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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 October 2004
DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT, BUSINESS PLAN AND BUDGET: ADOPTION
Documents handed out:
Department of Science and Technology Annual Report 2003-2004 (offsite link)
Committee Business Plan 2005-2006
Committee Amended Draft Programme 2004
The Department briefed the Committee on their Annual Report. In the discussion that followed, Members raised questions pertaining to the funding allocated to science and technology, the restructuring of Science Councils, and increasing public awareness of science and technology issues. The amended draft Committee Programme was adopted, and the Department Business Plan 2005 - 2006 was adopted as a working document.
Mr N Nyide (Department General Manager of Science Communication) apologised on behalf of the Director-General and other Executives for their unavoidable absence.
Mr O Njamela (Department General Manager of Science and Technology Investment) outlined the Department management structure. Senior managers ran five programmes including the Administration Programme, the Technology for Development Programme, the International Co-operations Programme, and the Governance, Science, and Technology Systems Programme. The Technology for Development Programme focused on providing access to technology to both the first and second economies.
Several of the programmes and projects that fell under the Technology for Development Programme were discussed. The transfer of some institutions, such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), posed challenges for the Department. Restructuring the CSIR was a major component of budget funding.
The Science and Technology for Competitiveness Programme also presented the Department with a number of challenges in terms of equipment and infrastructure, human resources development, and 'frontier programmes'. The Department had asked Treasury for R1 billion and assumed the private sector would invest the same amount, as R2 billion was needed to increase total expenditure on science and technology. R2 billion, or 1% of GDP, was deemed an appropriate amount, given South Africa's level of development.
Mr S Dithebe (Ministry Parliament Liaison) noted that the CSIR was transferring from the Department of Trade and Industry to this Department in March 2005.
Professor I Mohamed (ANC) and the Chairperson asked for clarification about the approval of the Pebble-bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). Mr Njamela stated that the Director-General had been working with the project. The Department was responsible for providing the necessary human resources if the PBMR was approved.
Professor Mohamed argued that spending 1% of GDP on science and technology was not enough. Mr Njamela said the Department had asked Treasury for approximately R1 billion, as that was the amount needed to purchase new equipment and technology and increase human resources. The private sector was close to investing a similar amount. Many countries had increased their investment in science and technology to over 1% of GDP. However, 1% was sufficient to meet South Africa's needs as a developing country.
Mrs F Mahomed (ANC) asked about the success rate of 'incubator graduates', particularly women graduates. She also inquired about women's skills development. Mr Njamela said he did not know the statistics on such issues. However, the National Research Foundation (NRF) was a potential source of such statistics.
Mrs Mahomed questioned what kind of equipment was needed for South Africa to be competitive in the global economy.
Mr J Blanche (DA) expressed concern that R2 billion had not been raised for science and technology. He suggested the private sector should be involved as much as possible, since most new developments came from private companies. The private sector would invest if provided with incentives, such as tax rebates. Mr Njamela mentioned a number of programmes within the Department aimed at increasing private sector involvement. The possibility of tax rebates for private companies was being studied at the University of Pretoria.
The Chairperson argued for restructuring and refocusing all of the Science Councils that fell under the Department, not only the CSIR. He asked the extent to which these institutions had been refocused to include issues of business, innovations, and markets. Mr Njamela noted that Parliament-approved funding was the main source of funding for science and technology institutions. This funding was used to encourage organisations to develop technology beneficial to the country. Nine Science Councils were not part of this Department but were rather under other departments. He was unsure about the extent to which the Department could influence the restructuring of those councils.
The Chairperson inquired about efforts to promote issues of science and technology among the public. Mr Nyide stated that both the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SASTA) and the Department had worked on popularising issues of science and technology. They had been working on several initiatives to increase public involvement and thus far, had been relatively successful. Working with the private sector was an important means of increasing public awareness of such issues. Mr Dithebe added that SASTA worked with the media to increase their understanding of the intricacies of public communication of science and technology issues.
The Chairperson argued that the Business Plan should determine the funding allocated to science and technology, rather than the funding determining what plans were pursued. Mr Njamela felt the costing of projects had been covered previously.
Mr Njamela mentioned that the reconfiguration of the science and technology system had recently been approved by Cabinet. This reconfiguration organised issues of science and technology into three groups: cross-cutting activities and functions, established technology transfer and diffusion, and science and research work. The Chairperson argued that science and technology should be systemised in order to have an impact on society.
After a ten-minute recess, the Chairperson noted that both the Business Plan and Programme amendments needed to by adopted. He asked Members for suggestions on when the briefings by SASTA and the University of Pretoria should be rescheduled, since neither had occurred on 12 October as originally planned.
Mr R Van Den Heever (ANC) argued that the Programme should be adopted as it was, and that the briefings planned for 12 October be rescheduled during 2005. Members agreed and the Programme was adopted.
The Chairperson stated that more time was needed to formulate the budget. He felt this would be easy once the Committee had a clear idea of the Business Plan.
Mr Van Den Heever said that the ANC wanted more time to review the Business Plan. He suggested the Committee adopt the Business Plan as a working document and use the next week to discuss the plan with their Parties. Mr Blanche argued that the Committee should not wait a week to adopt the Business Plan. The Chairperson recommended the plan be adopted as a working document to the end of 2004, and the Committee agreed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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