Human Sciences Research Council(HSRC) Bill [B16-2007]: Department briefing

Science and Technology

12 June 2007
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Meeting report

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 June 2007
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL(HSRC) BILL [B16-2007]: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Acting Chairperson: Ms F Mahomed (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Human Sciences Research Council Draft Bill [B16-2007]
Human Sciences Research Council Bill presentation
Minutes of Meetings 13, 20, 27 February, 6, 13 and 27 March, and 15 and 22 May 2007

Audio Recording of the Meeting

SUMMARY
The Department of Science and Technology presented a summary of the HSRC Bill. It was noted that the whole Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Bill, which was essentially replacing the old Act bring it in line with the current thinking and place stronger focus on the public purpose of the Council. The Department outlined and explained the purpose and clauses of the Bill. It noted that the Council would promote human science research of the highest quality, to improve understanding of social conditions, and to stress engagement with Africa and the rest of the world. It would thus respond to the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups and develop new sets of data to underpin research. The composition of the Board, appointment of the Board and CEO, secondment, intellectual property rights and funding were explained.

Members asked whether there was a need for further consultation, discussed appointments of Board members and staff, questioned the possibility of appointing foreigners, the staff mobility, the secondment procedures and the gender balance of the Council. Further questions were asked on the vulnerable groups, the consultation with the House of Traditional Leaders, traditional knowledge systems and information, the intellectual property rights, and the scope of the regulations. Members urged the need to address global warming issues, asked whether the Bill would address the Millennium Development Goals, and said there was a need to look again at the definition of disadvantaged communities in the Bill. The Department confirmed that it would examine those areas and that the Bill would be discussed again once public comments were received.

The Committee approved the Report on the DST business strategies and budget for 2007/08, and also confirmed various Minutes of meetings. The Minutes of 27 February were to stand over for later discussion.

MINUTES
Human Sciences Research Council Bill (the Bill): Briefing by Department of Science and Technology (DST)
Ms Anusha Lucen, Deputy Director General, Department of Science and Technology, presented a summary of the Human Sciences Research Council Bill. The HSRC was established through the Human Sciences Research Act, No 23 of 1968 . DST had recently commenced an exercise to harmonise legislation, and Cabinet suggested that the Act be reviewed to bring it in line with the current state of affairs, and to put stronger focus on the public purpose approach of the HSRC and therefore broaden its activities in the future. The process of the Bill was fully set out, with a note of who was consulted. The Bill was published for comment o n 25 May 2007 and the closing date for comment was 1 June. The preamble set out the necessity to promote human science research of the highest quality, to improve understanding of social conditions, and to stress engagement with Africa and the rest of the world. The objects of the Council were set out, broadly to initiate, undertake and foster basic research and applied research, to inform the making and monitoring of policy and to evaluate the implementation, to stimulate public debate and dissemination of research and to build research capacity and infrastructure. It would thus respond to the needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups and develop new sets of data to underpin research. It could also conduct research for any person or organisation. The Board composition was explained, and it was stressed that there would also be a governance committee. A CEO would be appointed with approval of the Minister, for a five-year term, renewable for one further period of five years. Employees of the Council would be appointed by the CEO, with the Board approving the terms and conditions. It was possible for State employees to be seconded to the Council.

Ms Lucen noted that the intellectual property (IP) rights in respect of any invention or design by employees would vest in the Council, and the Council would then award financial participation in the proceeds derived from such invention at a prescribed percentage. The Board would be funded by parliament, fees, royalties, donations and revenue from other sources. The Bill further provided for the making of regulations on any matter prescribed, and interim measures for governance.

Discussion
Mr J Blanche (DA)asked the Department if other organisations should be invited to comment on the Bill.

Mr M Matsemela (ANC) requested the Department to elaborate on inputs received from institutions and also asked if the Department had already incorporated those inputs.

Ms Lucen informed the committee that consultations for the Bill started as far back as 2002. The Bill was also posted on the website and received a lot of comments, and these had been integrated into the earlier draft of Bill. The Department felt that consultation had been quite extensive and therefore sufficient. When the Department took the strategic position to parliament, it was asked to go back for more consultations and particularly, to consult the Presidency. She informed the Committee that the process for public hearings was currently under way

Mr Matsemela also requested the Department to take the Committee through areas that may need particular interventions.

Mr Matsemela also requested clarification on the difference between the Board and the Minister recommending the CEO.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) requested the Department to elaborate on who would choose the panel of experts, and any other laws relating to the Bill. Furthermore, she asked about the vulnerable groups with whom the Department worked. She asked about the gender balance in the Department. She further asked the Department if it was experiencing any mobility out of the institution resulting in a shortage of staff.

Ms Lucen further informed the Committee that because there was little feedback from the Board, the governance committee was introduced. The period of office of the CEO as set out in the legislation, was quite short, and the Department had felt that five years was the minimum. With regard to the objects of Council, she said that there were significant discussions around the role HSRC played in policy making as well as monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation. As an example, she alluded to what would happen in a case where the CEO might be on long leave of absence.. As far as gender representation was concerned, this must be considered.

Mr Puseletso Loselo, Manager, Legal Service, DST added in regard to the appointment of the CEO, that Clause 10 clarified that the Board may decide on the appointment of a CEO with the approval of the Minister.

Prof J Mohamed (ANC) asked, what had motivated the changes in regard to the transfer and secondment of staff, and whether the staff members would have the opportunity to consent to their movement. He feared that secondment done by the Council and the Minister did not have enough safeguards for the rights of the individual. He also wondered why nothing was included about the rights of the individuals on their own research and asked if the HSRC would own all research done by employees as its property.

