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EDUCATION AND RECREATION SELECT COMMITTEE
6 April 2005
NATIONAL RESEARCH FOUNDATION BOARD SHORTLIST; DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY STRATEGIC PLAN AND BUDGET: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr B Tolo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint presentation on Corporate Strategy
The Committee briefly considered and approved the report from their oversight visit to the Eastern Cape. The Minister of Science and Technology then briefed the Committee on the proposed candidates for appointment to the Board of the National Research Foundation (NRF).
The Department then gave an overview of their Strategic Plan. The new Resource and Development Strategy structure contained five programme areas, including corporate services, science and technology expert services, international co-operation and resources, frontier science and technology, and government sector programmes and co-ordination. The proposed budget for the 2005/06 Resource and Development Strategy was R1.99 billion with the majority of expenditure in the area of frontier science (R1.36 billion) and government sector programmes and co-ordination (R431 million).
Eastern Cape visit report
A Member asked what vacancies were referred to in the reference to the high vacancy rate in Grahamstown. The Chairperson clarified that the report was referring to personnel vacancies.
Mr M Sulliman (ANC) stated that the recommendations identified certain areas that should be examined by the Department. The report did not specify whether the recommendations were aimed at the national or the provincial governments. He asked for clarification on which recommendations were aimed at the national government and which were aimed at the provincial government.
The Chairperson pointed out that the national government was responsible for policy and standards. The provincial governments were responsible for implementation and operational issues.
The report was approved.
Ms N F Mazibuko (ANC) asked how the Committee would follow up on the report. The Chairperson responded that the report would be sent to the province. The Committee would follow up at some point. The province would need time to respond to the report. The Committee could not visit the Eastern Cape again as follow up because they would need to go to all the provinces before returning to the Eastern Cape.
A Member of Parliament asked if the province could give the Committee feedback, perhaps once every six months. She said that feedback had been lacking in the past. The Chairperson replied that he would request feedback.
The Chairperson asked for thoughts and comments on the Committee's trip to Brazil. He needed the report to be prepared so that the Committee could consider it. In the future, reports should be submitted within fourteen working days of a Committee trip.
Ms N Madlala-Magubane (ANC) commented that while they had been in Sao Paulo, the Committee had not interacted with the less wealthy people. The Committee did not talk with them, encourage them, or purchase from them. In the future, she would like to take time to promote their products.
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked if the Committee was evaluating what they learned from the trip or merely the energy that it created. She added that she would like to address the meaty issues.
The Chairperson replied that they were addressing the energy that the trip created. The Committee would consider the official report later.
Mr M Thetjeng (DA) stated that he did not think it would be fair to have an unstructured discussion of the visit. He asked what the purpose of discussion would be if the discussion would not be formalised in the minutes. He stated that there needed to be a formal session looking at the issues.
A Member proposed that the Committee table the issue until the report on the visit was completed. The Chairperson agreed, but noted that he had not said that the discussion was off the record.
Minister Mosibudi Mangena stated that the appointment of the Board of the National Research Foundation (NRF) occurred every three years. Candidates were nominated in a transparent and open manner. An advisory panel was appointed to advise the Minister on suitability of candidates. Once candidates were screened, the Minister of Education, the Committee on Education, and the Committee on Science and Technology would be consulted. There were 77 nominations. The nominees must be representative of expertise in areas such as research and technology, management, business, public affairs, civil society, tertiary institutions, agriculture, environmental sciences, health science, natural sciences, engineering, and social sciences. The Minister had asked the panel to consider gender, race, financial, governance and science expertise.
The Chairperson pointed out that the Minister was currently consulting the Committee. The Minister had the power to appoint after consultation.
Mr J Thlagale (UCDP) noted that it was clear that the Minister and the panel had taken a large number of factors into account. He expressed concern that any action from the Committee might interfere with the careful consideration. He proposed that the list should be accepted as it was.
Mr M A Sulliman (ANC) expressed uncertainty about coming to a final decision at the time. He asked if the Committee was making a recommendation or if the Committee was making a final decision. He asked when the Minister wanted a final decision.
The Chairperson noted that the Minister had the ultimate power to appoint. He stated that the Committee could make suggestions.
Mr M Thetjeng (DA) observed that the list had been carefully considered. He expressed concern about the gender composition of the proposed list, as it lacked women. The Chairperson noted that the list had been composed by the panel.
Minister Mangena stated that the present Board had one female. There were a large number of variables considered, and it was difficult to favour one variable, such as gender, as it would come at the expense of other variables.
