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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
10 October 2006
TECHNOLOGY TOP 100 AWARDS: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr E N N Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Technology Top 100 Power Point Presentation
The Department of Science and Technology had invited Technology Top 100 to present their activities to the Committee. This was procedurally unusual as the fourth term of the parliamentary year is normally reserved for departmental annual reports which would in any event include the activities of service providers. Once the confusion about TT100’s connection to the Department had been cleared up, the Committee asked questions regarding the demographics, role and programmes of the organisation. The Department explained that they had invited TT100 in good faith as they were hoping the Committee would be involved in the end of year award ceremony, and that it was appropriate for the Committee to have exposure to the organisation prior to this event. The Committee made it clear that it was not the right forum for such a presentation but that they appreciated the work that TT100 did, and that the misunderstanding would be taken up with the Department.
The Chairperson welcomed the attendees at the meeting and expressed apologies from Mr S L Dithebe (ANC) and Ms F Mohamed (ANC) for their absence due to a meeting and a dentist appointment respectively. He thanked the representative of Technology Top 100 (TT100) for his quick response as the Committee was scheduled to hear the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) annual report. This had been cancelled as their presentation had been changed to a workshop. He requested that all Committee Members and Department officials introduce themselves.
Introductions were made by Mr JPI Blanche (DA), Prof IJ Mohamed (ANC), Mr BJ Mnyandu (ANC), Mr V Mbele (Parliamentary Communication, Department of Science and Technology), Mr B Sehlapelo (Deputy Director General, Department of Science and Technology) and Mr N Nyide (Chief Director: Communications, Department of Science and Technology), Mr S Lamprecht (General Manager: TT100) and Ms BT Ngcobo (ANC).
The Chairperson explained the role of Parliament and that the Department presents their plans at the start of the year and the annual report in the fourth term for the Committee to assess progress. The Committee would ask questions to make this assessment after the presentation.
Mr Sehlapelo introduced the presentation by saying that TT100 was involved in value adding to science and had the function of celebrating successful innovation. The presentation would share the process of how this was done and give details of a banquet that would be held in November.
Mr Lamprecht thanked the Committee and the Department for the opportunity to make the presentation. He felt he was in the privileged position to experience science and technology first hand. TT100 essentially told the good stories and showed what was coming out of various innovations.
Presentation by TT100
Mr Lamprecht stated that TT100 had the key functions of celebration and innovation. They identify and publicize role models in science. It is a national awards programme and has facets within and outside of the Department. It aims to expand the public view of science and technology being only for engineers, to it existing to increase the quality of life for all South Africans. It is open to all sectors and is supported by both the public and private sector. It focused on the application of science as other awards were concerned with research and other areas. They aim to change the common perception that good innovation is only from overseas.
The Department of Science and Technology is the biggest sponsor with Eskom as the second biggest sponsor. The organisation is owned by Da Vinci. All entrants are considered stakeholders as the TT100 would not exist without them. There is no financial cost to entrants but there is an investment of time. The programme is run annually and celebrates big achievements. The big annual awards event is in Johannesburg but for emerging events they aimed to go out to other more relevant locations. He explained the different categories of established and emerging organisations as those existing for more and less than three years respectively. This is a guideline only as different sectors have different running times. Qualifying entrants get to use the TT100 logo for a year. This functions to enhance market credibility, much like the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) logo. There is no overall winner; two major awards are given to a large and a small organisation as well as six category awards in Innovation, Research and Development, Commercialisation, Empowerment, Portfolio Management and Social Innovation. The last category is awarded because not all companies have profit as a major driver.
The emerging sector has the largest Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) growth. There is a focus on developing provinces other than Gauteng which is the historical centre for science businesses. There are challenges in getting the media interested in science and technology. The TT100 has the advantage of being both neutral and objective. The main award ceremony is a banquet held on the 16th of November at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. He gave some examples of extremely successful businesses in the science and technology sector. They want the Committee to join in the celebrations and join the media distribution list as well as accept their annual report. He thanked the Committee for their attention.
The Chairperson explained what an annual report should be, including a break down of the budget and expenditure. The budget holder must justify their expenses.
Ms Ngcobo asked what the annual budget is and what the demographics of their personnel is. How are companies that do not have longevity assisted to be sustainable? What impact do they have on the Millennium Development Goals?
Mr Mnyandu said that he also did not understand what entity TT100 was and what role they played. What business sense was there in companies that did not survive and what were the challenges in involving KwaZulu-Natal as a province? Considering the research and development challenges in previously disadvantaged communities, what were they doing to help build capacity?
Prof Mohamed asked how Da Vinci fitted in financially speaking. He highlighted the failure of previous innovations to be marketed, for example the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) scanner. The CSIR also made a ‘skin’ for the treatment of third degree burns yet its application has not been discussed. What has been done about these innovations and are there patents? What role would TT100 have in these cases? What does BRICS stand for? Do they encourage innovation and what does the Department get out of TT100’s activities; are they purely a marketing entity?
Mr Blanche congratulated the TT100 for their work. He asked why Transnet was not involved as a sponsor, especially in light of the new Gautrain and scientific innovations that were arising from it. Water Purification Works in Pretoria should be rolled out in smaller villages, these organisations must be drawn in and the Committee made aware of any progress. How are South African innovations promoted abroad as though there are success like the ‘Creepy Crawly’, many South African innovations have not had adequate exposure? He suggested the involvement of SA consulates in this regard.
