African Institute of South Africa (AISA); National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) Business Plan: briefing

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Meeting report

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 May 2007
AFRICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUTH AFRICA (AISA); NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INNOVATION (NACI) BUSINESS PLAN: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Mr. E Ngcobo (ANC)

Documents handed out:
National Advisory Council on Innovation Business Plan
National Advisory Council Presentation [please email info@pmg.org.za]
African Institute of South Africa Presentation
African Institute of South Africa Business Plan

SUMMARY
Committee members met with representatives from the African Institute of South Africa (AISA) and National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI). AISA focused on the organizations achievements, challenges, governance structures, budget, and the way forward.  NACI outlined its achievements during the financial year and the governance structure.

Some members felt that AISA does work that is already being done by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).  Members also asked for clarity regarding the turbulent times at AISA. Members enquired about how the organization planned on increasing income, and comments were made on the quality of their publications.

Members asked NACI to comment on the ethical role of the council, and also to provide details on the cost of the external review. Members asked how they plan on contributing to the economic growth of the country; to provide details regarding the current research and development (RnD) expenditure; and whether the advice given to the minister regarding poverty actually works.

MINUTES
Africa Institute of South Africa Presentation
The AISA presentation team consisted of Professor Booby Soobrayan (Acting CEO), Mr Stan Mabuza (Acting Chief Financial Officer) and Ms Diana Coetzee (Acting Head of Publications). Mr Soobrayan outlined AISA’s achievements, challenges, governance structures, budget, and the way forward.

AISA had survived a turbulent year, however, had achieved most of its publication targets. It had made notable achievements in the Corporate services area with the appointment of internal auditors; implementation of procurement procedure; development of divisional budgets and compliance with the Auditor-General’s targets.

In the governance area: a new council had been appointed for a three-year period and new council committees had been established including an executive committee, an audit committee and a research committee.

The organization had been plagued by a number of challenges. These included: low staff morale; high attrition rate of both middle and senior staff; lack of coherent research agenda and programme; quality of research output; and the production of reference material. 

 AISA’s strategic priorities for 2007/08 included the implementation of internal audit and development of risk manuals, ensuring compliance, strict fiscal control and effective financial management.

Discussion
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) enquired about the turbulence at AISA, and asked why AISA does work that is already being done by the HSRC. He asked AISA to comment the cost of resignations and provide clarity about when the permanent positions for senior management will be filled

Mr Soobrayan replied that the overlap is of real concern as the scholarly output of AISA is similar to that of the HSRC. There is however a strong motivation to continue with AISA, as the organization has a dedicated focus on what is happening in the continent. The problem was trying to assess the potential mandate of what is currently happening and members should look at the mandate of what AISA is trying to achieve, in order to justify reasons for AISA’s continuation. With regards to the filling of posts, there is s complement of researchers, there is work done with researchers who are not part of AISA, but have access to some of the facilities. The process of interviewing the new CEO and CFO posts is underway, and senior management positions are being advertised.

Mr P Bhengu (ANC) asked about the turbulent times at AISA.

Mr Soobrayan stated that he has only been at the organization for a short period of time but there had been various problems regarding the Chief Executive Officers and the Chief Financial Officers and a number of audit issues. The issues were picked up by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), and AISA submitted a detailed response to the chairperson. All matters from that period have been dealt with, and a new appointed council has made it a priority that interest and dignity of institutions are upheld.  Members should ask the Department of Science and Technology for further details.

The Chairperson stated that it would have been very helpful if the information was available before hand, and the Department should provide the details of what happened as soon as possible.

Ms F Mahomed (ANC) stated that it was good to hear that damage control had been done at the organization, however there is an error in the report which states an incorrect date for two high level conferences.  It is important that members of parliament to be part of the conferences, so that oversight work can be done. With regards to research, the research did not focus on gender in the region. It is important for women to play a much bigger role in the organization. She asked AISA to state the reasons why the head of the organization was on leadership leave. Finally, she enquired why 33% of the budget had been spent on corporate services.

Mr Soobrayan replied that in terms of the gender programs, AISA will address the questions as soon as possible. It is important to note that some of the most prolific researchers at the organization are women.

Mr Mabuza said according to AISA’s budgetary process the corporate services were responsible for all the fixed costs that can not be redistributed. It is important to note that the organization is planning to improve all systems. The core services take the direct costs of doing the core businesses. With regards to the leadership office, the CEO’s office also includes the running of the costs the council, which includes travel expenses.

Ms Coetzee stated that there is a website and the journals are available on the website. There is a high print run, and a high print run usually means a low unit cost. The problem comes when the journals are disseminated. AISA is currently looking at disseminating the journals to other African countries. Another option is to publish with international publishers with business models; however there was a huge outcry against it, as it widely regarded as a capital drain, which is not true. The Journal is a flagship, and there needs to be different models explored to make them profitable.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked how AISA plans on increasing its other income. How do they plan on increasing the consciousness of Africa at grass roots level, and improve the quality of their publications?

Mr Soobrayan replied that it is important to note that a large part of the HSRC’s income is through tax based income and through cost recovery. AISA’s income is similar to the HSRC, and has a plan which does not directly affect AISA’s mandate. 

Ms Coetzee added that the publication division reflects the publishing vision of the organization. The organization is very different from the HSRC in that AISA has an in house journal, and the Journal is a scholarly vehicle for research output on African knowledge production by African scholars. There is a huge demand for it in parts of the world.

