Department of Science and Innovation 2021/22 Annual Report; Committee’s APP; with Deputy Minister
NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture
15 March 2023
Chairperson: Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
The Select Committee met on a virtual platform to be presented the Department of Science and Innovation's (DSI's) annual report for 2021/22. Based on the approved 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan (APP), the total number of output targets, the Department achieved a total of 48 (92%) targets, and 4 (8%) targets were not achieved.
Members referred to the concerning matter of provinces that failed to spend accurately on school infrastructure projects, saying it was common knowledge that these provinces had large infrastructure developmental programme backlogs. They questioned the availability of bursaries for Masters and PhD students, and asked if this process was being constrained by the availability and quality of post-graduate doctorate supervisors.
The Committee was presented with a strategic planning document looking in detail at the strategic work of the Committee.
The Committee discussed the future possibilities of departmental cluster initiatives which would aid in delivering accurate and timeous technological information designed to answer questions of the future.
Introductory remarks by the Deputy Minister
Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to brief the Committee on the Annual Report. The Report is an important instrument for accounting to Parliament on performance for the year. It also allowed the Department to assess how it fared in meeting its targets and to work on mechanisms to improving performance for areas of underperformance. The Department also relied on the feedback provided by the Committee. There were major structural policy changes for the period under review including, the 2019 White Paper on Science and Technology and the 2021 Decadal Plan. Given the COVID19 pandemic and the need to ensure the mandate of the Department is met regarding government economic recovery and reconstruction plan, the aim was to make the national system of innovation much more agile and responsive to the country’s most urgent needs. This included overcoming the pandemic itself, rolling out infrastructure, substantially increasing local production, employment stimulus to create jobs and livelihood support and addressing energy generation capacity.
For a national system of innovation to be much more responsible to social challenges, the DSI sought to increase its focus on accelerated knowledge, digital and innovation drive, and inclusive socioeconomic development. In this regard, the key focus for the year ahead would be climate change, future-proofing education and skills, reindustrialising a modern economy and health and energy innovation – these are the critical areas of focus for the Department for the years ahead.
Department of Science and Innovation Annual Report 2021/22
Ms Gugulethu Zwane, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Institutional Planning and Support, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), presented the report on the Department's performance for the 2021/22 financial year. The presentation was in five parts:
- General information
- Performance information
- Human resources management
- Financial information
Based on the approved 2021/22 Annual Performance Plan (APP), the total number of output targets, the Department achieved a total of 48 (92%) targets, and 4 (8%) targets were not achieved.
Members were taken through the detailed information on outcome performance, performance of the DSI entities and unachieved targets. The presentation also covered DSI projects.
(See attached document for details)
The Chairperson thanked the Department for their continued year-on-year clean audit outcomes. The meeting was the first to be held since the passing of Ms Maurencia Gillion (ANC), who had been a Member of this Select Committee, and a moment of silence was held in her honour. Her contribution towards the Committee was recognised.
The Chairperson asked if the Department had acquired accreditation from Treasury for their irregular expenditure. R700.6 million had been carried over from previous years. How would it be implemented and assist towards the developmental programme?
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked about the increase in knowledge output towards the generation and innovation output for the seed fund programme. Could they provide more details on the 36 research grants and the Department's provincial footprint?
The Chairperson said that during a meeting with the Department of Health (DoH) the previous day, there had been a suggestion of a collaboration between the DSI and the DoH in the fields of vaccine research, and antiretroviral development. Was there any progress in building these relationships? How did they also link with the Department of Energy and the new ministry of electricity? What collaborations could they venture into, especially to aid this ministry towards reducing loadshedding? The Committee, and perhaps the general public, would expect this ministry to assist. Zimbabwe, for example, had stopped their export of lithium, and it was now used only within Zimbabwe for energy and energy storage. As a result of this, Zimbabwe no longer experienced loadshedding. Could South Africa learn from Zimbabwe in this regard? Could this ministry lobby for policy changes towards these types of changes?