The Chairperson asked if Da Vinci was a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or some other type of institution? What is the role of the TT100 as there are lots of institutions for academic innovations? They needed clarification on the ‘enormous payout’ that was mentioned.
Mr Lamprecht invited the Department to add what they could.
The Chairperson asked in what capacity they would do this.
Mr Sehlapelo clarified that the Department had a longstanding relationship with the TT100 and that they were essentially a service provider that could be released at any point. Da Vinci works for them to celebrate scientific achievements. It is not a statutory body of the Department or Government. The Department valued their work. The relationship was entirely contractual.
Mr Nxumalo asked why the Department chose to bring a service provider to the Committee and why it was not simply included in the annual report?
The Chairperson agreed that the work of service providers should be presented in the annual report. The lack of clarity expressed by the Members was the result of stringent guidelines from Government that were followed by the Committee.
Ms F Mohamed (ANC) who arrived after the introductions asked where their offices were and commented that the Department was a sponsor so they were not really service providers. What are the gender demographics of the organisation?
Mr Blanche said that the Department should be the ones to be interrogated, not the TT100. The Department is showing that they should exist, they have heard about sciences and now they were hearing about technology. Nobody knew about the Post Office’s technological innovations. The Department should motivate why the Committee should hear TT100.
The Chairperson added that the Committee had to follow the rules otherwise the main opposition party would be the first to complain.
Mr Blanche refuted this strongly saying that the Chairperson was putting words in his mouth.
The Chairperson made it clear that they need to clarify why this one organisation is presenting instead of another. It is purely procedural.
Mr Mnyandu agreed especially in light of the duty of the Committee to protect public funds. They did not dismiss the work of the TT100, but the Committee is accountable for its oversight function.
Mr Sehlapelo clarified that the main reason for the presentation was that the Committee had not had much information about the TT100 previously and that they would get invitations to the end of year banquet without insight about what it was. The Department wanted the Committee to be involved in the work and this was important since they would attend the banquet. They did not have any obligation to invite TT100 to present to the Committee.
The Chairperson said that is was procedurally incorrect as the Committee had to prioritise annual reports because of congestion in the fourth term.
Mr Blanche expressed his desire to hear an explanation.
Mr Nxumalo said they should note the report without Mr Lamprecht’s answering questions and later take it up with the Department.
Ms Mohamed noted that she thought the DA was out of order. The Committee appreciated the work of TT100 and she agreed that the Committee needed the exposure. The invitation had to be discussed by the Committee. Some questions had to be answered but TT100’s work could be monitored through the Department. Since they were already present, the meeting should continue.
Mr Mbele thanked the Committee and said that as the person responsible for communication between Parliament and the Department of Science and Technology, he had decided a long time ago to expose the Committee to the TT100 prior to the Department’s annual report. The presentation had been made in good faith.
Mr Sehlapelo said that he would answer all questions.
The Chairperson said Members must decide whether TT100 should answer some of the questions and the Department others. He had received a circular the previous day reminding the Committee of the rigorous guidelines for scrutinising annual reports. The Committee should agree that the presentation was a briefing and not an annual report presentation.
Mr Mnyandu concurred.
The Chairperson asked whether Mr Blanche agreed with this.
Mr Blanche said that that was his sentiment from the start and that the Chairperson himself should have investigated the matter prior to the meeting.
The Chairperson disagreed strongly with this portrayal of his role and said that he only needed to intervene if the Committee had a “problem”.
Mr Lamprecht answered that Da Vinci had existed for 15 or 16 years, though his own association had been for two years only. It is a private organisation for profit and was mainly involved in higher education in the corporate sector. The TT100 is a not-for-profit programme of Da Vinci. The activities are funded. It is a sustainable organisation adding value to intellectual property. Their budget was R2 million per year from the Department and R3.5 million per year overall. With regards to poverty alleviation, the TT100’s role is celebratory and they created opportunity to assist businesses, but only for celebration and facilitation between funders. They were fully aligned with the objectives of the Department. He is not an employee of Da Vinci but estimated the personnel are made up of 23 people of which eight are Black, two are Indian and 13 are female. He is the only person working solely on the TT100 but he draws on Da Vinci for support. There are also consultants and service providers.
Mr Lamprecht continued that companies that did not last was the result of many challenges, but that some were designed to exist only for a certain period, like the Soccer World Cup. The TT100 could help to redirect companies. Some simply give up, and TT100 could serve to encourage these companies. They closed the knowledge gap of success stories in science. There were no particular challenges to involving KwaZulu-Natal. The TT100 had a phased approach and there was a limited network in the province, which was growing. TT100 contributes to research and development in previously disadvantaged communities by making successes known.
The CSIR examples highlighted the greatest failure in South Africa, which was to add value to innovations. Better infrastructure is needed for this. Another example is the creation of MNet decoders by the University of Pretoria who now derive no profit from the innovation. The Department was addressing this problem as technical people are typically not skilled in marketing and they should not have to be. BRICS stands for Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centres. Transnet should be involved. It is not the role of TT100 to market internationally but there was growing infrastructure for this within the Department of Foreign Affairs. The Government is generally ahead of the private sector in innovations. The TT100 serves to facilitate this. The payoff was in order to gain momentum and attract many entrants. The office was based in Modderfontein in Johannesburg.
The Chairperson thanked all and apologised for the confusion.
The meeting was adjourned.
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