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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
06 June 2006
INTRODUCTION OF NEW DIRECTOR-GENERAL BY MINISTER; NATIONAL SYSTEM OF INNOVATION: BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
National System of Innovation presentation
The Minister of Science and Technology introduced the new Director-General of Science & Technology, Dr P Mjwara. The Director-General briefed the Committee on the work the Department has embarked on. The Committee asked questions about women participation in science; inter-departmental co-operation; outreach to rural communities and the role of science and technology in poverty eradication and job creation.
Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Mosibudi Mangena, introduced the new Director General of the Department, Dr Phil Mjwara, who had been in office for two months.
Briefing by the Director-General on the National System of Innovation
Dr Phil Mjwara made a presentation on the National System of Innovation (NSI), which he referred to as the core business of his Department. The presentation covered the background of the NSI, expectations, policy framework, fundamental questions, intergovernmental focus, operational efficiency and conclusion. The NSI was expected to improve the quality of life of the people of South Africa by using technologies developed at South African institutions in order to address major social problems. It was also hoped that it would increase revenue and employ more people while it generated high value Intellectual Property that could be licensed or used to start new companies.
The fundamental question that underpinned the NSI was how South Africa measured the performance of the NSI and ensured that it was delivering what was expected. To answer this question, the Director-General indicated that this would be one of his priorities and he would achieve this by means of an innovation survey. He added that the Department was guided by the National Research and Development (R&D) strategy to raise investment in R&D to one percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To strengthen and align the role of the Department with other departments, it hoped to look into issues of governance and assisting in addressing some of the challenges using Science and Technology. The Director-General concluded that the Department had to define what was expected from the NSI and sell the idea to various stakeholders. It also envisaged aligning specific programmes of the NRDS with specific targets, while accelerating the Human Capital Development strategy implementation.
The Chairperson commended the Director-General for a clear presentation indicating that it was a very good note to start on, mainly because the presentation dealt with some of the issues the Committee had been raising with the Department for a long time.
Ms F Mohamed (ANC) asked Dr Mjwara to go into more detail on how the Department hoped to equip women in understanding and participating in Science programmes. She also asked when the Department would present its Annual Programme.
The Drector-General responded that there were ongoing projects and programmes that focused mainly on women empowerment in as far as Science was concerned. The Department was also hoping to embark on other programmes to capacitate women in understanding the challenges facing them. The Minister added that there was a specific structure that advised the Minister to understand issues affecting women in the field of Science & Technology. Moreover the Department was working in collaboration with other Departments such as the Department of Health to tackle these issues.
The Director-General indicated that the Annual Programme could be forwarded to the Committee.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) questioned the level at which the Department cooperated with other Government departments to ensure that there were no duplication of roles. He also asked what the Department had done to ensure that there was a structure in place to alleviate poverty by creating employment opportunities in the field of Science & Technology. He was concerned that there were very modern technologies in the country but access was limited.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) asked if the presentation meant that the Department had to rewrite its strategic plan to accommodate changes brought about by the Director-General. What was the contribution of the Department to ensure that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) strategies were effective? Mr Dithebe also asked about the significance of Human Capital Development.
The Director-General indicated that it was not necessary at this stage to rewrite the Strategic Plan that had been drafted, but that might be relevant in 2007 in order to refine strategies. He added that the ICT strategy would soon be finalised.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked the extent to which the Department hoped that the Science Councils would worked together.
The Director-General replied that the Department understood the importance of collaborating with other Departments and that there were already joint programmes with Departments such as Health, Education as well as Agriculture.
Mr K Khumalo (ANC) asked how the Director-General hoped to reach people in rural communities to empower them with science skills and how the Department hoped to fight unemployment in line with the national of creating one million jobs in the next few years.
The Director-General said that there was a structure to deal with poverty eradication and unemployment and the Department hoped to work with social scientists in exploring and understanding some questions around these. He added that it would be useful to bring the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to the Committee in order to present a breakdown of the various programmes to tackle these issues.
The Minister stated that all Departments operated under different mandates and as such it was important that those Departments met to brief each other in an attempt to avoid engaging in the same programmes. It was Science & Technology’s priority to fight unemployment.
The Chairperson asked if the Department participated in the programmes of Dinaledi Schools as initiated by the Department of Education.
The Minister said that the role played by the Science & Technology Department was not direct in many instances. Its role was mainly to advise various departments on issues around science. He said that he was however disappointed about the feedback he had received on how Dinaledi schools were operating. He was concerned that some of the schools chosen were not fully functional and therefore this would not allow the Department of Education to evaluate the successes and failures of the programme as underlying problems already existed.
Professor I Mohamed (ANC) was concerned that the country was losing a large number of post-graduate students in the science field to the international world. Were there any mechanisms in place to ensure that facilities catered for the needs of such students in South Africa? He was convinced that there was very little incentive to motivate young students to stay in South Africa and to explore career objectives in Maths and Science.
The Director-General said that internship programmes were effective in equipping post-graduate students to explore the area of science especially with the assistance of renowned professors. He said that the Department was of the opinion that students should be motivated to do both training and research in Science so that there was a level of flexibility.
Mr Dithebe proposed that the Department produced quarterly reports, which would inform and update the Committee on the Department’s progress in addressing the raised issues.
The Director-General welcomed the proposition.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister for introducing the new Director-General indicating that the manner in which he approached the Committee seemed to be innovative on its own. He added that at some point Dr Mjwara should come back to present his vision and mission in order for the Committee to support him and his programmes.
The Committee adopted minutes of the 30th May 2006 meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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