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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 May 2006
MINUTES AND COMMITTEE REPORTS: ADOPTION
Chairperson: Mr E Ncgobo (ANC)
Documents handed out
Committee’s draft programme for Second Term of 2006
The Committee considered the arrangements for its debate on the Department’s budget vote. Its programme for the second term of 2006 was adopted, and its report on the Department’s 2006 strategic plan was deferred to the following meeting. The Committee expressed its heartfelt disappointment at the manner in which Parliament had refused the acceptance of an invitation for a visit extended by the Swedish Parliament to the Committee. The precise reasons were not understood, as the Committee had complied with all the requirements. All efforts would be focused on securing Parliament’s approval for the Committee’s visit to Japan in June 2006.
Budget Vote 31: Science and Technology and preparations for the NA debate
The Committee considered the arrangements for the debate in the House (National Assembly) the following Friday, the time allocated to each speaker and the topics to be covered by each.
Portfolio Committee on Education Joint sitting: 20 May
The Chair stated that very interesting developments had been taking place in the education system, in which science and technology played an important role
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) requested that Members be provided with the Minister of Education’s budget speech so as to familiarise themselves with the broad thrust of the issues. He acknowledged the close working relationship between the two departments.
The Chair agreed.
National Advisory Council on Innovation workshop: report back
The Chair provided feedback on the international conference of scientists, which he attended. The National Advisory Council on Innovation workshop raised important points on how the Committee could follow-up on certain pertinent issues and the challenges faced in order to effect its business plan. The documentation would be provided to Members.
Problems with the Committee trip to Sweden and the trip to Japan
The Chair informed the Committee that he had received a note from the Ambassador to Japan, which included a very comprehensive and advanced agenda for the Committee’s upcoming June visit. He was impressed with the agenda as it was clear that much thought and preparation had gone into it.
He expressed his heartfelt disappointment at the manner in which the Committee’s request for a trip to Sweden had been dealt with by Parliament’s Committee Section and by the Chief Whip. He was not sure exactly who had been responsible for the final decision not to approve the trip. The Committee had followed the correct parliamentary procedure, and worked together with the Swedish embassy to ensure that the trip materialised. They had even come to Parliament when the news had been received that Parliament had declined the Committee’s trip.
The Swedish Parliament had wanted the Committee to visit by 3 May 2006, because they had their own time restrictions in the form of national elections. They informed the Committee that it could still visit during June 2006 but the risk then was that the Committee would not be met by the same Swedish Committee that had visited the South African Parliament, because the membership could very well change after the elections.
The Chair explained that Parliament’s Committee Section required the Committee to provide a motivation for the Swedish trip, which it had complied with. No response had been received until the Committee was informed that Parliament was considering many other motivational letters at the same time, and that the Committee’s trip was not a priority. At that point all arrangements for the trip had dissolved, and it was effectively cancelled. The matter was however discussed by the ANC at a meeting on Wednesday and recommendations were made, especially to the Committee whip.
As mentioned earlier, the Japan trip was however well organised and, as it appeared, the Minister of Science and Technology had even managed to secure a sponsor for the trip. The plan was to depart on 18 June 2006, which suited the Committee perfectly as it had already completed its budget hearings work.
Mr Dithebe welcomed the fact that the Chair had followed-up on the matter at the meeting held on Wednesday. The unfortunate situation was that the Committee was never regarded with the attention and seriousness it deserved, as a bona fide Committee of Parliament with an important mandate to discharge. It was an important Committee that involved and impacted on all departments of government. The Committee had, in the past, researched its trips well in advance of requesting them, but they were always arbitrarily turned down by Parliament. This time the response given by Parliament was not adequate, but at least the Committee had finally got the message across.
He stated that it would have been ideal to have met with the same Swedish Parliamentary Committee that visited this Parliament earlier this year, but nevertheless encouraged the Committee to go to Sweden. He requested the Chair to convey the appreciation of the Committee to the Japanese Ambassador for the effort made in organising the trip and agenda.
The Chair explained further that he was very upset because the Committee’s trip to Sweden had been cancelled by Parliament because the Chairperson of Committees, Mr G Doidge, had informed the Committee that all Members had to attend compulsory training during that week. Yet the training provided was "the same old same old" that Members had received previously, and the training workshop which was supposed to have lasted for the entire two weeks in fact lasted only three days. The result was that the Committee missed out on a trip that it had taken two years to plan. A strategy must be devised to ensure that Parliament’s management could not simply dismiss the Committee’s plans, because that had a definite negative effect on Parliament’s oversight role.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) stated that the Committee must ascertain immediately what requirements had to be met in order to secure approval for the Japanese trip, and the Chair must then immediately lodge the Committee’s application with Parliament.
The Chair informed the Committee that the requirements were spelt out very clearly in the application form provided by Parliament. He wanted Parliament to explain why it had refused approval for the Swedish trip, because it was not due to a failure by the Committee to meet the requirements. He agreed that the applications would be filed immediately.
Mr Ainslie stated that the Chair must make sure that the Swedish Parliament knew that the Committee could not accept its invitation to visit it because Parliament had refused permission, so that it was clear that "we did not snub them" and that the two Parliaments were still on good terms.
The Chair replied that the Swedish Ambassador had already enquired and had been informed accordingly. The Swedish Parliament was very disappointed that the Committee would not be able to accept their invitation.
The Chair informed the Committee that he had received many invitations to visit from various institutions within the Department. The Committee was however unable to accept any of those invitations as they had not provided funding for the trips. The rules of Parliament stipulated that any invitations for visits from government departments must be funded by the relevant department. The more such invitations the Committee missed, the more its oversight function suffered, resulting in a serious problem. The Committee would soon be forced to call Mr Doidge’s office to appear before the Committee to explain.
Adoption of Committee minutes
The Chair noted that the Committee adopted its minutes from previous meetings. He expressed some concern with the structure of the minutes, which he would take up further with the Committee secretary.
Mr Nxumalo proposed that the adoption of the minutes be deferred until the next meeting.
Mr Ainslie also raised concerns with the style of the minutes prepared, and proposed that the Chair take it further with the Committee secretary.
The Chair agreed. The Committee’s minutes served as a record for posterity and for any member of the public who wanted to know about the proceedings in its meetings. They must therefore present a full picture of events as they had transpired. He noted that the Committee agreed that the adoption of the minutes be deferred.
Committee programme for second term
The Chair noted that the programme was adopted by the Committee.
Report on Department’s strategic plan
The Chair noted that the Committee agreed to the deferment of the adoption of the Report till the following Tuesday, because the Report was detailed and needed further reflection.
The meeting was adjourned.
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