CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) Annual Report

Science and Technology

13 September 2004
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

Science and technology portfolio committee

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 September 2004
CSIR (COUNCIL FOR SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH) ANNUAL REPORT

Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Relevant documents
Committee Draft Business Plan (document cannot be released because not finalised)
CSIR presentation
CSIR Annual Report 2003-04

CSIR website

SUMMARY
The presentation by the CSIR outlined its background, its planned achievements, the National Gateway Portal project, the Digital Doorway programme and the AmaDrum Project. The presentation also outlined the CSIR's research fields and future research areas.

During the discussion, Members sought clarity on the impact that the AmaDrum and Digital Doorway projects have had on South Africans, the extent to which women are involved in science and technology projects, whether the CSIR was comparable to other global research organisations, whether it has developed a strategy to attract school going children to a career in science and technology and whether the CSIR worked with the educational institutions on this aspect. The CSIR was asked to explain its projects that empower SMME's, the reasons for the non-completion of the radio frequency identification tag for the Smart Trolley and whether it could indicate ways in which this Committee could assist the CSIR to research important matters.

MINUTES
Committee Business Plan
The Committee effected certain amendments to its Draft Business Plan. The Chair noted that there were insufficient Members to constitute a quorum, and the plan would have to be adopted at the next meeting.

Presentation by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, President of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), stated that the presentation would not focus on the actual achievements of the CSIR but rather on its history and background and its planned achievements. The CSIR will be 60 years old this year and was involved in a wide variety of scientific research and innovation.

He conducted the National Gateway Portal presentation (document attached), which outlined the project, the Digital Doorway programme and the AmaDrum Project. He then played a video clip in which members of the community expressed their gratitude for the Digital Doorway programme

Discussion
Mr R Van den Heever (ANC) stated that many people constructed a "Chinese wall" between social challenges and scientific challenges, but quite clearly the Committee wants to bring its work in line with government's commitment to rolling back the frontiers of poverty. The presentation clearly contextualised how the Committee's work, and science and technology in general, could improve the quality of lives of people.

Ms F Mahamed (ANC) asked Dr Sibisi to explain the impact the AmaDrum and Digital Doorway projects have had on South Africans.

Secondly, Ms Mohammed asked Dr Sibisi to explain the extent to which women are involved in science and technology.

Dr Sibisi responded to these two questions by stating that he first wished to issue a disclaimer. As the mandate of the CSIR was so broad, and its role was primarily to develop the technologies but the roll out of the technologies belonged to the parties the CSIR was in partnership with. Having said this, the AmaDrum project was developed in the Eastern Cape by an empowerment company of black women. He stated that he was unable to indicate the exact figures with regard to the roll out of these projects, but they can be provided to Members.

Ms Mohammed asked whether the CSIR was comparable to the global research centres with regard to the impact it made in accordance with its objectives.

Dr Sibisi replied that the comparisons were very hard to make at the level of impact and thus proxies had to be used. A typical proxy in the research environment would be, for example, how many patents South Africa registered during 2003. Having said this, South Africa did reasonably well by international standards and this was perhaps best illustrated by the fact that South Africa belonged to an alliance of similar institutions around the world, and it was difficult for other countries and institutions to discuss such matters with another country unless they considered it to be on the same level. This organisation was called the Global Research Alliance which comprised about 10 top "CSIR look-alike" institutions across the globe, and dealt with a variety of issues that were common to the global society to which science and technology could contribute. These included global warming, availability of clean water, climate changes and energy. The fact that CSIR engaged at this level was a more useful comment on how it "stacked" in comparison to other entities than simply looking at how many patents were registered.

Ms Mohammed asked whether the CSIR has developed a strategy to attract school going children to a career in science and technology, and asked whether the CSIR worked with the educational institutions on this.

The Chair asked Dr Sibisi to explain the CSIR's learnership projects, as it was important to attract young people to science and technology.

Dr Sibisi replied to these two questions by stating that the CSIR believed very strongly that it must have very strong links with education institutions not only for the purposes of sourcing students, but also to enable even academics to feel free to spend sabbatical years at the CSIR. It was a very important point to get young people involved and the CSIR should and could be doing much more work in this regard. It was currently in partnership with the Department, and it was as area in which the Committee could assist the CSIR. The reality of the matter was that those institutions with deep pockets attracted the young people quite early. The CSIR must enter into partnership with the Department of Education, the National Research Foundation and the Department to provide scholarships which do not necessarily tie the young people from working in specific industries at the outset, so that they can work at any research council when they graduate.

Ms Mohammed asked Dr Sibisi to explain the CSIR's projects that empower SMME's.

Dr Sibisi responded that its value proposition in the support offered to small enterprises was through knowledge empowerment and not financial support, as that was the role of the Independent Development Trust (IDC), or management support as that was the role of Ntsika. Instead it provided a scientific knowledge base and how to take it to the next step to actually produce the devices.

Prof I Mohammed (ANC) stated that the Parliamentary grants could not be minimised because it has to make funds available to conduct fundamental research, as industries generally only made funds available for very specific research.

Secondly, Prof Mohammed asked Dr Sibisi to explain the reasons for the non-completion of the radio frequency identification tag for the Smart Trolley.

Dr Sibisi responded that it was licensed abroad for two reasons: firstly there was a particular British Technology Group in the UK which had significant expertise in the commercialisation process, which was a very challenging step. The CSIR thus partnered that group with the primary concern in mind that the device would have to be sufficiently cheap to be put onto each and every can in a supermarket. The technology was ahead of its time in terms of the possibility of commercialising it. There was however a renewed interest in the matter because the whole issue of tagging has become a very important issue, especially after 9/11. The commercialisation of products remained a challenge, and perhaps this Committee could interact with the Department of Trade and Industry on this.

Prof Mohammed questioned whether some of the CSIR projects like beekeeping and mat-making really contributed optimally to job creation. There was a need to identify major means to create employment and eradicate poverty.

Mr J Blanché (DA) asked Dr Sibisi to indicate the ways in which this Committee could assist the CSIR to research important matters, and stated that he has identified four areas in which the CSIR could commence research so that other more suitably positioned government departments could take up the projects. The first was to research the cause of road accidents and how it could be curbed over the next 10-15 years. This had to be curbed because if it continued it would have a devastating effect on the economy. The second was to research the greater possible use of the mass-transport systems in order to curb the use of liquid fuel transport systems. This was important because the oil price will increase consistently in the future, event though it has a finite lifespan. Third was the development of residential areas closer to rivers. The fourth was to develop the economies of certain regions as a whole, and not only small pockets of developments.

Dr Sibisi replied that these were important issues. The work done by the CSIR unit responsible for road safety would be conducted in conjunction with the Department of Transport and the Department, and the work done in the housing area would similarly be done in conjunction with the Department of Housing and the Department. The Committee could assist the process by "oiling" the relationships between the three parties involved.

The Chair stated that the Members had mostly congratulatory comments, and they were not strictly questions as such. He urged Dr Sibisi to get in touch with Prof Mshigeni of Namibia who has conducted very important research on poverty alleviation, using garden weeds.

Secondly, the Chair urged the CSIR to make copies of the presentations available to Members, as it was difficult to process the information without such copies.

Dr Sibisi replied that the copies would be made available to Members.

The Chair asked Dr Sibisi to explain exactly how the CSIR publicly communicates science and technology.

Dr Sibisi replied that a logical element would be to partner other interested institutions.

The Chair thanked Dr Sibisi for the presentation, and the meeting was adjourned.

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