The Chairperson asked if the Minister could have a different list than the list proposed by the panel.
Minister Mangena replied that he could have had a different final list than the list proposed by the panel.
The Chairperson pointed out that the Board was mainly composed of white males. He asked if there was a mandate for the board to be more representative of diversity in South Africa. Minister Mangena stated that the composition of the board was a function of history. There was a need to change the demographic composition of institutions to be more representative of the diversity of South Africa.
The Chairperson emphasised that the panel should also seek out young people. He asked if the NRF had produced value for the expenditure.
Minister Mangena said that it had done so. The country required research. Composing a more diverse NRF would have come at the expense of diversity in other institutions. The problem could only be solved by educating more young people in science.
The Chairperson stated that the Minister had now consulted with the Committee and that the Minister had done what the law required him to do. He thanked the Minister.
The Minister departed from the meeting.
Mr M Sulliman asked if the Committee was making a recommendation or if there would be another meeting before a recommendation was made.
The Chairperson emphasised that the process was finished, and that consultation had occurred.
Mr Peter Pedlar (Department Deputy Director-General: Corporate Services and Governance) explained that the Department's new Resource and Development Strategy structure contained five programme areas, including corporate services, science and technology experts services, international co-operation and resources, frontier science and technology, and government sector programmes and co-ordination.
The 2003/04 expenditure was R1.04 billion, which was 99.8% of the allocated budget. The expenditure to date of the 2004/05 budget was R1.16 billion, which was 90% of the budget. The proposed budget for the 2005/06 fiscal year on the Resource and Development Strategy was R1.99 billion with the majority of expenditure in the area of frontier science (R1.36 billion) and government sector programmes and co-ordination (R431 million).
The Micro-economic Reform Strategy (MERS) sought to grow the first economy, to create a "ladder between the second and the first economies, and to create acceptable livelihoods within the second economy".
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked what the Department's intended budget increase in percentage terms would be with regards to the 2014 vision and what would the estimated budget in 2014 be.
Mr Pedlar said the Department was aware of the two economies existing in the country. The Department must have strategies to develop both the first and second economies, and must build a ladder between the second and first economy. The budget projections for 2014 were unknown. Budgets generally increased except when there were strategic interventions aimed at containing expenditure.
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked what the Department's relationship was with the BlueIQ and how did the department analyse the BlueIQ?
Mr Pedlar replied that the Department had a very close relationship with BlueIQ. DST people sat on the Board of the SciBona, which was a part of the BlueIQ initiative.
Dr Nawaz Mahomed (Department Local Innovation Manager) noted that BlueIQ was not the only initiative with which DST worked. There were a number of economic development agency initiatives addressing technology with which the Department had been involved. The initiatives required extensive co-operation with various national, provincial and local departments. Where initiatives were agency appointed, the Department would engage with agencies to identify relevant science and technology issues.
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) questioned why part of the Euro 57 million discussed in the presentation had been sent to other countries when South Africa had need for it.
Mr Pedlar stated that South Africa had leveraged funds from collaboration with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. The EU had made a specific requirement that, notwithstanding South Africa's capacity to source money, South Africa must not be seen as cannibalising all of the resources that had been coming from the multilateral relationship. South Africa was required to spend the money both internally and externally.
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked about the Department's relationship with the environment.
Dr Anusha Lucen (Department Manager: Institutional Performance Management) replied that the Department had and continued to work closely with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT). The two departments had co-operative agreements with one another on a number of projects. There were partnerships working on climate change.
Ms A Qikani (UDM) asked if the programmes outlined could be implemented in rural areas.
Dr Mahomed responded that DST had to keep the issue of programs in rural areas in mind. The Department had engaged with provincial governments, who engaged with local governments. In rural locations, the local capacity to manage projects or interventions was limited or absent. There was a need to build capacity in rural areas, within the context of the National Sustainable Rural Development Strategy. Many interventions required co-operation with various national departments. Technology and training were required for projects.
Mr Pedlar gave the example of the development of ‘nguni balls’ in the Eastern Cape, which used existing structures. DST did not have the capacity to manage projects.
Dr Mahomed added that there had been imbizos with provincial governments. The reports had mentioned various projects.
Mr J O Thlagale (UCDP) asked about the Department's capacity to spend money and asked about past trends in department capacity to spend.
Mr Pedlar stated that the last rollover of money was in 2000, when the Department had R15 million that they could not spend. There was a small rollover in 2002, when DST was part of the Arts, Culture, Science and Technology Department. When DST became a stand-alone department, the Department came close to the wire and rolled over R1.7 million. The capacity to spend had been proved.
