In a virtual meeting, the Select Committee was briefed by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on its 2020/21 annual report and annual financial statements. The Deputy Minister was in attendance.
The audit outcome showed that three of the four entities in the portfolio had been able to maintain clean audit outcomes, and that out of 52 output targets, 45 (87%) were achieved. The Department had awarded a total of 11 571 bursaries and internships, as well as 3 000 research grants through DSI/National Research Foundation (NRF)-managed programmes.
The Department had planned to spend R7.278 billion by the end of the financial year. but the actual expenditure for the period had amounted to only R7.165 billion (98.4%) of the total adjusted budget, which translated to a variance of R113 million. The Department commented that this under-spending would have no financial impact. National Treasury had also declined the Department’s request for the rollover of funds from the under-spending of transfers and subsidies for the Presidential employment stimulus package, but this would be reprioritised.
Members commented that the Department as a whole was performing well, but said that the performance of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) was a concern, as it had reported a deficit of R2.9 million as a result of fixed-term contracts and unadjusted deliverables. They also wanted to know the reasons for the Human Sciences Research Council's (HSRC’s) poor audit outcome performance.
The DSI said it needed a lot more funding because in South Africa, there were small pockets of excellence where it could compete internationally, regardless of who the competitive countries were, but they needed to develop a larger critical mass first. There were areas where the DSI felt they were leading, such as in the field of genomics. A number of the Covid-19 variants had been identified in South Africa, using local facilities and researchers, including the one which was ultimately named the ‘UK Variant,’ which was first identified and sequenced in South Africa. The Department also did a lot of world-class research on waste water surveillance, and this type of research enabled them to know in advance if there were signs of another wave of Covid-19, and where there were other dominant variants emerging. The work done in this regard was among the best in the world.
The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister, Members of the Committee and the team from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). He noted an apology from the Minister for his absence, as he had another meeting scheduled.
The purpose of the meeting was to look at the activities undertaken by the Department in 2020/21, including their policy priorities for 2021. There would also be engagement with the Auditor-General’s (AG's) report for 2020/21. The Chairperson said the Department and the Ministry had made him proud, as they had received a clean audit with no matters, which was one of the rarest achievements in the public service sector. He commented that the Department of Social Development had also received the same honour of a clean audit. South Africa was proud to have leadership at the political and administrative level of people with this capacity serving it. The Department must keep up their good work, as the sky was the limit from where they were now.
Deputy Minister's overview
Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Technology, Science and Innovation, thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity to present the report, and for his kind words. The Department was excited about the clean audit and the Ministry was thankful to the leadership in the Department under the Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara. Without blowing their own horn, this was the one Department which had consistently and for quite some time delivered clean audits, so the Chairperson's acknowledgement of the achievement was appreciated.
The Department was grateful for the opportunity to present its progress to the Committee. It was viewed not only as an opportunity to account, but also to interact meaningfully with the Members for the purpose of receiving guidance on how to execute its mandate. The Department’s mission was to boost socio-economic development in the country through research and innovation. To achieve this goal, the leadership was required to provide an enabling environment for research, science, technology and innovation. This was done through internal programmes such as: administration; technology; innovation; international cooperation and resources; research, development and support; socio-economic innovation and partnership.
In delivering its mandate, the Department was supported by a range of entities. It had recently changed its name from the Department of Science and Technology to the Department of Science and Innovation. Complementary to this, the Department had also made a substantive but gradual shift in policy emphasis. This shift was mainly informed by the 2019 White Paper on science, technology and innovation which would be implemented through the soon to be finalised decadal plan.
Another policy shift was aimed at ensuring that, as a country, South Africa had a transformed, inclusive, responsive, and efficient system of innovation through which all citizens could derive socio-economic benefit. Like all state departments, the Department was required to provide Parliament with a report on how it had carried out its legislative mandate for the 2020/21financial year under review. To give Members a deeper sense of the Department’s overall performance, the presentation focuses on the Department’s outcome goals, outcomes, performance highlights, key achievements in terms of the outcome goals, the Department’s overall performance and financial performance.
DSI 2020/21 performance report
Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), presented the performance highlights. These were:
- The 2020/21 audit outcome showed that three of the four entities in the portfolio -- the DSI, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) -- had been able to maintain clean audit outcomes.
- Out of 52 output targets, 45 (87%) were achieved, and seven (13%) were not achieved.
- The decadal plan had been well received by stakeholders, and input from a panel of experts who served as critical reviewers was being incorporated into the draft document.
- A total of 11 571 bursaries and internships were awarded through the NRF and other agencies.
- 50 artisans and/or technicians were trained in the energy and agriculture sectors.
- A six-week Hydrogen Fuel Cell training course was conducted through the Bambili Energy Group, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, in support of the DSI’s implementation of the Cabinet-approved Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) strategy through the 15-year HySA programme.
