A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
Meeting reportSCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 September 2007
DEPARTMENT’S ANNUAL REPORT BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)
Documents handed out
Department of Science and Technology (DST) Annual Report 2006/07: PowerPoint Presentation
DST Annual Report 2006/07
Draft Committee Programme for Fourth Quarter
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee began proceedings by electing a new Chairperson, Mr G Oliphant (ANC).
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) briefed the Committee on its 2006/07 annual report. The Science and Technology White Paper, produced in 1996, developed the National System of Innovation (NSI). This was aimed at invigorating the research and human capital development in the country. The Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) had conducted a review into the country’s research and development (R&D) strategy, which had highlighted certain areas, on which the Department was now working. It had initiated a ten-year Innovation plan that should contribute towards the transformation of the economy to a knowledge-based economy. The Department tabled its budget and expenditure over a five year period. The budget was projected to peak at R4 billion in 2010. The expenditure rate currently stood at 99.84%. The country’s target of spending 1% of gross domestic product on R&D by 2008/09 seemed to be attainable. The report then summarised some of the highlights and achievements of the Department’s programmes and those of the entities that reported to it.
Questions by Members addressed the target of R&D spending against other countries, the areas of focus, the current and final cost of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project, storage of high level nuclear waste, and the information systems for user profile management. The composition of the audit committee, the lack of awareness of tax incentives, the human capital development plans, and tracking of bursary-students was also investigated. Members wondered if the Department was focusing too much on income-deriving projects, and too little on application of science and technology to eradicate poverty, and the alignment with Joint Priority Skills Acquisition was questioned. Members further questioned the investigation into global warming, the migration of foreigners, the proposed increases of spending on research, the number of research chairs, and the vacancy rate.
Finally, the Committee adopted the Fourth Term programme and minutes of 4 and 11 September.
Election of new Chairperson
Ms Z Jansen, Committee Secretary, opened the floor for nominations to elect a new Chairperson in terms of Rule 129 of the National Assembly Rules.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) formally nominated Mr Godfrey Oliphant and this was seconded by Mr C Morkel (ANC). Mr G Oliphant took the Chair.
Mr Oliphant thanked the outgoing Chairperson for the manner in which he had administered the Committee. He hoped that that the Committee would still benefit from his input, and wished him well in his future endeavours. Furthermore, he voiced optimism that Members would offer him the necessary support and guidance.
Department of Science and Technology (DST) Annual Report Briefing
Dr Philemon Mjwara, Director General, DST, extended congratulations to the incoming Chairperson. In addition, he thanked the departing Chairperson for his leadership abilities, commitment and robust interaction with the Department.
Dr Mjwara, Director General, DST, explained that the Science and Technology White Paper, produced in 1996, developed the National System of Innovation (NSI) concept. This was aimed at invigorating the research and human capital development in the country. By 2002, the Research and Development (R&D) framework was formulated to create 'centres and networks of excellence' in science and technology. It was envisaged that such centres would stimulate sustained distinction in research while simultaneously generating highly qualified human resource capacity in order to impact meaningfully on key national and global areas of knowledge.
He outlined the key findings of the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) Review into the country’s R&D strategy. The assessment highlighted the need to focus on human capital development, bridging the gap between research results and benefits for society, and ensuring that the activities of the DST linked up with other government departments. The Department had initiated a ten-year Innovation plan that would respond to the failings identified in the OECD Review. It was expected that this project would contribute fundamentally towards the transformation of the economy to a knowledge-based economy.
A graph was utilised to show the Department’s budget and expenditure over a five year period. It illustrated an annual augmentation of the budget, which was projected to peak at R4 billion in 2010. The expenditure rate experienced consistent growth with the budget allocation, and currently stood at 99.84%. It was pointed out that the Department had received an unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor General. According to the latest Human Sciences Research Council survey of R&D spending, SA businesses, universities, science councils, government research institutes and non-governmental organisations spent R14-billion, or 0.91% of gross domestic product (GDP), on R&D in 2005/06. Consequently, it was reasoned that the country's target of spending 1% of gross domestic product GDP on R&D by 2008/09 was now "well within sight."
The remainder of the report summarised some of the highlights and achievements of the Department’s programmes (see attached report) and those of the various entities which reported to it. These included the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, the National Research Foundation, the Human Sciences Research Council, and Africa Institute of South Africa.
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) sought to compare South Africa’s target of spending 1% of GDP on R&D with that of the most advanced countries.
Dr Mjwara disclosed that, on average, developed countries spent 2.5% of their GDP on R&D. The European Union recently announced that this would increase to 3%.
Mr Morkel interrogated which areas of competences had been identified by the Department for further development...
Dr Mjwara answered that five areas of competences were identified. These included a focus on, biotechnology, energy security, astronomy and global challenges such as climate change. Lastly, a study into human and social dynamics would also be prioritised.
