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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFLIO COMMITTEE
09 October 2007
COUNCIL FOR SCIENTIFIC AND INDUSTRIAL RESEARCH: ANNUAL REPORT BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
CSIR Annual report 206/07: Summary of achievements
Audio recording of meeting
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research briefed the Committee on its mandate, its performance highlights over the last year, and progress with different partners and collaborators. Performance highlights over the last year were tabled, including publications and increase in qualifications. There was greater involvement with the private sector leading to greater investment in scientific infrastructure. Details were given of research and development programmes, including research into alternative materials, research on the motion of atoms and molecules using femtosecond lasers, breakthroughs in bacterial cell surface engineering, new versions on long range day and night sensor systems, recovery of products from mine wastewater and dumps, and access to satellite imagery. The social impact of the Council was noted, focusing on stimulation of economic activity, involvement in rural communities and the partnership approach. Human capital development was assisted by registration of patents, creation of learnerships and internships. The broad based black economic empowerment charter and targets were finalised. The Council showed sound overall financial performance, with an unqualified audit report, showing a 12.7% increase in total operating income, with a strong balance sheet showing good positioning for future investments. The Parliamentary Grant had increased by 7.5% to R423.8 million, and the contract R & D income had increased by 14.9%. Members asked questions around the programmes, the success rate of poverty alleviation projects, and the direct involvement of the Council in the projects, coordination of research councils, the benefits of new equipment and satellite imaging, and the involvement in mine health and safety, particularly with reference to the recent mine disaster. The role of the Council in registration of patents and protection of intellectual property, the size and benefits of the Council, and some of its current research, were discussed. The Committee requested the Council to continue to monitor implemented projects, the need for greater emphasis on mine safety, and commented favourably upon its focus.
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Annual Report Briefing
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, President and Chief Executive Officer, CSIR, discussed the broad background of the organisation, including its mandate. He explained that it was important to recall the rationale for its existence, and commented that CSIR conducted its mandate by being involved in partnerships, as well as conducting research on worldwide events and developments. He gave an example of climate change, a particularly topical issue. He noted that the CSIR concentrated mainly on directed research, as opposed to basic research. It was also involved with other science councils.
Dr Sibisi then examined some of CSIR’s performance highlights. Publications in peer-reviewed literature, patents, and qualification levels were all increasing. These included the assistance of people with disabilities in relation to computers and related technologies. There had also been great growth in qualifications of black people in general, and women, and CSIR had managed to maintain good governance amidst all the changes and progress. In terms of partnerships, the CSIR believed that it was important to form relationships with other science councils. There were both dormant and active partnerships and some of these partnerships were showing increasing advantages. Dr Sibisi added that CSIR has formed relationships also with the private sector. Investment in scientific infrastructure had increased and quality processes were improved.
Dr Sibisi then moved to the also presented on the Research and Development, noting that over half the work was now being done on a multi-year basis, and in large-scale projects. Examples were tabled, including research into alternative materials, research on the motion of atoms and molecules using femtosecond lasers, breakthroughs in bacterial cell surface engineering, new versions on long range day and night sensor systems, recovery of products from mine wastewater and dumps, and access to satellite imagery.
CSIR also now had a social impact. The Technology Transfer for Social Impact unit had been established to manage technology-based products, stimulate economic activity, particularly in rural communities, and to adopt a partnership approach. People were able to engage in small enterprises, including essential oils and medicinal plants, hydroponics and leather beneficiation projects. Other projects included water sanitation, health, crime prevention, enterprise creation, and education and youth projects. A summary of projects with their direct social impact was tabled. The CSIR also aided in human capital development, by assisting in registering patents, creating learnerships and internships for new graduates Publication was a key output and publications grew by 23% in the past year, assisting better partnerships and aiding in the commissioning of research for other organisations. Dr Sibisi detailed the capital development of its research professionals, and tabled an analysis of the Masters and doctoral degrees. The broad based black economic empowerment charter and targets were finalised. It had sound overall financial performance, with an unqualified audit report, showing a 12.7% increase in total operating income, with a strong balance sheet showing good positioning for future investments. The Parliamentary Grant had increased by 7.5% to R423.8 million, and the contract R & D income had increased by 14.9%.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) asked if the CSIR was programme based or activity based
Dr Sibisi stated that the CSIR organized activities around scientific themes, so they have broad programmes, and the activities existed within the programmes.
Dr Hoffie Maree CSIR Group Executive: Operations, added that the activities had been organized broadly into programmes, but were called units.