Mr Soobrayan stated that AISA will work with the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to facilitate the work that is done in the continent. One of the things that needs to be improved is AISA’s visibility, especially with members of parliament.

National Advisory Council on Innovation Presentation

The presentation was made by NACI members - Dr Nhlanhla Msomi (Executive Director) and Dr Ntuthuko Bhengu (Executive Director of Afrika Biopharma Investments)  and Dr Philemon Mjwara ( (NACI CEO and Director General of the Department of Science and Technology).

NACl's mission and is advice to the Minister of Science and Technology

The presentation outlined the role of NACI; the achievements during the financial year, and governance structure. He stated that NACI was a statutory council that provided advice and input from the Minister of Science and Technology. NACI’s planning and advice is informed by an internal synthesis provided by experts in the NACI secretariat both internally and globally. NACI is in the process of completing all the targets that were processed in 2004 and will hopefully be packaged as advice to the minister. A new executive director has been appointed for governance structures, and the new budget increase will take into account the employment of new staff.

 

NACI hasrendered advice to the Minister on its functioning and role and suggested changes to the NACI Act. The external review will be used in considering amendments to the NACI Act according to the minister.

Discussion
Ms Mohamed asked NACI to comment on the ethical role of the council, and to provide details on the cost of the external review. She said that NACI should comment on the progress regarding the organization’s gender policy.

A  NACI member replied that in terms of ethics and the external review, there are many overlapping areas. One contentious issue has been the area of Genetically Modified foods. Understanding biotechnologies is very important, and the understanding of underlying issues is the only way NACI can address ethical issues. In terms of the external review, the process allows the chair of NACI to give their view of how NACI has performed.

Dr Msomi added that there is a system of three internal reviews followed by an external review.

Prof Sagadevan Mundree (CEO: PlantBio Biotechnology Regional Innovation Centre) replied that gender policy was undertaken by the women’s advisory study. The document is currently in a discussion stage; however it still can be made available to Committee members.  

Mr Bhengu stated that NACI should provide clarity on their area of specialization and also comment and provide a detailed explanation of the budget process.

Mr Msomi replied that the CFO was unavailable; however NACI was willing to provide detailed information surrounding the budgetary process.

Ms Ngcobo said that there was no continuity at NACI as people were constantly moving out. NACI should also provide details on what is happening in the provinces concerning innovation strategies.

Mr Msomi replied NACI has set up various innovation projects. It was discovered that in South Africa, innovation strategies that were in provinces were very primitive, and in some instances did not exist. Concerning continuity, the terms of members ends after four yrs, and some do carry on, the subcommittees are chaired by NACI members. Constant interaction is made with academics in the relevant positions.

Mr Van Zyl asked NACI to comment on the provincial innovation systems, and whether or not the white paper in which NACI operated on is still relevant after 11 years.  

Prof I Mohamed (ANC) asked that in terms of Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA), NACI should provide details on the progress that has been made on recruiting engineers from abroad. NACI should also provide details on how they plan on contributing to the economic growth of the country.

Dr Mundree replied that the world of science, engineering and technology are still very much male dominated industries. The issue is not whether women take up science and technology or stay home; it is a question of whether how effectively people are encouraged to take up that field and activity.  

Mr Msomi replied that in terms of the review of the white paper the NACI council is not mandated to deal with the white paper questions, because the advice goes to the minister who deals with these issues.  NACI, however, plans on looking at some of the gains and issues around the implementation of the white paper, as part of the DST’s ten year plan. In terms of ASGISA, one of the key projects that were undertaken by the council was to look at the human capital dynamics, the study has been completed and a model has been developed.

Mr Nxumalo asked NACI to provide details regarding the current research and development (RnD) expenditure; and the organization’s innovation strategy in terms of the relations between the government; private sector and the innovation of research institutions.

Mr. Simon Mpele (NACI representative) stated that in terms of  economic growth, South Africa requested the  Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to conduct a review on the national innovation systems, which is complete and is about to be published. One of the recommendations that were made discussed the engineering gap.

Dr Hermi Boraine (NACI Representative) said that in terms of impact of advice to the Minister is not quantifiable. NACI performed an impact physical structure report last year, where the scientific infrastructure of the country was looked at. The study was used as part of the DST’s ten year plan. NACI supports the open source software drive, which was advised by NACI in 2005. The impact of some of the studies has resulted in the availability of detailed information around gender, which was obtained from the NACI report.  With regards to the RnD, the current RnD figure stands at R12 million.

Mr Msomi replied in relation to the advice to the minister around the issue of poverty, that there has not been a specific project, however one of the key thrusts of the OECD report focused on the second economy and NACI hopes to address the issue in the near feature.

The Chairperson stated that he believes that NACI is beginning to function better as an organization, however there is a lack of continuity in terms of planning, as every year a new plan is unveiled. Many things have not been addressed from the previous years, issues such as the Director General of a Department who is elected as the Chief Executive Officer of an organization that advises the minister. Issues regarding the act have to be looked into, as it is the act that probably prevents the organization from clearing some issues.

Mr Van Zyl stated that there needs to be an investigation into the reporting of the NACI index, as there are many problems regarding some of scientific innovation products.

The meeting was adjourned.


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