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked if the Department could provide progress feedback on the joint marine laboratory programme DSI funded in their pilot phase. What was expected to be the outcome of this pilot phase? What was the provincial footprint of the programme? Regarding the PhD bursary allocation, the provincial breakdown had been 7 253, awarded by the DSI from 30 June last year.
What was the availability of supervisors for PhD students in the field of science and innovation? It took well-trained and quality supervisors to ensure that such programmes were successful. The Department had reached only about 5 000 of them. Was this missed target based on the lack of availability of supervisors? On the DSI internship programme, could the Department provide the Committee with a detailed footprint and how it prepared undergraduates and post-graduates for the workplace?
The annual report, on page 136, states that due to precautionary suspensions from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, the total number of days lost was 519, which was equivalent to R1 million in monetary terms. It said the money was never recovered. What was the plan to mitigate this? Had this scenario been rectified? If not, what was the Department's plan to approach these kinds of lessons? Regarding broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE), the Department had issued a BBBEE scorecard from the service provider appointed to conduct BBBEE assessments for three years to address non-compliance filings. Had the Department received the final scorecard from this particular service provider?
In programme 3 (international cooperation and resources), the DSI stated that there had been underperformance concerning capacity building initiatives specifically targeting previously disadvantaged institutions, which was mentioned on page 83. Could the Department explain these missed targets?
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said the strategic plan for 2020-2025 was an interdepartmental model for establishing science centres which would be tested over the next five-year period. The test case would be the Albertina Sisulu Centre in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, which was an initiative involving the DSI, the Eastern Cape Department of Education and the Insikayethu local municipality. Could the Department provide feedback on the progress of the science centre? Secondly, what were some of the lessons learned, and how would they impact the future of similar initiatives or programmes?
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked about page five of the annual report, where the Department had disposed of five vehicles that were no longer economically worth keeping. It planned to purchase an additional seven new vehicles for messenger services. Had it considered courier services as an alternative to the expense linked to the vehicles? Was the Department aiming to become a paperless institution that would be taking full advantage of technological advancements? On page 272, regarding no contingent assets, the Department had claimed an amount R3 491 786 against Charisma Bredenkamp for
damages suffered. What had the Department done to reduce damages suffered?
Ms E Nkosi (ANC, Mpumalanga) commended the Department on its report, which clearly showed progress. She also congratulated it on its clean audit outcome. There were critical vacancies not filled by the Department, which was even mentioned in their presentation, and it was concerning that the consequences of this drop in performance were uncomfortably noticeable. The Department must prioritise that these vacancies are filled.
A week ago, there was an article in the City Press newspaper, which stated that there were provinces like Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape which had failed to spend their grants. As a result, the Department decided to relocate these funds to other provinces. Was this the right move to make, in the knowledge that those two provinces desperately needed those funds? In terms of consequence management, how could the Department ensure this did not happen again? It could not be in a position where it had provinces that were not correctly using their government-provided infrastructure grants yet there were huge infrastructure development projects backlogs for work meant to be done at schools. This matter needed to be given special attention, because provincial officials did sit with members of mayoral committees (MMCs) to discuss governmental business. What had the consequence report been?
The Chairperson said there were other important issues, such as the higher education crisis, that had to be dealt with when they spoke next with the Department of Higher Education.
Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, responded to the proposed collaboration with the Departments of Health, Education and Electricity. The DSI had been working quite closely with the DOH at many levels. For example, when the COVID outbreak occurred, the DSI was highly instrumental in procuring and distributing the vaccine. This happened by manufacturing in collaboration with various states on the African continent. Vaccine acquisition had been possible based on the investment from companies such as Biovex, and working with the DOH and other entities within the health sphere. These collaborations were important, and their significance was important. For example, the fight against COVID did not involve vaccines alone, but was also about building capacity for vaccines for other probable diseases. He emphasised his support for these collaborations.