- 8 150 research articles were published by DSI/NRF-funded researchers and cited in the Web of Science citation database.
- 3 000 research grants were awarded through DSI/NRF-managed programmes, of which 1 445 (49%) were to blacks, and 674 (46%) to black women.
- 30 research infrastructure grants awarded through the DSI, the NRF and the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR).
- The National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) had made investments toward the identification of the potential intellectual property (IP) and the protection of the developed IP.
- The DSI had supported six new Offices of Technology Transfer (OTTs) from three different provinces. 19 new and existing technology transfer jobs/positions existed through this fund.
- Funding was provided to the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, to establish an OTT to ensure that publicly-financed health research outputs were identified and found application in society.
- It had refunded 50% (just under R21 million) of all eligible IP rights protection and maintenance costs following submissions to NIPMO by 23 higher education institutions and science councils.
- NIPMO "IP Wise" sessions to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges around the country were extended for the IP awareness campaign to continue going forward.
- In total, 346 trainees were upskilled in IP management and technology transfer.
- Female representation within technology transfer had remained dominant, increasing slightly from 2014 to 2018 in both higher education institutions (HEIs) and SCs.
- The number of black individuals had increased substantially from the baseline survey. In HEIs, the increase was up 16.7%, to 81.9%, and in start-up companies it was 11.7% up, to 68%.
- A digital Covid screening and data storage tool for a special needs school in North-West was developed by Prof Leenta Grobler and Dr Henri Marais. The product was awarded a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) innovation award, and was confirmed as national finalist for South Africa by the World Summit Awards 2020 in the Covid screening category. It was also nominated by the North-West Department of Education for a Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) award.
- A team of engineers led by Prof Grobler developed a remote monitoring system, which would enable experienced nurses and clinicians to remotely monitor a large fleet of ventilators of different makes and models on a single centralised monitoring screen.
- The Department had developed and successfully implemented a COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant with international partners, resulting in a pooled fund of US$4.6 million, and a total of 75 grants.
- A COVID-19 South African dashboard was developed in partnership between Witwatersrand University (Wits) and the NRF's iThemba LABS.
- The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) contributed alcohol for the production of sanitisers by the Rhodes University Pharmacy Department to be distributed in disadvantaged health facilities and communities in Makhanda.
- An indigenous knowledge-based Covid-19 research team had made progress in the investigation of herbal medicines against Covid-19.
Mr Robert Shaku, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DSI, presented the Department's financial highlights.
He said the Department had planned to spend R7.278 billion by the end of the financial year. The actual spending for the period amounted to R7.165 billion, or 98.4% of the total adjusted budget. This translated to a variance of R113 million.
There would not be any financial impact to the Department as a result of under-spending on the compensation of employees. However, the delays in the filling of positions would have an impact on the existing personnel, due to added responsibilities.
For the under-spending in transfers and subsidies for the Presidential employment stimulus package, the Department had requested a roll-over from the National Treasury for these funds, but it had been declined. The Department had reprioritised funding from slow-spending programmes for this project.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for their detailed presentation on what the Department had done during financial year under review. He remarked that the presentation was so detailed that any questions he had in mind had been answered during the presentation itself. However, he asked the Director-General how many people with disabilities had been offered bursaries by the Department and what needed to be done to ensure that people with disabilities were prioritised.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) said that the Department as a whole was performing well, but commented that the performance of the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) was a concern. NACI had reported a deficit of R2.9 million as a result of fixed-term contracts and unadjusted deliverables. How did the Department plan to address this deficit?
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) commended the Department on their utilisation of funds, as the Committee did not see this performance often from the various governmental departments they met with. Had the Department looked at whether their budget needs could support research on the Covid-19 pandemic and any other potential outbreaks, in order to keep the country on par with developments?
What were the funding requests for each of the five programmes for 2021/22, and had there been preliminary indications as to what would be awarded in relation to these requests?
The Chairperson referred to the audit outcome of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), asked why it had performed poorly in relation to other entities within the Department.
Dr Daniel Adams, Chief Director: Basic Sciences & Infrastructure, DSI, responded on the number of students with disabilities being awarded bursaries, and said the Department had set a target of awarding bursaries to 47 students, and had managed to award 29. The Department had been following the Ministerial guidelines on supporting people with disabilities. The target was four percent of the total bursaries, and over the years it had consistently been a target where the Department had trouble meeting even one percent. It had therefore revised the Ministerial guidelines to set a more realistic target. He construed the Chairperson’s question as being focused more on the corrective measures being implemented to address the issue. On the corrective measures, the DSI, through the NRF as the implementing agent, had embarked on a process to be more proactive and work directly with the offices in charge of programmes for students with disabilities at universities. The Department had also, as part of the new bursary scheme, made available a full course bursary for students with disabilities, which was inclusive of the money needed to purchase the expensive devices they needed to assist with their special learning needs.
Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, Deputy Director-General: Technology Innovation, DSI, responded on the funding requirements, and said the Department needed a lot more funding because in South Africa, there were small pockets of excellence where it could compete internationally regardless of who the competitive countries were, but they needed to develop a larger critical mass first. For example, with the need to develop vaccines, one would find that there was a CSIR-type organisation which focused solely on that research in terms of the numbers. The Department, however, would need to build its own capacity first, starting with the development of human capacity in order to have the necessary facilities to compete on a large scale. However, where South Africa measures itself against the rest of the world, there were areas where the DSI feels they were leading, such as in the field of genomics. A number of the Covid-19 variants were identified in South Africa using local facilities and researchers, including the one which was ultimately named the ‘UK Variant’, which was first identified and sequenced in South Africa. The Department also does a lot of world-class research on waste water surveillance, and this type of research enabled them to know in advance if there were signs of another wave of Covid-19, and where there were other dominant variants emerging. The work done in this regard was among the best in the world.
South Africa was also becoming a world leader in mainstreaming indigenous knowledge systems and, following some of the investments into Covid-19 research, some of the programmes were entering clinical trials, which makes it one of the first countries on the continent to do so. These areas of excellence needed to be amplified, but more resources were needed to broaden the areas of research the DSI engaged in. One of the areas the Department was looking at was developing and manufacturing its own vaccines -- not only for Covid-19, but for other diseases going forward.
Mr Shaku (CFO) responded on the deficit at the NACI, and said the institute had not spent R2 798 000 because of delays in procurement for the development of centralised publicly-financed data, due to Covid-19 restrictions. They were also unable to assist in the performance of the National System of Innovation (NSI), because the project leader had resigned and another independent expert had to assist with the finalisation of the report. These were the reasons the NACI had not spent its entire allocated budget.
He indicated the budget allocations to the NACI's five individual programmes -- administration; technology innovation; international cooperation and resources; research, development and support; and socio-economic innovation partnerships -- for the next two years. The Department would still go through the estimates of national expenditure (ENE), which they would embark on sometime in November or December. The outcome of that process would be provided by National Treasury.
The Director-General asked Mr Shaku whether the increases were inflation related, above the inflation rate, or if they were the normal expected increases to give some perspective, as the numbers on their own may be confusing.
Mr Shaku said the increases were not above inflation -- they were inflation-related.
Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director-General: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, referred to the challenges with the HSRC’s audit outcome, and said that the problem had arisen with donor funding, which was an important part of its funding. Some of the donor funding came in the form of tenders. In tendering for work, the HSRC partnered with universities and other entities to propose for the tenders and, if they win the tender, contractual agreements take place with the HSRC and they make available the funding from the money which the partner put forth in the tender process. There had been a change in the procurement regulations in 2017 which required that this type of agreement be approved for deviation by Treasury. This had not happened, as they had not been aware of this, but they had now corrected it and approval from Treasury would be sought in the future.
However, there had been a challenge where a tender was awarded but there was no approval for the deviation. Treasury had indicated that they would respond to a request for this deviation within five days of the request being made. The idea was, therefore, to request approval for the deviation before the tender proposal was made, and this would allow HSRC to sub-contract with their partners, as they did not have the capacity to do all their projects alone. As it was an historical issue, the HSRC would need to get retroactive approval for all the times they acted without approval for the deviation from Treasury. The HSRC were on top of things, and they would improve. Cooperation with Treasury would ensure that there would be no interference with their attempts to secure donor funding.
The Chairperson asked how the transfer of R5 445 080 to the South Africa Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) benefited the Department, and under what initiative was it taken?
Dr Adams responded that SARChI was one of the flagship human capital and research capacity programmes in the DSI. It provided funding for very prominent and productive senior researchers within the university system. As previous reports had indicated, the number of students trained and research output was led by this group of researchers. All scientometric studies and performance within the NSI had been largely attributable to the establishment of the SARChI and the work that they had done. It was, therefore, one of the most impactful programmes that the Department had implemented over the last decade in terms of human capital development and research capacity.
The Director-General added that they had a community of practice, with research chairs coming together and using their research in order to provide the country with some policy options. They did this in response to the President asking what policy options there were available to address poverty in the country, based on their research.
The Chairperson thanked the Department for their presentation, and remarked that he hoped that the other Departments learnt from them so that there were more Departments getting clean audits or audits with lesser emphasis on matter.
The Deputy Minister thanked the Committee for the engagement and said that the Department would take Members' questions and points into consideration.
The Committee considered and adopted the minutes from the Select Committee meeting on 17 November 2021.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.