Department of Science and Technology Strategic Plan and Budget: briefing

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Select Committee on Education and Recreation (NCOP): Briefing by Department of Science and Technology on Strategic Plan & Budg

Education and Recreation Select Committee
2 June 2004
Department of Science and Technology Strategic Plan and Budget: Briefing

Mr B Tolo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department of Science and Technology Budget Presentation

The Department of Science and Technology briefed the Committee on its performance, income and expenditure, and provided a budget breakdown. Some of the budget highlights included the overall increase of 23%, R45 million allocated to poverty alleviation, the establishment of a National Energy Research Institute and R4 million allocated for learnerships.

Members were concerned at the lack of human resources capacity in the Department and were not convinced that the proposed remedial actions would succeed. In addition, there were concerns about the large slice of the budget that went to transfer payments for associated institutions and agencies and accountability for expenditure on poverty alleviation.


Department presentation

The Deputy Director-General, Mr P Pedlar, with the assistance of his Chief Financial Officer, Ms Malapane, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Department's budget. They specified particularly the Department's budget increase of 23%, the increase of the Poverty Alleviation Budget to R45 million, the establishment of a National Energy Research Institute at a cost of R10 million, the allocation of R4 million for learnerships, the performance of their funded institutes and organisations (e.g. the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)), and that the Department was under-resourced in human resources. The DDG recommended that the Committee Members study the Department's annual report.

The Department's breakdown of the population into whites, coloureds and Africans in its presentation of its equity profile was questioned - an MP made the point that "we are all Africans" and asked whether the term "blacks" was considered offensive. The DDG responded that he agreed that all South Africans should be considered "Africans" and that they were following governmental terminology, unfortunately to which they were bound. The same MP asked about 'indigenous knowledge' and how those it was inherited from benefited from its being made use of by, for instance, the pharmaceutical industry. He also asked about the SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) label: if products no longer carried it, who was accountable if the products were faulty? In response, Mr Pedlar noted that SABS was a very good label, citing the Bureau's stringent standards. Labelling was a science on its own, and a relatively new one in South Africa, particularly in relation to energy consumption.

Another MP asked about equity in learnerships and noted that the Department delegated a great deal of its work to secondary organisations and asked how this influenced the equity profiles of these organisations.

A Kwazulu-Natal MP noted that only 33% of matriculants write mathematics and of these only 56% pass. This should be addressed, particularly in the context of the Department's HR capacity problem. He asked when a regional centre would be established in Durban. Ms Malapane said it was already open and she would supply him with its address.

Mr A Sulliman (ANC) asked about the poverty alleviation budget and where accountability kicked in. Regarding expenditure on poverty alleviation, the DDG noted that some projects had been running for a number of years and that proposals were needed for more of this budget to be spent. Many proposals had been received and these were being evaluated. Money was being spent in the North West province. Ms Malapane noted that there were also projects running in the Eastern Cape and KZN.

An MP claimed that funding seemed to be biased towards certain provinces and asserted that there was no even-handedness regarding the distribution of PCOs and NGOs across the provinces. He commented, too, that the DDG had not given a geographical breakdown and asked that this be followed up. The Chair said that the Department should provide the Committee with that information.

Ms J Masilo (ANC) asked why so much expenditure fell under the category of transfers. She asked, too, about the timeframe for the White Paper. Regarding the former, Mr Pedlar responded that they delegated most of their money.

An MP wanted clarity regarding plans to decentralise across the provinces. He also asked, regarding the limited amount of R4 million allocated for learnerships and the Department's HR capacity problem, if learnerships were supposed to address this problem. He asked how specifically the alleviation of poverty was addressed. What targets did the Department have? Regarding the marketing of products for the alleviation of poverty Mr Pedlar said that if this were problematic, it would be addressed.

The Chair asked for more information about the SAAVI and its initiatives, performance and prospects. The DDG responded that it was producing valuable work of international relevance. The Chair commented that the DDG noted the importance of popularising Science and Technology, yet did not relate this directly to the inadequate teaching of, and results in, maths and science at schools. Mr Pedlar responded that school learning was the responsibility of the Department of Education, although the Departments did consult from time to time.

An MP from Limpopo noted that because of the restructuring of educational institutions, a number of highly qualified educators had been left without work. He wanted to know how these people could be brought on board in light of the Department's lack of human resources.

More generally, it was noted by the Department that money was not simply given to organisations. Rather, these organisations regularly presented budgets to the Department for analysis. The Department considered stakeholder perspectives a primary factor. The DDG noted that accountability was important and that meaningful change must happen if funding were to be continued. He singled out the African Institute and its productivity for commendation. Mr Molopa, the CEO of the African Institute had written a weekly article in the Sowetan and the Institute had produced one of the best books on Africa. The Department had held frank, and sometimes very difficult, discussion with the parties to whom they delegated. Mintek and the HSRC were all subject to the same criteria. Ms Malapane added that they were PFMA compliant and had quarterly reports. Mr Pedlar suggested that the Committee meet with the Department to focus on particular issues.

The meeting was adjourned.


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