Mr M A Sulliman (ANC) noted the 2003/04 expenditure of 99.8 percent, yet there had been a high vacancy rate for posts in the Department. He asked if the 0.2 percent in unspent funds accounted for the vacancy rate.
Mr Pedlar stated that there had been a high vacancy rate, but that there was latitude in the budget to use savings in one area for projects in another area, with the approval of the Minister of Finance. The Department had redistributed savings from under spending on the staff budget.
Mr M A Sulliman (ANC) observed that programme four had a budget allocation of R1.3 billion, most of which went to the science councils. The Committee had been told that the Medical Research Council (MRC) reported to the Minister of Health. He asked if this was correct or if there were reporting mechanisms whereby the MRC would report to both the Department of Health and the DST.
Mr Pedlar replied that the MRC did report to the Department of Health. The R1.3 billion was allocated for DST science councils, such as the NRF, CSIR, HSRC, All Africa Institute, and the Innovation Fund among others. The DST Strategy Report included a science vote, which included all science councils.
Mr M A Sulliman (ANC) clarified as to whether the MRC reported to DST.
Mr Pedlar replied that DST did the science vote for the MRC. The DST prepared the allocation letter for the MRC as part of the science vote. The MRC allocation was reflected in the Department of Health budget.
Ms N F Mazibuko (ANC) asked if the DST had plans to pass laws during the current year.
The Chairperson noted that the Science and Technology Strategy discussed inadequate intellectual property legislation. He asked if the Department was doing anything to address the problem.
Mr Pedlar responded that DST was in the process of putting together a Science and Technology Act. A Science and Technology budget would support the Science and Technology Act. DST wanted to establish new governance standards, speaking to how the science system would work in the country. There was also a New Act for the Human Science Research Council. DST was looking at intellectual property. The South African intellectual property laws were vague.
The Chairperson noted that it might be too late to bring new legislation for the current year.
Mr M Thetjeng (DA) stated that the presentation had indicated that the DST shared responsibility for the human resource development strategy in co-operation with the Department of Education. The Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS) had been developed by the Department of Education and the Department of Labour in 2000. He expressed concern that DST had been collaborating only with the Department of Education. He asked if DST had been working with the Department of Labour also.
Dr Mahomed responded that DST had a Technical Skills Development Strategy that responded to the Department of Labour requests. The strategy had been recently released.
Ms J M Masilo (ANC) commended the Department for spending the large majority of its allocated budget. She asked with which programmes IBSA was involved. She questioned if there were any programmes with China.
Dr Mahomed stated that there was the South African Agreement for Co-operation in Science and Technology, which called for collaboration between the two countries.
Ms J M Masilo (ANC) asked what programmes were in place at the Tswana College of Science of Technology.
Dr Mahomed assumed the Minister was referring to the Tswana University of Technology (TUT). He stated that the onus lay on the universities to position themselves to take advantage of mechanisms that DST had provided. TUT had an automotive research centre and technology station in electronics. There may be others.
Ms J M Masilo (ANC) inquired if the Department was assisting with the Dequena Silk project in the North West Province.
A Member of Parliament noted that science and technology equipment was very expensive. She asked if equipment could be upgraded or if other countries provided equipment.
Dr Mahomed noted that it was possible to upgrade equipment, such as electron microscopes. Changes in technology have made upgrading impossible in some instances. Post-apartheid, many South African institutions had made partnerships with overseas institutions in order to access equipment.
The Chairperson noted the appointment by DST of a number of science and technology boards. He asked of which boards DST staff were members.
Dr Lucen stated that there were a number of boards with DST members on them. DST needed to have detailed information as to what was going on within the councils. They also needed to know how programs were run. They were appointing DST representatives to a number of boards.
The Chairperson questioned where the money to fund their initiatives came from.
Mr Pedlar replied that the Department had identified key areas to target, such as biotechnology, HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, ICT, and IKS.
The Chairperson asked about the impact of science in technology, particularly in comparison to Japan.
Mr Pedlar stated that Japan was the third largest research and development spender, which had propelled them up to their current development and technology level. Japan was a key partner from which to learn. The former DST Minister was working in Japan, and was setting up links between South Africa and Japan.
The Chairperson asserted that science and technology was a national competence. The MEC in the Free State had stated that he was the MEC for Arts and Culture, and for Science and Biotechnology. He asked the Department to explain the situation. Mr Pedlar did not know about the situation with the MEC in the Free State.
The meeting was adjourned.
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