Mr Ainslie wanted to know the difference between the Group and CSIR, in their financial status.
Mr Chris Sturdy, Interim Chief Financial Officer, CSIR, said that the term ‘Group’ referred to a larger part of CSIR, being companies that were wholly controlled by CSIR or had been invested in by CSIR.
Mr Ainslie asked what the success rate of the poverty alleviation projects was.
Ms Khungeka Njobe, Group Executive: Research and Development outcomes, CSIR, replied that CSIR created projects, but their mandate was not to implement these projects themselves. However, their different partners did assist in the poverty alleviation projects
Mr Ainslie wanted to know if there was any basic research done in matters that would assist the rural poor.
Ms Njobe responded that there was a research group on rural infrastructure, which showed that the CSIR did have value in the rural aid context.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) asked who was responsible for coordinating all the research councils, including universities doing research.
Dr Sibisi replied that there were about eight science councils, which reported directly to the Department of Science and Technology (DST). There was also an organization known as the Committee for Heads of Research and Technology Organisation (COHORTS), which consisted of the heads of science councils, and this was also responsible for coordination across the councils.
Mr Nxumalo also asked if the ratio of the new researchers coming in reflected the CSIR only or other national groups as well.
Dr Sibisi stated that the number of new researchers tabled referred to CSIR only.
Mr Nxumalo asked if the equipment referred to had contributed to any breakthroughs, and if the organisation had patented any products.
Dr Maree replied that there was a product that consisted of semi-solid metal alloys that could be helpful in the automotive industries, and other products that could help different industries.
Mr Nxumalo enquired if the satellite imagery could inform of any droughts or environmental problems.
Dr Sibisi said that the weather services could predict weather patterns, but the role played by the satellite can play was particularly important in alleviating veld fires, as it helped to locate where they started and where they are spreading to.
Mr C Morkel (ANC) wanted to know the involvement of the CSIR in regard to mine safety
Dr Sibisi replied that CSIR was responsible for mine health and safety, including the testing of equipment. The CSIR collaborated with different relevant departments, including DST and Minerals and Energy, so there was an interplay in regard to safety standards.
Mr Morkel asked if the CSIR could protect an individual’s intellectual property rights.
Dr Sibisi replied that this depended on the situation. At times an individual could come up with an idea, and CSIR would find a way to create a situation where both the individual and CSIR would benefit from production of the idea. At other times they would not be able to offer protection of intellectual property.
Mr Sturdy added that there was an innovation fund that had patent protection for such ideas
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) asked what the CSIR’s involvement was in the recent mining disaster.
Dr Sibisi said that with reference to the mining disaster, there was a need to review mining practices in the country, and mining equipment needed to be tested more thoroughly. He could not shed light on what caused the disaster as there was still an investigation underway.
Prof Mohamed wondered if perhaps the CSIR had grown so that it was now too large.
Dr Sibisi responded that there were numerous groups that had spawned from the CSIR, and some of them had been allocated certain responsibilities, so there were different spheres now being covered.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) asked if there was any research directed towards cash in transit heists, as well as credit card fraud
Ms Njobe stated that a new cash in transit vehicle was available commercially in the market, and was in actual use. This vehicle had proved to be an effective innovation. Credit card fraud was an area that was focused on by information security.
Dr Sibisi stated that a difficult issue was identity theft, which linked to credit card fraud. Credit Card fraud was easier to locate because illegal activities could be traced.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) stated that the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Bill had just been passed, and asked whether CSIR had any particular comment on it.
Dr Sibisi replied that replied that the SKA was a massive device for gathering and processing data, and when it was fully functional it would be able to gather phenomenal amounts of data.
Ms Ngcobo asked how recent graduates would be able to benefit from the CSIR.
Ms Njobe replied that last year the CSIR had launched a path through which graduates were accepted into the organisation through internships or studentships, which meant the candidate would still study, but also worked for the CSIR part-time. This was good for creating work experience and preparing the candidate for the working environment. The CSIR also offered scholarships and bursaries.
The Chairperson stated that he wanted the CSIR to continue to monitor implemented projects. He noted that he was impressed by the focus on the effect of their projects on the second economy. The size of the CSIR was not, to his mind, important but it was rather their focus that was important. The issue of rock falls, and other accidents was serious, especially since Dr Sibisi had stated that there was equipment to help alleviate these problems, but there was a lack of implementation. This needed to be addressed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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