Department Budget: briefing by Department

Science and Technology

01 June 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


1 June 2004

Chairperson (Acting):
Mr E N N Ngcobo (ANC)

Document handed out:
Department of Science and Technology Budget Presentation

The presentation by Director-General Dr Rob Adam was brief, merely sketching in outline the mission, features, objectives, activities and profile of the Department of Science and Technology.

During discussion time a wide array of topics relating to this new Department was broached:
- Measurement and monitoring of the effectiveness of technology transfer was explained.
- Oversight over the 15 research entities.
- The use of existing developed technology, also from the Apartheid era, was advocated.
- The old argument about the relative importance and benefits of science versus technology was discussed and it was concluded that both were indispensible and inextricably interconnected.
- A multitude of development programmes were in progress.
- The workings of the Godisa and Chumisano initiatives were explained.
- The new National Energy Research Institute was discussed.
- The introduction of a Research and Development Charter was proposed.

Presentation by Director General
Dr Rob Adam (Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology) took the members through a series of slides. A very compact summary of the activities of the Department of Science and Technology was presented which included salient features, measurable objectives, a budget breakdown, a list of DST initiatives or programmes and a breakdown according to race and gender of its staff (please refer to the handout).

Mr Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) asked, when scientific and/or technological knowledge was transferred to others, how the effectiveness of the transfer was monitored, how was resultant poverty alleviation, if any, measured, and what was the mechanism by which this knowledge was transferred to the poor.

Mr R Ainslie (ANC) asked how the 0,76% of GDP that South Africa spent on Research and Development (R&D) compared internationally and whether the newly established National Energy Research Institute was to be creative in looking at alternative energy sources such as soya, sugar cane. He also asked what was expected of the Committee in its relationship with the 15 entities under the Department in terms of monitoring, funding and directing.

Dr Adam confirmed that the Department was, in fact, a conduit for funds to the institutions, some of which had been established by the Department. For all of these institutions there existed systems of key performance indicators in balanced scorecards, based on Resources, Delivery, Human Caplital. He explained that every three years, a comprehensive review of each institution by experts in that field, lasting two weeks, with a report, was conducted. Then also internal performance audits of budgets were conducted.

Mr D Olifant (ANC) congratulated the Department on the number of black people in the upper echelons but wanted to know how high up they were. In view of the fact that it was paraffin-awareness day, he wanted to know whether research was being done on paraffin stoves to achieve a safer environment as far as fires were concerned.

Mr J Blanche (DA) suggested that existing technology should be utilized far more efficiently, such as prepaid electricity technology, which was utilized only half-heartedly in Cape Town. The Department should search for technologies of this kind and concentrate more on technology and less on scienctific activities such as running a scientific research station at the South Pole.

Dr Adam replied that to address poverty alleviation the impacts of sustainable micro-industries were investigated.

Ms Marjorie Pyoos (General Manager: Technology Transfer) doubted the sustainability of programmes like Work-for-Water of the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Water Affairs and Forestry. Her Department preferred creating new business opportunities in developing local resources such as in small-scale mining or agriculture, with input from technikons and universities. Indicators utilized were suitability for marketing, and employment of women and unemployed youth. Treasury supported the initiatives by increasing their allocation of funds from R 30 million to R 45 million. The focus was on setting up local and provincial offices to further the cause of poverty alleviation through the application of relevant technology. The technological complexities of prepaid metering of electricity were being discussed with role-players.

Niche areas such as establishing orchards for seeds to be exported, as well as localized micro-industries in leather, wool and mohair, and an indigenous cuisine recipe book to encourage the development of dried or frozen indigenous products for sale in supermarkets were examples of successes.

Dr Adam quoted figures on the R & D efforts of various countries such as Sweden 4% of GDP, OECD countries at 2,3%, Australia 1,6%, Brazil 1%, and Malaysia at less than 1% because they operated largely under licence agreements. Finland and Korea had grown phenomenally over 30 years when they upped their spending on R & D from 1% to 4% of GDP. The target that had been set two years ago was to increase R & D spending in this country, by government and industry combined, from 0,76% to 1% within six years.

A National Energy Research Institute (NERI) was being set up to counter the adverse effect on research efforts of the breaking up of the energy industry vertically into generation, transmission and distribution. After 1990, the coal levy, which funded energy research at the CSIR (Enertech), was discontinued. NERI would focus a lot on research into alternative energy sources. They were working on a new governance model to clear up grey areas about responsibilities and cooperation between Departments to be submitted to Cabinet by the end of June, in the interests of the long-term good shape of the industry. The Department of Housing was directing research through Boutek and the CSIR on safe settlement.

He stated that the public considered science to be more "sexy" than technology and read more about it. Even so the Department spent far more on technology than on science research. The SALT programme at Sutherland required only that we be good hosts, and the spin-offs to local industry were substantial. Approximately R 100 miillon was brought into the country, of which 70% was spent for aquiring the services of local engineering firms. Partnerships for the transplanting technology such as those with the European countries were important.

Mr Desigen Naidoo (Deputy Director-General, Department of Science and Technology) stated that not only in high science, but also in fundamental science, South Africa was making significant contributions, such as in foot-and-mouth disease, AIDS vaccine, and climate research. The European/ Developing countries Clinical Transfer Partnership was worth EU 700 million over a four-year period of which 60% would be spent in Africa, of which EU 70 million in South Africa. From the European Union alone , over the last 18 months, EU 1,4 billion had been pulled in for investments in science and technology in South Africa. The innovation chasm, meaning the transfer of scientific innovation into practical application, was being addressed.