Regarding energy security, this was about efforts within the immediate term to create capacity for the existing power stations and increasing the availability factor so that there was a continuous supply to the grid. There were interventions in both the private and public sectors. The Department had been instrumental in advocating and driving solar and wind energy. It had been meant to showcase various projects with the South African Post Office, but unfortunately, they had had to drop the process due to lack of funds.
There had also been work done in collaboration with the Department of Transport. For example, there were trucks powered by hydrogen energy in the mining sector in the platinum belt in Limpopo. There was still work to be done to achieve the desired goal of achieving their 10-15 year projections on hydrogen power. The goal was to move towards green hydrogen energy, and that could be achieved only if they strengthened in terms of the independent power producer (IPP) and hydrogen production licensing. They were working not only with the three named departments alone on research and development. The Department was now looking towards the future of green energy on the continent. The Chairperson had asked a fundamental question on how the Department would ensure they achieved hydro security. There were a lot of policy considerations that needed to happen first. There might be a larger demand for coal currently locally -- the demand was even higher globally, with prices reaching $2 000 per ton.
In future, the Committee should ask the Department of Electricity to come and make presentations on energy security and technology. There is the example of hydrogen energy in South Africa. It had been a road map for how it could help with energy security. How would it help the economy and the potential jobs and micro enterprises that would contribute towards improving the energy situation?
The DSI had various programmes through the Department of Higher Education, and have been in in-depth discussion on Masters and PhD degrees. This collaboration had been a balance between various universities and the substantial funding that had been invested, especially to support supervisors. The National Research Foundation (NRF) ensures funding for the grants that it provides. Collaboration with other fellow continental academics, as well as in other countries internationally, had been most important in areas of science and technology. According to the NRF, there had been huge support in response to ideas of collaboration with South African academics in the work of science and innovation.
Mr Imraan Patel, DDG: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, addressed matters in Programme Four, for which he was directly responsible.
There were three points he would address. The first was the joint marine laboratory pilot, which the NRF managed. It was a new programme and was in only its second year of existence. It was designed to assist historically disadvantaged universities that offered marine science qualifications. Details could be requested from the NRF.
Regarding supervisor availability and producing PhD students, this question was not easy to answer as it involved many factors. The NRF provided the largest funding towards PhDs, and they were the ones who monitored these types of developments. They struggled with supervisors in areas such as information communication technology (ICT) areas, but in areas such as the marine space, they had strong supervision capabilities.
In Stellenbosch, they were looking at areas such as human capital development. Currently, they are completing a study on basic science. They have identified certain areas where there was a lack of PhDs because these fields move quickly, especially at this stage of their development. The order of priorities may not be a problem. In summary, what they were aiming to achieve in terms of their decadal plan was to move purposefully in developing PhDs in particularly well thought of areas.
Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, DDG, Technology Innovation, DSI, said Programme Two was the area in the health research centre which was prioritised by what was called “priority diseases,” which was led by the DOH. When they developed various vaccines and manufacturing technology, the research was done jointly. They were also incorporating regulatory boards on the review by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority SAHPRA. For example, during COVID, many extraordinary measures were taken to fast-track the approval of the vaccine, diagnostics and other related medicines.
There had to be policy changes at a regional level, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), because minerals used towards energy storage were all mined in the SADC region -- for example, the copper belt in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lithium in Zimbabwe, manganese in South Africa, and so forth. Therefore there must be a coordinated approach to the way in which energy minerals are managed. A SADC strategic pact was needed in matters of dealing with energy storage. The Zimbabwe decision to ban lithium exports had not yielded any results, and they still had more load-shedding than South Africa.
The beneficiation of lithium was an enormous process. In South Africa, for example, they had started the beneficiation of manganese, which required considerable investment and research and development (R&D) to deliver what was required.