Ms Lucen said that the current legislation constrained the HSRC to hiring someone from within, and this needed to be made broader in order to bring in outside people with particular skills. Ms Lucen expressed that there was a need to encourage the mobility of researchers between government and HSRC or other research institutions to encourage writing and publishing. As far as transfer and secondment of staff was concerned, Clause 13 of the Bill stated that this could not be done without the consent of the person concerned and the receiving party. The clause also stated that rights and benefits of the employee must not be affected by the secondment.

Ms Lucen explained in regard to intellectual property that the Intellectual Property Rights clauses of the Bill noted that these would be vested in the Council, but that if the IP rights were registered in South Africa, then the employee would be entitled to financial incentives defined by the regulations.

Prof J Mohamed (ANC) queried whether the Minister had been advised about the utilisation of research, and if the Minister also held the overall power in terms of the Bill.

Mr P Maloyi (ANC) asked the State Law Advisors if the Bill had been referred to the House of Traditional Leaders, and whether the regulations were in line with current issues in Parliament and the House of traditional leaders in regard to indigenous knowledge.

The State Law Advisor representative explained the referral to the Traditional Leaders House. She informed the Committee that the Bill would only refer to this where Customary Law is mentioned. Clause 14 permitted referral to the House of Traditional Leaders where subsection tried to protect the work of traditional customs.

Mr Puseletso Loselo, Manager, Legal Service, DST explained that the inclusion of customary law and knowledge clauses in the Bill meant that there should be consultations with the House of Traditional Leaders. Clause 14 made mention of indigenous knowledge, and also provided that proper protection and compensation would need to be awarded in matters derived from traditional knowledge.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) expressed that the 5-year period for the Board Members was appropriate as they would have to familiarise themselves with the environment.

Mr Blanche urged the committee to address issues of Global Warming, stating that South Africa could be falling behind in addressing these issues. He requested the Committee and the Department if the size of the Board had been taken into account to ensure that it was sufficient to look at these major problems. He requested the Committee to consider having some expertise from outside to sit on that board, even if for two years.

Ms Lucen responded that in regard to global warming issues, the Board could form, redesign or dissolve committees, and this was one way to address particular problems such as that highlighted by Mr Blanche.

Mrs B Ncgobo requested the Department to look at the needs of the vulnerable in the Bill. She also asked if the Bill would address relevant areas of the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr Simphiwe Mini, Chief Director, DST explained that the purpose and wording of the Bill would also meet the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals.

Ms Lucen informed the Committee that the reason for proposing an entire new Bill was that the numerous amendments that would otherwise have been required would make the process cumbersome, and that the new Bill was better able to cater for the new developments and new legislation. A panel of experts had recommended a complete overhaul.

Mr Loselo added that regulations framed under the Act, once passed, would be subordinate legislation delegated to the Minister, but that the general rules of interpretation meant that the Minister could not come up with anything that contradicting the Act, nor make new provisions. The regulations related to implementation of the Act. With regards to removal of a Board Member, for instance, there was a need to define reasonable grounds for removal, as these would not be specified in the Act.

Mr Blanche expressed that limiting Board Membership to South Africans only was too limiting, and he asked if any consideration had been given to being able to appoint foreigners to the Board.

Ms Lucen responded that the Preamble to the Bill stated the need for engagement with people within Africa. It could be possible to bring in someone from Africa.

Ms Leselo informed the Committee that the DST would look at defining ‘reasonable grounds’ in the regulations. She also informed the Committee that foreigners were not permitted to be on the Board, but were not disqualified from serving on sub committees.

Prof Mohamed requested the Department once again to clarify ownership of intellectual property rights.

Mr Mini advised that the Intellectual Property clause of the Bill stated that the ownership of the designs would vest in the Council and that the percentage of what an individual employee might be entitled for their registered research would be described in the regulations.

Ms Ncgobo requested clarification on the methodology used for passing information on to traditional leaders.

Ms Ncgobo asked how HSRC got its funding.

Ms Lucen informed the Committee that the Bill did address the funding conditions.

The Acting Chairperson requested explanation on how South Africa compared in Research & Development to the international community. She also advised the Department that there was a need to be vigilant in panning out what marginalised communities and vulnerable groups such as the disabled meant and to look at their gender.

Ms Lucen said that Clause 3 provided the broad framework in terms of the vulnerable and the marginalised, but thanked the Committee for its advice, which the Department would take into consideration.

The Acting Chairperson asked also whether the governance committee was a complementary committee and why they were created.

The Acting Chairperson expressed her observation that there was mention of indigenous knowledge in the Bill, yet the traditional leaders had not been consulted.

Ms Lucen said that most of the work in the indigenous knowledge systems came from the community. The Interfaith Community was also consulted in the process.

The Acting Chairperson concluded that there was a need to look at the definitions of disadvantaged communities in the Bill and also to consider the inclusion of experts from abroad.

The Bill would be debated further after the public comments had been received.

Other Committee business
The Committee members deliberated on and approved the Report on Department of Science and Technology and its Entities on its Business Strategies for 2007/08 (Budget and Strategic Plans).

The Committee also adopted the minutes dated 13 and 20 of February, 13 and 27 of March, and 15 and 22 of May 2007. The Committee would consider the Minutes of February 27 in its next meeting as the statement containing the word ‘amnesty’ was still contested.

The meeting was adjourned

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