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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
17 October 2006
African Institute of SA ANNUAL REPORT: BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
African Institute of South Africa Annual Report 2005/2006 presentation: Part1, Part2, Part3 & Part4
African Institute of South Africa Annual Report 2005/2006 (available later on www.ai.org.za)
The Committee was briefed by the African Institute of South Africa (AISA) on their activities in African social scientific research over the 2005/2006 financial year. The Institute had increased their book publications and journals by more then 300% and 100% respectively, and had hosted many international conferences on good governance and peace-keeping measures in Africa. Challenges included the loss of senior research officers, inadequate employment equity representation among staff, and budgetary constraints.
Members expressed concerns about the financial irregularities pointed out in the Auditor-General’s report. The Chief Financial Officer explained that many of these shortcomings were due to the fact that he had not been properly briefed by his predecessor. He acknowledged some irregularities in the use of AISA garage cards, credit cards, vehicles and petty cash transactions. Auditors had recently been appointed, and more vigilance in future should ensure their better financial standing.
African Institute of South Africa briefing
Professor Korwa Adar, AISA Research Director, reported on overall activities in advancing social science research in Africa. Some of their strategic objectivities were to increase research and disseminate knowledge to further African awareness, and to ensure lucrative returns on research investment.
The Institute had increased its field research abilities by promoting methodology standards, and had held many national and international conferences. Among other successes, AISA had awarded eight research scholarships for research activities in at least five African countries. The Institute had increased its publication of journals and books by 100% and 300% respectively, meaning it had published eight books and 17 journals, all of which had been peer-reviewed and accredited.
Significant challenges included the loss of senior staff researchers, mainly because the Institute did not offer competitive remuneration packages. Another challenge was the issue of plagiarism by researchers. AISA was currently seeking software technology that could detect and curb such problems. With regards to the issue of employment equity, 17% of available vacancies within the Institute had not been filled. Only 61 out of 80 posts had been filled. The Institute does not currently have any Indian, coloured and disabled people in their employment.
New projects in strategic intervention focus areas included international research outreach projects. AISA has recently introduced two fellowship programmes named after Archie Mafejee and Ben Magubane. The campus lecture series, AISA internships and young graduate and scholar programmes were also priorities.
Mr R Ainslie (ANC) asked if the Institute ever measured the impact of their research on society and if so, the yardsticks used. Was there any significant reason why the Institute had no coloured, Indian or disabled employees? He felt the presented financial report was incoherent and did not fully address the Auditor-General’s report findings on the Institute.
Professor Mohammed (ANC) questioned whether the Institute had done any research on Africa being used as a ‘dumping zone’ for nuclear waste, and of the possibility of this happening in South Africa without the government’s knowledge. He also questioned if AISA was involved in any technological research as technology and science affected socio-economic discourses on the continent.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) queried the existence of an academic body that advised AISA on research to be done. He also asked more about AISA scholarships and bursaries to graduate students.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) questioned what disciplinary measures had been followed in dealing with researchers found guilty of plagiarism.
Ms A Dreyer (DA) was concerned about the distribution of AISA publications – did AISA maintain their own publishing house or contract this out? On the issue of losing staff, she asked if AISA conducted any exit interviews. Was the Council of AISA satisfied with the vacancy rate?
Mr J Blanche (DA) asked if AISA would ever be willing to move into any government department. He also questioned why the Auditor-General had declared AISA financial statements to have irregularities. He asked more about the international representation of delegates at conferences hosted in South Africa.
Mr M Mokotedi, AISA Chief Financial Officer, responded to all of the issues around financial statements. With regards to financial irregularities highlighted in the Auditor-General’s report, the outgoing Chief Financial Officer had not briefed him fully when he joined the Institute, and thus he had failed to communicate all necessary documentation to the Auditor-General’s Office in time before the financial audit. This then led to the disqualification of many financial transactions, but he had since sent all other documents to the Auditor-General. He did accept that there were irregularities in the use of AISA garage cards, credit cards, vehicles and petty cash transactions. Since December 2005, AISA had not appointed auditors, but had recently appointed Price Waterhouse Coopers from 1 October 2006. More vigilance would ensure better financial standing.
Professor Adar responded to all the other questions. He acknowledged that AISA was lacking in their employment equity portfolio, particularly because he knew of disabled researchers seeking employment. AISA should start a head-hunting process in this regard.
AISA had not yet studied the impact of its research and access to publications elsewhere on the continent, but promised to do so in future. The Institute had not looked into any scientific studies as most of their studies were in social science disciplines. With regards to plagiarism, this was not a major institutional problem, but two researchers had been dismissed for the offence.
Mr D Naidoo, an AISA Council boardmember, referred to the appendix of AISA’s 2005/2006 Annual Report; listing the contributors and authors to all published books. AISA had its own publications department that dealt with all cross-referencing and printing of journals, paper and books. On the question of whether AISA would consider moving into another government department, Mr Naidoo stressed that AISA has not yet agreed to such a move and AISA currently viewed itself as an advisory body to all government departments. Lastly, he assured that AISA ensured that all their conferences were well-advertised internationally.
Committee Members wished to engage AISA further, but due to limited time, the Chairperson had to close the meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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