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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 March 2006
DEPARTMENT BUDGET AND CORPORATE STRATEGY 2006/07
Documents handed out:
DST Budget 2006/7-2008/9
African Cooperation within DST strategic Engagements
Status Report on the African Bilateral Relations
The Department of Science and Technology’s Acting Director-General gave an overview of the Department's corporate strategy and estimates of national expenditure. The Department had not developed a new strategy as the previous one still had a year to go.
Briefing by the Department of Science and Technology (DST)
Ms M Pyoos, (Acting Director-General, DST) stated that the current corporate strategy had been premised on the national system of innovation objectives, which were primarily human capital, growth, growing the economy and improving the quality of life for all people of South Africa. The strategy used the national Research and Development strategy as the basis for further development of the national system of innovation. The national innovation system provided the policy context so that the Department's long term vision for South Africa could be understood, while the national RND strategy tried to identify the kind of instruments that would be used to achieve the objectives of the white paper national system of innovation.
The National RND strategy contained the Department's science and technology missions. The Department’s philosophy was, "let us totally exploit our southern oceans natural advantage, let us totally exploit our southern skies natural advantages and through those then start building science capacity". This would result in the building of astronomers, engineers and physicists. This approach was reflected in the Department’s corporate strategy in identifying what the science and technology missions would be.
The Department had expressed commitment to the targeted 1% of GDP investment in research and development, and had not been satisfied with the commitment shown by Treasury. Cabinet approval had been received that there would by 2008 be RND expenditure of 1%. Ms Pyoos stated that an emphasis had been retained on human capital and infrastructure and social impact interventions. She reiterated that they had strived to remain consistent in what they had asked Treasury for. The Department had upheld their National System of Innovation (NSI) objectives, their RND strategy and their commitment to growing their base of spending.
There had been achievements from the DST which had prompted Treasury to decide on releasing the funds required. There had been delivery from DST in terms of policy for public funded research. DST had moved into its second phase of Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) database development. Science Councils were reviewed and a strong focus came forward on the public good outputs and actions of these institutions.
The Minister and Deputy Minister had taken the Department to task during the previous year on its efforts on the public good front. They had wanted to know whether the Department looked at market related outcomes or at poverty, and had questioned their mandate.
There had been a considerable increase in the amount of money allocated to the Department for new RND spending for further implementation of the national RND strategy. The increase had been in the region of R200 million for the financial year 2006/07, R400 million for 2007/8 and R600 million for 2008/9. Half of the amount for 2006/7 had been for the new DST building. There had been growth in the infrastructure budget for the Department and for the science system as a whole. There had been a trend by treasury that as long as it received very strong business like cases then it would be more inclined to spend on RND.
There had been a drop in the GODISA budget but an increase for Tshumisano. The DST had also bought a Zoo, to which R39 million had been allocated, with R10 million set out for employees.
SANREN (the South African National Research Network) had gone beyond the usual existing tenet network accessible only to the higher education sector, and had been allowed lower internet access by Telkom. The Department hoped to have a network of all research institutions in the country. This would help with connectivity with the international world.
The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) had not received a budgetary increase whilst an AIDS vaccine initiative had a decrease in its funding and there had been no new recruits coming forth. The next steps would be to complete strategic plan updates, present budgets, approve business plans of entities and set up an administrative framework for tax incentives. Ms Pyoos then thanked all that had contributed to making this year their most successful budget process ever.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) stated that under global science South Africa had become a member of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and very recently membership of the International Centre for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI) had been ratified. He asked what had been the reason for omission by ICSTI and whether South Africa’s membership had not been formally completed with the body. He asked if more funds would be allocated to IKS in light of the new policy document. He enquired if there had been an ICT strategy in place and if anything was being done by the DST to ensure tax incentives were taken advantage of.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) hoped there would be no large-scale abandonment of existing projects. With regards to poverty alleviation, he asked what was the new mission guiding the approach and if there was funding. He asked if the level of coordination in programme 5 could be elaborated.
Mr J Blanche (DA) remarked that there had been concentration on science and not technology. Technology had been decaying in the country, as seen in the Delmas incident, and recently the Koeberg incident. There should be focus on food production and research on urbanization.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) stated that there had been a cry about aging equipment at institutions of research. He asked if the Department would be refurbishing all technical equipment at these institutions. He questioned what the Department was doing with a zoo and how the budget benefit rural people.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked from which budget would funds be taken in case of a science disaster.
Ms Pyoos responded that the ICGEB was still running. The Department had been pushing for a bid in that regard. The ICSTI had previously been presented on. On the issue of IKS, the shift in thinking had been very much on regulatory front, working with the patent's office and improving the second phase of the database which was at a very technical level. Outreach took place in the form of support interventions and research needed to be increased in indigenous knowledge systems.
Regarding the ICT, it was envisaged that with the tax incentives there would be an opportunity to expand and grow private sector engagement. DST, DTI and Treasury would be conducting roadshows throughout the year as well as information sessions. The focus would be on giving information to small businesses to help them understand how they could benefit from tax incentives.
On the question of cooperation, Ms Pyoos stated that contractually-based cooperation had been established. Concerning poverty alleviation, the big question centred on the kind of exit strategy that DST had been employing.
The DST's buying the zoo had little to do with wildlife but focused rather on farm life. Research was ongoing on farm life disease. The budget for the social impact work was riding at R90 million. Nano technology development was targeted at alleviating the plight and burden of the poor.
The meeting was adjourned.
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