science and technology in NEPAD. (Please refer to attached document). Rising to the African challenge was immense but not insurmountable. Mr Naidoo hailed the NEPAD Ministry as a success and the forum as key to plugging South Africa into the rest of the world, despite science and technology not being one of NEPAD's eight chapters. Twelve flagship programmes were compromised between the 34 countries; with biodiversity Science and Technology. Discussions largely focused on the socio-economic impact on society.
Ms H Mpaka (ANC) asked when the Aims Institute was established. Did the institute have a policy that would ensure sustainable plough back into the community?
Professor Turok detailed that the institution was opened on the 8 September 2003 and launched by Minister Ngubane and Minister Asmal on 18 September 2003. The spin off to South Africa and Africa was in the lectures that were conducted. Students were supported with material so that they could establish themselves wherever they went. They tried to retain the students in Africa. Three of the thirty students were South African the rest were from around Africa. Students staying on in South Africa for their PhD would benefit South Africa.
Ms Mdlalose (IFP) asked the Professor to elaborate in service for the teachers.
Professor Turok said they offered teachers courses that involved the upgrading of teaching skills in maths and science. They would have liked to help the schools that had received equipment by providing them with software.
Ms T Tshivase (ANC) commented that maths globally maths was an important science, and wanted to know what programmes the institute had for children.
Professor Turok pointed out that the programme was a higher education programme but not an elitist programme. There was a trickle down effect to stimulate maths and science.
Professor Turok explained that the institute dealt with students at postgraduate level. They had a site called Ask Aims where children could write to their students and ask any maths-related questions.
Dr R Rabinowitz (IFP) asked if mathematics infiltrated into the life sciences and whether the institute had any outreach programmes.
Professor Turok explained that once science became quantitative it became Maths Science. School out reach was a big problem that they were fully aware of. The Aims Secondary School Enrichment Centre sadly had not been fully funded.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) commented that Africa was known as the cradle of mankind yet the institute had not used this angle to instil pride amongst Africans and to also highlight mathematical origins discovered in Africa. He sought clarity on what was meant about free soft and asked to what extent the institute connected with other science centres and institutes in South Africa.
Professor Turok agreed that the oldest mathematical artefacts were from Africa in the DRC, currently on display in Belgium at the Leopold Museum. The others were found in Swaziland and Egypt. However they did not talk much about this because they avoided backward looking and preferred rather focusing in the future. Free software meant there was no monetary charge as the software was open source. People who wrote the programme contributed to shared global community by not exchanging money. Lennox ran faster than Windows XP.
Ms M Njobe (ANC) asked who identified the projects that the students undertook, and what relevance did they have to their countries' projects that they as a country were trying to carry out to ensure economic growth. Concerns were that the line taken may be at the interest of the sponsors . Ms Njobe wanted assurance that the greater influence would be for the needs of the African countries. Applications being through the website were not ideal as they excluded gifted rural students. The Institute needed to look at designing other means of recruitment.
Dr R Rabinowitz felt that partnerships with schools was disappointing as there was a huge gap in South Africa. She asked whether there were existing structures to network through schools. Was 'African science' included in the project?
Dr Fitz (Aims Institute) said that in terms of identification of programmes they had a structure. Their council consisted of people from the three universities in the Western Cape and from the United Kingdom and France. There was scrutiny of the programmes by a small executive team. The IT was not the only way applicant were recruited although almost all universities had relatively good IT connections.
Professor Turok added that there was a form on their website on which one could propose a course .A team would then look at the forms and select the most exciting. There was no shortage of lecturers and the intention was not to be an ivory tower. When it came to African Science, he said he was somewhat of a sceptic mostly through ignorance but welcomed interaction on the subject.
Mr Naidoo (DST) said that South Africa could derive benefits from this icon initiative by investing in a South African Aims model and emulating it as Aims is doing this for Africa.
Rev. L Tolo (ANC) said that seeing that South Africa was rich in its underground mineral resources, yet lacking in manufacturing skills was there any intention to develop technology that would overcome that problem.
Mr Naidoo acknowledged the problem and said associated to that it was dealing with trade issues. Assurance was given that the issue was fairly high on the agenda.
Committee Annual Report 2003
The committee corrected numerous grammatical errors, inaccuracies and omissions. The Chairperson asked if there were any specific points that Members needed to be mention in the Chairperson's Overview section.
Members highlighted the cancellation of their trip on the eve of their departure particularly as trips were an intrinsic part of their work; budgetary issues gave the size of the Committee's oversight work allocation; and the lack of researchers directly linked to the Portfolio Committee; and the process of submission of reports in the house and how the affected committees got followed up.
The Committee's Annual Report was adopted with amendments in the absence of the opposition parties.
National Arts Council: Briefing
The Director-General of Arts and Culture, Mr Mosala 's opening remarks focused on the responsibilities of adjusting to living in the country's new found democracy together with the challenges that came with the teething stages of transformation. These intertwined issues inevitably expressed themselves in governance issues and could not be dealt with in isolation as they dealt with the rights of professionals as agents and as participants. A week before the suspension of the National Arts Council's (NAC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ms Doreen Mthetwa, the Chairperson of the board briefed the Director General. The brief did not detail issues but raised the Director General's awareness.
Mr Mosala said that the full briefing on the responsibility of the Board was given and they expected boards to govern accordingly. He felt it was up to the board to act. He subsequently had discussions with the CEO of the NAC. She indicated concerns that needed to be discussed about her relationship between herself and the board. Mosala discussed this matter with the Minister Ngubane. The CEO followed up the earlier discussion with a document that related to issues that she intended to brief the Director General about at a later scheduled meeting. Before their intended meeting the NAC board met and suspended the CEO and another member. Two issues around the suspension were motivated by the Board:
-Financial irregularities of such magnitude that it would have been irresponsible not to suspend the members.
-Management problems including labour relations issues.
The Board took the decision to suspend and appoint an independent investigator. Upon completion a report would be provided and the Minister would be briefed on the matter without the Department's interference. It was agreed that the Board should be allowed to work through the matter. The Board had been told that the management and work of the council should continue:
-If they were unable to get an acting CEO the Department of Arts and Culture would be willing to second somebody from the department.
-It was important that the investigation be carried out quickly without delay to closure
the important funding of projects that the NAC does should not be held back, and that work should continue.
Emphasis was made that the Department did not want to take over the Board nor did they want the Board to take over the work of management. The department had numerous matters to raise, but these issues would be taken up with the Board as soon as the Board's process was over.
The Portfolio Committee felt that the action taken as heard was commendable. They also felt that they ought to have been informed about this matter timeously. Concerns were expressed about why the Board had not taken timely action if they were aware of financial impropriety. The Committee was advised that the Board had been relatively new. Suggestions were made by the Portfolio Committee that the department should have a monitoring presence during the investigation process for the sake of transparency. The conduct of the Board's Chairperson over national radio was highly criticised, and the Director General was asked to highlight this to the Minister as the Chairperson was appointed by the Minister.
The meeting was adjourned.
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