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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 September 2006
COUNCIL FOR SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH 2005/06 ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr E N N Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Annual Report 2005/2006
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Annual Report 2005/2006 Power Point presentation
The CSIR provided an overview of its accomplishments during the 2005/06 year measured against its mandate. The Council presented its Annual Report including various demographic statistics and financial developments. The Portfolio Committee was called away for another meeting, cutting question time short. Members asked questions about the loss of staff members, the perceived lack of qualified black candidates, the problems involved with delivering science in the real world and the lack of implementation of projects beyond the incubation stage. The Committee was convinced that there were plenty of qualified black candidates without jobs, rendering the excuse of a small pool for transformation purposes inadequate.
The Chairperson said the meeting could only continue until 1200 as Members were required at another meeting. He expressed regret and hoped that the Committee would continue interacting with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in order to deal with outstanding issues resulting from the shortened meeting.
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi (President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) began his presentation with a DVD which showcased the CSIR’s highlights from 2005/06. This included, under Directed Research, a project making candles with a mosquito repellent plant extract, the development of super sorghum, laser technology and anti-TB drugs using nanotechnology. Under Infrastucture, the Council has created a heavy vehicle simulator and has investigated innovations for optimal low income housing, curbing air pollution, satellite fire detection and overcoming silicosis with the aim of eliminating the emergence of new cases of the lung disease by 2013. This was in addition to creating wire rope testing facilities. In safety and security, the CSIR has created technology for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), enhanced cyber-forensics and fire investigations. For Computer Literacy, 100 country-wide Digital Doorways have been created and wireless technology has been implemented through the Meraka Institute. Large satellites, rocket launches and value addition to materials have also featured in the CSIR’s programme during the year. It was very important for the Council to disseminate information as well as creating it. The goal was to empower people through knowledge in South Africa as well as in the region.
The CSIR mandate originates in the Scientific Research Council Act, 1988. It is very broad and the Council has ongoing discussions to clarify how the mandate can be translated into strategy. The CSIR does not want to ‘miss the boat’ when it comes to world developments like nanotechnology. Transformation in the CSIR is multifaceted. They wanted to ensure a return to its core scientific purpose as well as building and transforming human capital. They wanted to move away from a commercial drive which has existed for the last decade and focus on science. They could not rely on the existing knowledge base and must therefore strengthen the science and technology base in the context of research and development to fulfill the mandate.
The number of employees has dropped from 2379 in 2005 to 2088 in 2006. The loss has been due to reconfiguration of the knowledge based services. Balance is important in transformation so that key abilities are not lost. A qualification profile shows that there are more MScs and PhDs among the older employees. This was probably because the younger people were still working on these degrees, but they must be encouraged to do so. The number of MScs and PhDs had increased since 2002 from 7.3% to 9.4% of the total staff. The target, however, is 39%.
The demographic transformation has remained unchanged overall. The number of black employees has increased from 44% to 47%, though black researchers have decreased from 36% to 33% in the last year. The CSIR saw this as a problem and was resolved to work harder on it. A possible explanation for the loss was that people move on to more lucrative jobs in industry. The difficulty with transformation was that desirable people were inevitably lost. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) drives in the country also attracted employees away from the CSIR. There was a very small pool of black MSc and PhD graduates in the country. They needed to invest in building human capacity through bursaries as this was part of their mandate.
The CSIR had various work outputs including 89 research papers, 81 conference papers, 685 CSIR reports and 4 patents over the last year. The major goal is in line with the National Research and Development Strategy designed by the Department of Science and Technology. The CSIR supports them in a number of ways including making SA a world-class manufacturing nation through the development of electronics and materials, developing supply chain management though logistics, supporting biotechnology strategy and enhancing information and a communication strategy through the Meraka Institute. They had programmes for poverty alleviation; research and development outcomes for public good and they supported New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) interactions.
With regards to financial sustainability, some income streams have been discontinued but the CSIR showed mostly sound financial performance. There were actuarial gains of R56.6 million on the post-retirement medical liability as well as from the good performance of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) in the previous year. The Parliamentary grant has increased by 7.7% and the contract income has remained fairly stable. The royalty income is only R2.73 million, which was very low. The sources of contract income were international, public and private.
