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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
1 March 2005
DEPARTMENT BUDGET BRIEFING
Documents handed out
Department PowerPoint presentation on corporate strategy
The Department gave a presentation on its goals and strategies, key deliverables, research and development framework, 2003/04 programme expenditure, recent outputs, and the Department’s demographic profile. Committee discussion centred mainly around research and development, the accessibility of science and technology to poor communities, scientific infrastructure and the budget.
The Department Director-General, Mr Rob Adam, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Department’s corporate strategy. In terms of operations, he said the Department had a good team, but not all the capacity it required.
He felt there was a need to concentrate on platform technologies. He cited ‘fuel gel’ as an example of a Department intervention programme dealing with the problem of shack fires. The gel had been tested and would be introduced soon.
There was also a need to create jobs for engineering companies. There was insufficient communication about science and technology to the public due to the lack of science journalists. The Department had produced a White Paper on science and technology and it would also fund PhD science and technology students for future research and development capacity.
The Department needed to work on a strategic management model, and to divide responsibilities to avoid duplication. The Department budget needed to be recorded more regularly. The increase reflected on next year’s budget was due to a transfer of Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) funds into the Department’s budget. This year’s budget was R1.5 billion.
The Department had suggested joint programmes with the Home Affairs and Health Departments. It would also develop other partnerships within the public service.
The Department was looking at increasing its expenditure and should have spent about 82% of its budget by the end of March 2005. About R8 million had been allocated for next year, which included cross-cutting and frontier programmes. Human resources development had received about R10 million for 2005/06 and the Department had been pleased by this Treasury response.
The Chairperson commented that the budget was an area of concern for the Committee. Members could have advised the Department on the necessary strategies for interacting with Treasury. The Department’s programmes had no timeframes and he questioned the relevance of the programme on shack fires, since government planned to ‘eliminate shacks’. He went on to suggest the inclusion of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBEE) in the Department’s poverty reduction programme. He also queried the Department’s interest in other developing countries, and asked about the number of vacant positions in the Department.
Mr R Adam responded that the Department had funded vacancies at 15% of the budget. There were three distinct sets of posts, including those not funded by the Department. The ones not funded were not regarded as vacancies. It would be difficult to suggest timeframes but would get back to the Members on this.
Mr A Mlangeni (ANC) commented that the Department’s budget allocation was still unclear. He wondered when the Department would make more progress in HIV/AIDS research.
Mr Adam responded that the increases in the document were not the total amount of the budget. The document would be updated and that version would be made available to Members. South Africa had an HIV/AIDS vaccine programme and there were seven potential candidates in the research pipeline. He obviously could not make any promises at this early stage.
Mr I Mohamed (ANC) suggested that the Department should rather look at the possibility of resettlement from shacks, instead of producing the fuel gel. He asked what the Department had done regarding ‘Centres of Excellence’, and asked why the laser centres had been placed at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (NECSA).
Mr Adam replied that since there was a problem of the growing number of shacks, it was possible that there would still be shacks by the time the fuel gel was produced. NECSA had been found to be more appropriate by the new Department team.
Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) commented that there had not been much planning around the second economy. He asked if there had been any discussions about making science accessible to poorer communities.
Ms Unathi Canca (Department General Manager: Science Platforms and Human Capital) said there had been 70 proposals for the Centres of Excellence. Six had won and 14 had been placed under ‘developmental training’ with the National Research Foundation (NRF). The Department had identified two potential Centres of Excellence which were ready to operate if funding were available to extend them. The Department would also establish five university Research Chairs. It would concentrate on human development at a high level, with the priority being on benefitting black people and women.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) wanted to establish the inter-relationship between the Department, the private sector and other departments. He asked to what extent the Department expected assistance from the private sector. He also enquired how projects had been extended throughout the country.
Mr Adam responded that private sector investment had declined in the research and development area.
Mr A Mlangeni asked what the Department meant by "forming partnerships".
Mr D Naidoo (Department: International Co-operation and Resources) added that forming partnerships with other countries was part of the government’s foreign policy, while they were in the business of building capacity in South Africa. The Department wanted to establish South African leadership in the international arena and also on a regional basis. There were many parallels between South Africa and Australia, and a formal trade agreement would be signed, possibly in March
The meeting was adjourned.
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