Human Sciences Research Council Annual Report 2006/07

Science and Technology

16 October 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

16 October 2007

Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Human Sciences Research Council presentation
Human Sciences Research Council Annual Report [available at]

Audio recording of meeting

The Human Sciences Research Council provided a full overview of their activities for the past year and looked at the impact of its policies and programmes in relation to employment and growth, and capacity development and other social aspects.

Members asked for clarity on what happened once the public purpose research had been completed, and whether the informal sector was taken up in the research. They asked if there had been projects that looked into extreme poverty and hunger, and whether future projects on this were in the pipeline. Members commended the HSRC for their unqualified audit report, however there were a number of concerns that had been raised by the auditor general, and they asked the HSRC to elaborate on what had been done to address the auditor general’s concerns. Members also questioned the HSRC on how many researchers were produced in a year.

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) presentation
Dr Olive Shisana (Chief Executive Officer) made a presentation on the Annual Report where she provided an overview of the public purpose of the HSRC, the impact of the HSRC’s policies and programmes in relation to employment and growth, HSRC’s focus on Africa, and capacity development. She stated that the HSRC conducted quality research, to support policy development, and the monitoring and evaluation of government policies and programmes.

Their public purpose research looked at key social aspects such as education, housing, health and employment. Some of the key findings noted included that government’s housing policy, which was seen as South Africa’s major anti-poverty thrust, was essentially correct. However the policy needed to take into account the practical requirements of families that received subsidised houses. This would allow the families to keep their new assets, so that they could use housing as a platform for saving. With regard to research into employment and growth, it was noted that even if unemployment were to be halved, serious attention would be needed to identify an employment and poverty reduction package.
It was noted that the nexus between policy and research is often missing. The HSRC thus established implementation networks as a means of bridging that gap.

HSRC conducted research with other African institutions, and during the past financial year, collaboration with other African institutions had increased. The HSRC employed a number of researchers, and although the HSRC was 71% black (51% African, 13% coloured, and 7% Indian) it was still not sufficiently representative at senior levels. The reason for the insufficient representation was as a result of non-competitive salaries, scarce skills and not enough posts to appoint staff in permanent positions. The HSRC however conducted a salary benchmarking exercise, in which deputy executive directors were appointed. There however needed to be more baseline funding to appoint staff in permanent posts. It was noted that in terms of governance, the HSRC had received unqualified audits seven years in a row

Mr S Farrow (DA) asked for clarity on what happened once the public purpose research had taken place. Clarity should also be provided on whether the informal sector was taken up in the research. The presentation stated that the HSRC had increased its collaboration with other African institutions, comment should be made on who decided on the programmes, and whether there was a common cause. With regard to the staff complement, clarity should be provided on why the HSRC could not pay market-related salaries, given the vast amounts of funds that had been donated through foreign donors over and above the government grant.

Dr Shisana responded that the HSRC did follow up on the research through its monitoring and evaluation systems. There had been various studies undertaken in which the HSRC went out to communities to see whether the recommended polices were being implemented. With regard to the increased collaboration in Africa, it should be noted that the HSRC did not conduct research in other African countries. The HSRC used researchers from other countries in order to make comparisons between the two countries. In terms of funding it was true that the HSRC received funds from international donors, as the HSRC had a reputation of good financial management. However the donor funding together with the parliamentary funding was never enough to pay staff members market related salaries and the HSRC was trying to correct the matter over a three-year period.

Dr Miriam Altman, Executive Director: Employment, Growth and Development Initiative, added that on the matter of informal sector research, the HSRC had finished a study on agriculture and the manufacturing sectors. It was found that they were important sectors but were no longer the only source of growth, and there was enormous growth to be found in the informal sector. The HSRC had been looking into the retail sector which was the biggest portion of the informal sector, and was trying to unpack the sector without making any assumptions.

Mr R Ainslie (ANC) asked for comment on public purpose research on extreme poverty and hunger, and whether there were such future projects. The HSRC should also elaborate on the social impact of housing. It was good too see that the HSRC had received an unqualified audit report, however it should be noted that the auditor general had raised a number of concerns. The HSRC should therefore elaborate on what has been done to address the auditor general’s concerns.