The Chairperson thanked the CSIR and said he was sure that everyone present was especially interested in the application of science to improve the lives of South Africans; as this was what science’s purpose should be. From his recent trip to Japan, he had three warnings. First, modern scientists think too much about the terror that science can bring, but not about the errors in innocent research that can create huge problems. Second, scientists must consider the timing of their research and the impact of it on future generations. Third, “we must not think we are alone; we must keep our environment clean in case civilisations from other planets arrived.”
Mr S L Dithebe (ANC) asked what the deregistrations mentioned in the Annual Report were due to; were these areas not performing? With regards to the post retirement medical liability, he asked for clarity on who was included in this and whether it was only members who joined prior to 1996. He stated that to attend a conference, a paper must be produced. Was there a blue print for historically disadvantaged persons to follow in this regard? He thanked the CSIR for staying relevant especially regarding poverty alleviation.
Mr A R Ainslie (ANC) commented that when the Committee visited Wits and Rhodes Universities last year there were queues of black MSc students who complained of a lack of jobs in South Africa and who were making plans to find work overseas. It was confusing that the CSIR thought the qualifications pool was small. He asked what was being done at university level to hire these students. The Committee would like a list of poverty alleviation projects so that they can learn about them and roll them out. Many projects remained at the “incubation” stage and are never rolled out on a large scale. What is done when projects are successful? Was this CSIR’s responsibility and did they need a single entity to co-ordinate projects between departments?
Prof I J Mohamed (ANC) asked whether the CSIR is involved in fighting the new TB strain or if it only concerns the medical sector. He felt that even with the increase, the government gives the CSIR too little funding and that the government grant should exceed the contract income. With regards to the loss of employees; are they lost forever or do they go to other industries?
Mr J P I Blanché (DA) said that the world is becoming “flat” through globalisation and industrial development. The CSIR must remain relevant. If the CSIR has designed such a large heavy vehicle simulator, why are South African roads still so bad? The same question was asked of air pollution. What legislative changes can be made to help the CSIR better the infrastructure?
Ms B T Ngcobo (ANC) asked for information on community projects so that the Committee could follow them up. Was the TB-nano project developed since the new MDR (multi drug resistant) strain? Has the cause of the static demographic percentage been identified and what is being done to remedy it?
Mr B J Mnyandu (ANC) asked for a comment on why there is such a difference between the number of applications for patents and the number granted.
Mr Dithebe asked whether loans are still being granted to management.
The Chairperson noted that there seemed to be a vast pool of black MScs, and that these candidates wondered what the point of promoting science is when there are no jobs. Who is telling the truth? He personally distributed the CVs of some very good PhD students to various institutions but there was no result.
Prof De la Rey (CSIR Board member) said that it could take up to 20 years to develop a researcher. The CSIR should give direction to Parliament, perhaps at a workshop.
Mr Chris Sturdy (Chief Financial Officer) said the medical liability was only for people who joined before September 1996. They had had to enter an agreement with members that were mutually beneficial.
Ms N Khungeka (Group Executive: R&D Outcomes and Strategic Human Capital Development) said that they welcomed a workshop. The CSIR was not sitting on the fence when it came to transformation; there was a biased recruitment drive in place. Since the beginning of the financial year, the numbers had increased but this had not been reflected in the presentation. The CVs of good black candidates would certainly get the attention they deserved. The Department of Science and Technology had created a dynamic environment and it was difficult to imagine people in science sitting idle. Employees who leave often go to government and industry where jobs are more lucrative. The number of women employees was due to the small pool and was a complex issue that should be included in the workshop. There was a hope that recent profiles published about women in science would encourage more women to follow this career path. She would make community project lists available.
Mr Sibisi pointed to service delivery problems as an explanation for infrastructure issues and the lack of translation of project incubation into implementation. He suggested that instead of the CSIR entering the arena of service delivery, they should interact with those that already were engaged in service delivery.
Dr D Walwyn (R&D Core Group, CSIR) explained that the TB-nano project aimed to make TB drugs less toxic. They needed a value chain in order to produce the drugs. The TB plan is a long-term measure and not an emergency measure. They are not actively engaged in the MDR situation.
Mr Sturdy said that loans to management were being phased out currently.
The Chairperson thanked all present and said that he hoped discussion would continue to create a holistic approach and novel way to face challenges.
The meeting was adjourned.
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