Ms Vinny Pillay, Head: International Resources Portfolio, DSI, referred to capacity building at previously disadvantaged universities. When they had proposals for international collaboration, they asked for the performance of historically disadvantaged individuals (HDI) to be recognised for funding international collaboration through their bilateral partnerships in Africa, Europe and BRICS. They were also looking into opening development sessions within the European Union, for example, where South Africa was eligible. The system needed to be built, and information sessions with these institutions across the country increased to provide information on gaining access. In this programme, for example, they had launched what they called “The National Contact Point,” which involved dedicated officials targeting the strategic areas under “The Horizon Europe,” which was a European Union (EU) programme. It also linked South African researchers with international counterparts. They were also looking at the internationalisation of science, with South African researchers, particularly young researchers and HDI women, participating in international events. There was a system of interventions to help them achieve these objectives.
Deputy Minister's Remarks
Deputy Minister Manamela said a lot of progress had been made on the decadal plan by Cabinet. It was no longer a draft, and currently, they were preparing for a launch. They were also concluding the implementation stage of the role-player within the NSI. When they returned for their quarterly reports, they would show the progress made. On the provincial footprint, they would need to revert back with accurate statistics. They would also provide the number of days that were lost due to COVID.
Committee Annual Performance Plan
The Committee was taken through the presentation looking at the strategic work of the Committee, oversight mechanisms, focus areas and priorities for basic education, higher education, science and technology and sport, arts and culture.
The Committee research staff presented another outline to assist Members looking at sector-specific policy priorities, Committee priorities, Committee performance, Bills to be prioritised, joint meetings with other committees, study tours and recommendations for the year.
In terms of outstanding matters, the Committee would still need to:
-conduct oversight over conditional grants to provinces and municipalities
-oversight over infrastructure and funding of TVET and CET colleges
-NRF funding for postgrads
-health and safety in schools
-Science and Innovation policy instruments
Recommendations for 2023/24:
-ECD migration and ECD grant expenditure
-outstanding items from list above
-role of SACE and other teacher unions
-function shifts from social development
-GBV in higher education
-innovation programmes in science and innovation
The Chairperson said the Committee needed to refocus and do things differently. The Committee should focus on challenging provinces and get briefings on their challenges and progress, especially the use of funds. These interventions will help the communities.
Ms Christians thanked the research staff for raising pertinent issues. She felt the Committee should focus on safety and security in schools, infrastructure and grants and escalating the oversight role of the Committee. The Committee should also focus on higher education accommodation, GBV and ECD migration. If the Committee focused on these areas for the remainder of the Sixth Parliament, an impact could really be made.
Ms Luthuli agreed. She added that the flooding in the provinces should also be a priority for the Committee’s oversight. She also thanked the research staff.
Ms Ndongeni echoed thanks for the research staff. She agreed that special focus should be paid to the grant expenditure. She was from the Eastern Cape and there were great challenges with the coastal schools. The MECs should be called to account for their expenditure on the grants. She agreed with the study tour and oversight visits, motivating that priority should be given to the provinces affected by floods.
The Chairperson raised that there were also schools affected by the July 2021 looting such as one schools for disabled children. This must be followed up on as the meetings at the time were too tense and solutions were not forthcoming. He agreed the research presentations represented the Committee’s work in the cluster and the priority work of the Committee. The management committee of the Committee will further look into programming these priorities. He warned Members that next year would be constrained by time as it is an election year.
The Committee Annual Performance Plan was adopted.
Committee minutes dated 23 November 2022 were considered and adopted.
The Chairperson raised that it was important that the Committee track its resolutions and requests to the departments – some of these requests went unanswered. If the departments could not respond to Parliament, how did they respond to the Committee? The Committee did not want combat but was also not a sweetheart Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.
Nchabeleng, Mr ME
Bara, Mr M R
Christians, Ms DC
Lehihi, Ms SB
Luthuli, Ms SA
Manamela, Mr KB
Ndongeni, Ms N
Njadu, Mr EJ
Nkosi, Ms NE
Ntsube, Mr I
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