Dr Udesh Pillay Executive Director: Urban, Rural and Economic Development, responded that the research into poverty was still work in progress, as the HSRC was conducing research at a household level. In terms of hunger, the HSRC was looking into ways of determining whether feeding schemes were working in order to assess this aspect of poverty. With regard to housing, it should be noted that the housing policy proposal that was put forward, was trying to reinforce the notion that if you gave people access to a title, they would soon get access to credit to improve their households and stock. However the problem with the proposal was that the notion that access to credit simply because they have title, was not true. The HSRC was trying to convince the Department of Housing that the strategy used when it came to social housing, needed to be far more holistic.

Dr Shisana responded that in terms of non-compliance with legislation, the HSRC introduced a supply chain management policy last year. There had been teething problems with the implementation of a new strategy, and the problems were being addressed. In terms of governance, the HSRC was setting up systems to ensure that there was proper monitoring and evaluation. The HSRC had also begun to implement a the fraud prevention plan, and was following up the abuse of resources.

The CFO responded that there were controls in place aimed at fraud prevention, and the fraud that was discovered, was through the controls that were implemented. The payroll fraud was detected internally, however the controls in the payroll system were not adequate. The HSRC was in the process of evaluating the payroll system to ensure that the organization’s needs were met from a control risk perspective

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked for clarity on how many researchers the HSRC produced in a year. South Africa did not have a specific definition for poverty. Clarity should be provided on why was this was the case. The HSRC should also comment on whether they were looking into the abuse of government-subsidized housing.

Dr Shisana added that in terms of the number of researchers, the HSRC employed 53 researchers.

Dr Pillay responded that the poverty gap was being entrenched, and the social programmes were having limited impact on poverty levels. The measurement of poverty was a highly contentious issue in that there were various measurements on which there was no consensus. All measurements were referred to National Treasury, which would then choose the appropriate measurement. With regard to social housing, abuse of subsidised housing occurred at an alarming rate and once people could not afford the housing, they tended to migrate to informal settlements.

Prof I Mohamed stated that the conditions to which children were subjected needed to be looked at, and asked for further comment on the extreme poverty situation, and the matter of HIV/AIDS.

Mr Pillay responded that with regard to extreme poverty, it was important to measure poverty at a household level.

Dr Shisana responded that in terms of data on HIV/AIDS new infections available to the HSRC, the number of new infections was on the increase. Health care systems were deteriorating more than before and there had been major challenges such as TB and AIDS where the number of patients had increased. With regard to learning conditions, South Africa was not doing so well in terms of education, and studies had been done within the school systems to find out why this was the case.

Dr Altman added that poverty could be seen in so many areas, and there needed to be ways of strengthening delivery agents in order for service delivery to take place in an efficient manner.

Mr Dithebe asked the HSRC to comment on how Prof Adam Habib’s detention and refused entry on arrival in the United States affected the work done by the HSRC. He asked for clarity on whether there would be any research done on the role of Parliament monitoring foreign aid and the restructuring of the United Nations.

Dr Shisana responded that Prof Habib’s detention made it very difficult for the HSRC to engage in discussions on the restructuring of the United Nations. The HSRC had hoped to meet with key stakeholders; however Prof Habib’s detention halted the process. With regard to the role of Parliament, South African aid funding was very small, however there also seemed to be major problems in monitoring aid.

Mr Mnyandu asked for clarity on whether anything was being done about harmonizing various social policies.

Dr Shisana replied that in harmonizing policies, Parliament had passed some very good legislation. South African society however was not ready to deal with some of the issues which had been placed in the legislation, and the public needed to be educated on how to tackle challenging issues.

Mr Farow stated that the HSRC needed to ask Treasury through the Department for a refund of the shortfall during the financial year.

Mr Ainslie asked for clarity on whether the HSRC website was updated on a regular basis.

Dr Shisana responded that the website was indeed regularly updated and there was easy access to information

Ms Ngcobo asked if any research was being done on uplifting the vulnerable members of society.

Dr Shisana responded that there was no funding to look into the indigenous knowledge programmes.

Meeting was adjourned.


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