Me Anati Canca (General Manager: Science Platforms and Human Capital, Department of Science and Technology) mentioned that, in the case of Paleontology, getting the fossils out of the rock presented an engineering problem, while unemployed people were trained to become fossil trackers. There were clearly both long-term and short-term gain from pursuing science.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) appreciated the fact that the Department showed that not only men but women too could be involved in science and technology.

Prof I J Mohamed (ANC) asked if the faster growth in expenditure on administration was due solely to the recent formation of a new department for science and technology, and what was the state of technology transfer to grass-roots level? He was in favour of basic science as an important source of knowledge for the long-term application in technological development.

The Chair focused on the development of human capital as a valuable resource. It was previously stated by the Director General that enrolment in mathematics in South African universities was only 2,5% so that we had no choice but to recruit from overseas. On a visit to Mintek and the Geoscience Council it was found that not a single black person was employed in research, and that no effort was made to attend to this. The same applied to AUTECH. What was the Department's approach to the scarce skills professions?

Mr Owen Yamela (General Manager: Investments, Department of Science and Technology) explained the monitoring and evaluation processes that were applied to institutions. In terms of the Public Finance Management Act, presentations had to be made to the Minister, also quarterly reports could be asked for. Balanced score-cards required reporting on five aspects: stakeholder response to government policies, financial leverage of awarded funds, system reviews of institutions by panels of experts, three-yearly R & D surveys looking at input of funding versus output in terms of publications, patents and human resources produced and, finally, internal audits of programmes.

Dr Adam recounted the initiative based on the review of the Human Sciences Research Council in 1998 which found that, in that institution, the ratio of administration to research staff was 2 to 1. Over the following "painful" three years it was turned around to a ratio of 1 to 2. Another instance of where the review sparked rationalization was the transfer of the National Lazer Centre from the old Atomic Energy Corporation to the CSIR. The reasons for the significant rise in administration expenses were, apart from natural growth, the splitting off of Science and Technology from Arts with accompanying compliance orders and staffing quotas.

Mr M Malepane (CFO: Department of Science and Technology) explained that compensation for Group Executives was relocated under administration, whereas they had previously been under projects, and that for the following financial year little increase was foreseen.

Dr Adam pointed out that in 1994 only 7% of R&D staff were black as opposed to 45% in 2003. The adoption of an R&D charter was being looked at. There was a crisis in so far as the average age of top researchers had risen dramatically and they were not being renewed sufficiently. It was, therefore, inevitable that replenishment of researchers from elsewhere should occur. The intake into mining engineering at Wits University had increased from between 20 to 30 in 2000 to more than 100 in 2004 because a clear career trajectory had become evident.

The Chair suggested that the colonial governments of the past showed how interventionist programmes could work to attain certain goals.

Mr Canca listed some current interventions. The National Science Week was pointing out to school-going children and their teachers the possibilities in science and technology. At a recent event in Gauteng young learners were tested for aptitude for aviation and of seven who were suitable five were from Soweto. Furthermore a network of science centres were to be developed such as interactive entertainment centres based on science as in Canal Walk in Cape Town. In Limpopo learners from schools with no science laboratories were introduced to chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. This was considered to be the start of the pipeline to the top-end, which was pushing the frontiers of knowledge in rich academic environments such as at universities.

Mr Olifant suggested that the technology developed under the previous regime , such as the Atlantis diesel engine and the Rooivalk helicopter, be transferred for present use. A 'bosberaad' should be held where beneficiation and transfer of technology could be explained to Members.

Mr Nefolovhodwe complained that some of these new technologies were not accessible to poor communities and cited the example of an innovative youngster in Sebokeng who was flying a self-made kite, but with no access to a supportive environment.

Me Marjorie Pyoos explained that technology transfer was aimed specifically at small and medium enterprises, through two separate programmes, namely for new businesses (Godisa) and for existing businesses (Chumisano). Godisa had been so successful that the Department of Trade and Industry had decided to transfer four of their technology transfer centres to Godisa.

Both Godisa and Chumisano acted only where stable, long-term economic opportunities existed. The requirements for furthering transformation were that in the second year of existence at least 50% of clients must be black-owned and after three years 80%. In Senzela (part of Godisa) 700 small-scale black miners received support which led to them doubling their returns. Assistance was also given in low-tech mineral and small brick-making industries, and San copper art industry in the Northern Cape. In the Softstart programme 20 black software developers were trained. A contract with the Johannesburg police for creation of software resulted. Chumisano assisted a black-owned recently established company of retrenched Delta Corporation employees to secure a R10 million contract with VW in Port Elizabeth.

Other examples of black empowerment were the building of new laboratories for North West Technikon,and the development of StaSoft bottle openers by Free State Technikon. Twelve black mechanical engineering graduates were sent to India for training, and recent B Sc graduates were placed with the Departments of Agriculture, Environment and Water Affairs and Forestry respectively. Of public works programmes, 20% of contracts, ranging from R2 million to R12 million, had been ring-fenced for black contractors who were then supported by the Chumisano programme.

Mr Naidoo claimed that an innovation culture already existed in the country which should be harnessed. The audit which was being conducted revealed several excellent technological advances that had been developed during the Apartheid era and which were applied in related fields.

Mr Blanche asked for an organogram, with telephone numbers, of the Department.

The Chair commented that he saw an urgent need for a national workshop and roadshow for Members.

Meeting adjourned.


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