Prof Mohamed asked about the current and final cost of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project.
Dr Mjwara replied that the PBMR project would cost the country roughly R6 billion.
The Chairperson was dissatisfied with this answer and requested DST to investigate the cost to date.
Prof Mohamed queried where the high level waste would be stored.
Dr Mjwara notified the Committee that it would be stored at Vaalplats in the Northern Cape. He added that the site had sufficient storage capacity.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) wondered whether the high level waste could be exported to other countries.
Dr Mjwara answered that he was not knowledgeable about which countries imported high level waste. He promised to investigate and get back to the Committee.
Mr Morkel indicated that he would have preferred a quarterly breakdown of the Department’s spending pattern. He suggested that this would avoid a situation where the Department only spent their budget in the final quarter.
Dr Mjwara assured the Committee that the Department monitored its performance and spending on a quarterly basis.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) sought clarity on whether the Department used a hybrid information system for user profile management.
Ms Malekgoloane Malapane, Chief Financial Officer, DST, clarified that the Department used two systems: Personnel and Salary Administration System (Persal) and the Basic Accounting System (BAS). These systems were not hybrid and were transversal across all government departments. Lastly, she concluded that Persal was used to record salary and BAS for financial statements.
Mr Dithebe observed that three of the Department’s audit committee members had resigned in the past financial year. He wondered whether this committee had been replenished.
Dr Mjwara explained the reasons behind the various resignations
Mr Dithebe was impressed with the Department’s research on carbon sequestration from coal.
Dr Mjwara asserted that the Department would continue to fund and work with Eskom and others on this matter.
Mr Ainslie made reference to Minister Mangena’s comments about the lack of awareness in the business community regarding tax incentives. Thereafter, he asked what was being done to create that awareness.
Dr Mjwara responded that the Department had only recently finalised the tax form. He added that the Department would publicise the tax incentive in the government gazette and organise road shows to promote the benefits to businesses.
Mr Dithebe sought more details on the Department’s human capital development plans.
Dr Mjwara stated that the Department had an agreement with the Department of Education to develop the country’s human capital. From its side, DST had piloted the Professional Development Programme and Post-Doctoral Fellowship Programme to encourage students to continue with their studies. DST had managed to attract 268 students in the previous year, and intended to increase the size of the grants and number of scholarships in the next year.
Mr Ainslie accused the Department of only focusing on income deriving projects. He voiced his disappointment concerning the application of science and technology in the second economy and eradicating poverty.
Dr Mjwara denied that the Department was chasing incoming generating projects at the expense of social development. He cited the establishment of the Public Benefit Fund and social projects started in different provinces. Finally, he argued that more funding and a better interface between communities and science councils were needed.
In a follow up to the previous question, Dr J Blanche (DA) expressed disquiet that the report did not address global warming and its effect on poverty. He also wanted further details on how the migration of foreigners impacted on poverty in the country.
Dr Mjwara stated that the Department’s 10-year Innovation plan addressed the issue of global warming and its impact. Furthermore, he informed Members that the Human Sciences Research Council had investigated the issue of poverty and could make a presentation to the Committee on this subject matter.
Mr Ainslie questioned whether the Department had adequate monitoring mechanisms to evaluate the career paths of students who benefited from their funding.
Mr Daniel Moagi, Deputy Director-General, DST, replied in the affirmative.
Ms Ngcobo examined whether South Africa was capable of moving from 1% to 1.6% spending of GDP on R&D.
Dr Mjwara confirmed that the country would evolve, over time, to that target. It was currently constrained by capacity challenges.
Ms Ngcobo scrutinised the total number of Research Chairs targeted by the Department.
Dr Mjwara answered that the Department envisaged approximately 205 Research Chairs by 2010.
Ms Ngcobo enquired whether the Department’s bursary targets were in line with the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Initiative (JIPSA). She also asked if there was an exodus of individuals who had received bursaries and training from the Department.
Dr Mjwara acknowledged that the Department fell short of the targets of JIPSA. In regard to those receiving bursaries, he was not certain whether there was an exodus. However, he noted that South Africa was attracting a high level of skills into the country.
Mr Dithebe asked whether the Department’s vacancy rate of 15% hampered its programmes from functioning properly.
Mr Moagi admitted that the vacancy rate caused concern. The Department hoped to reach a 5 to 6% vacancy rate.
The Chairperson commented that it would be useful to benchmark the country against other developing countries.
Committee Programme for Fourth Quarter
After effecting minor amendments, the Committee decided to adopt the programme for the final term. (Document not made available to PMG)
Adoption of Minutes
The Committee adopted its minutes of 04 September and 11 September, with amendments.
The meeting was adjourned.