Forthcoming Legislation: Briefing by Director-General

Science and Technology

30 August 2006
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Meeting report


30 August 2006

: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Briefing on Forthcoming Legislation

The Committee was briefed on forthcoming legislation by the Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology. He commented upon the Human Science Research Council Bill, Science & Technology Amendment Bill, and amendments proposed to the National Research Foundation Act , The Africa Institute of South Africa Act,  the Academy of Science of South Africa Act, the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professionals
Act and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Act. In respect of each, the reasons for amendment were explained. Many of the amendments were purely technical, to address changing terminology as well as the changing structures within committees and councils.

Members raised questions on the changes in terminology, the expected date of finalisation, and the references to AISA.

Briefing by Department on upcoming legislation
Dr Phil Mjwara (Director General, Department of Science and Technology (DST)) explained that his briefing entailed a brief background to the different pieces of legislation being amended, and a discussion on the new Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Bill and the Science & Technology (S&T) Bill.

Dr Mjwara referred briefly to the proposed astronomy legislation, and specifically to the Sutherland telescope, and stated that the Bill entitled the Minister to order that no radio signals may intervene in that area, which would no doubt affect the transmitters of Vodacom. Hopefully the bill would be finalised in the next session of Parliament. He added that Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) stakeholders were in consultation with government on the possibilities of exploiting intellectual property (IP) regarding the telescope. Government was empowered to permit any entity such as universities to exploit IP if private entities were not doing so.

Dr Mjwara stated that the HSRC Bill had been in the final stages, but Government had asked HSRC to withhold the Bill, questioning the role of the HSRC. The explanation had been finalised in a memorandum. There had been a need for the introduction of a new HSRC Bill, to align with constitutional values, national priorities & strategies of the government. The present HSRC Act 23 of 1968 was outdated and in conflict with other pieces of legislation, such as the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). The institutional review of the HSRC encapsulated these 5 public purposes. Considerations regarding the HSRC mandate worked towards strategic orientation. For instance, the Bill now referred to the Minister of Science and Technology, who was empowered to remove a Board member, after consultation with the Board; and to dissolve the Board. In addition provision had been made for the appointment of an international (Africa) Social Science researcher on the Board. Furthermore the term CEO would replace the term President, and the Bill referred to the HSRC Board rather than the old Council.  The shareholder compact had been completed although HSRC was a 3A entity.

The Director-General explained that an Audit Committee would assist with financial affairs, and that a Governance Committee had been introduced to monitor and evaluate Board performance. The CEO would be appointed for a period of five years. Provision was made for the mobility of persons within the system, thus ensuring intellectual property rights for publicly funded institutions.

Dr Mjwara then referred to the S&T Amendment Bill. The main reason for the introduction of this Bill was the split between the former departments of Arts and Culture and Science and Technology, necessitating a review of Acts administered by DST. It was also necessary to harmonise old legislation so that it was compliant with more recent legislation such as the  PFMA.  The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had now transferred from the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) to the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Dr Mjwara discussed the proposed amendments to the National Research Foundation (NRF) Act, No 23 of1988. The amendments arose from the acquisition of the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA) and National Zoological Gardens (NZG) as national facilities. Furthermore the shareholder compacts for public entities (3A) had been finalized. Once again, a Governance Committee had been introduced to evaluate Board performance, and an Audit Committee appointed to oversee the financial affairs of the NRF. The Ministers of S&T and Education were to consult before appointing the Board. Four meetings, not three, would be held each year, and the Chairperson must meet with the Minister at least twice a year. The CEO’s performance agreement had been signed, and there had also been provision made to appoint the CEO for a second term, as a contingent plan. NRF’s divisions were now prescribed by Section 12. IPR catered for indigenous knowledge and benefit sharing, and so transitional provisions were not relevant. Once again he highlighted technical terminology changes.

Dr Mjwara spoke on the Africa Institute of South Africa Act, No 68 of 2001.  He stated that the objectives had been amended to include research as a function. The shareholder compact had been signed. There had been consultation with the Minister regarding the CEO appointment and the CEO was to enter into performance agreement. Meetings would increase from 3 to 4 meetings a year. A Governance and Audit Committee had been appointed. Provision had been made for the appointment of an external candidate to act as CEO. The transfer or secondment of officials between DST to Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISA) had been implemented. The IPR clause had been amended. Section 19, which dealt with the deregistration of AISA was no longer relevant. Technical terminology changes were noted.

Dr Mjwara moved on to the Academy of Science of South Africa Act, No 67 of 2001 He emphasised the importance in defining "member" of the academy and "member" of Council and/or Committees. He noted that membership was subject to the payment of an annual subscription. Furthermore, provision had been made for disciplinary measures and for funding from government. In addition financial statements had been tabled and transitional provisions repealed.

Dr Mjwara noted amendments to the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professionals
(SACNASP) Act, No 27 of 2003. The responsibility of the Minister of S&T was set out. It was noted that state nominations did not need to be registered. The areas of application would include the Pharmacy Act; the Health Professions Act and the Dental Technicians Act.

Dr Mjwara stated that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR) Act, No 46 of 1988 also would be amended. Section 2A had been inserted to prohibit the unauthorized use of the CSIR name. Reference to the dti functions over the National Metrology Laboratory has been removed. Transactions with foreign government were facilitated. Furthermore, the
powers of CSIR had been limited with regard to conducting research outside the Republic. The shareholder compact had been signed. Provision had now been made for an executive management board, and governance and audit committees. Technical amendments were made to the wording. The CEO would have to enter into a performance agreement. CSIR would no longer act as a guarantor to employees buying immovable property. Moreover, the buying and renting of buildings for residential purposes by employees was not permitted. Lastly, the Director-General mentioned that the application of Act to South West Africa had been repealed.

The Chairperson asked what exactly was being reviewed in the SACNASP Act, which had taken a substantial time to draft.
Dr Anusha Lucen (DST) explained that there was now more flexibility with regard to members not being requested to be registered scientists before being members of the council.

Prof I J Mohammed commented on the role of the apartheid history in the HRSC and suggested that this aspect should be investigated.

Mr Sello Dithebe commented that South African Police Service (SAPS) had not made an effort to engage with the Committee with regard to the forensic laboratories.

The Chairperson stated that the issues being discussed were of significance to policy. He also raised the question of when the Bills would be finalised in parliament.

Dr Mjwara stated that the HRSC Amendment Bill would definitely be on the agenda in the next session of parliament. However, the legislation on engineering and astronomy was unlikely to be finalised in the next session.

The Chair asked why it had been necessary to amend the term President to CEO.

Dr Mjwara explained that this was the general terminology used currently, and aimed to avoid miscommunication when more than one president was at a meeting. 

The Chairperson questioned why AISA was still referred to, as it had been stated that they had been removed.

Dr Mjwara explained that discussions started at an elementary level, and proceeded upward. The general view was that AISA had done good work. However, he noted that there were some issues at AISA that had been finalized and resolved, and that it was a short timing issue.

The Chairperson commented that when amendments were referred to it would be useful for the Committee to have the principal Act before them.

The meeting was adjourned.


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