Human Sciences Research Bill; Astronomy Geographical Bill: briefing

Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

NCOP Education and Recreation

EDUCATION AND RECREATION SELECT COMMITTEE
17 October 2007
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH BILL; ASTRONOMY GEOGRAPHICAL BILL: BRIEFING


Chairperson:  Mr B Tolo (Mpumalanga; ANC)

Documents handed out:
Human Sciences Research Council Bill presentation
Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill presentation
Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill [B17-2007]
Human Sciences Research Council Bill [B 16B-2007]
Human Sciences Research Council Bill [B16-2007]

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Department of Science and Technology noted that the whole Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Bill was replacing the old Act to bring it in line with current thinking and place stronger focus on the public purpose of the Council. The Department explained the key elements of the Bill. The Council would promote human science research of the highest quality, to improve understanding of social conditions, and engage 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 Committee voiced a number of concerns.  They questioned the difference in duration of terms for the Board and the Chief Executive Officer. The Committee was not pleased with the clause that stated that the Minister was to inform the National Assembly rather than both Houses of Parliament when there was a removal of a board member.  It was emphasised that the National Council of Provinces was also a house within Parliament.

The main purpose of the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill
was to authorise the Minister of Science and Technology to declare astronomy advantage areas within the Republic. This would ensure that large-scale globally important astronomy facilities were protected from uncontrolled development and potential interferences. The Committee was given a breakdown of the contents of the Bill with an explanation of what the meaning and intent of the clauses were. The presentation also covered the process and consultations that the Bill had undertaken. The Bill was directly linked to the potential development of the Square Kilometre Array telescope in the Northern Cape.

Transnet made a submission to the Committee requesting an additional clause be inserted into the Bill that would legally cover the procedure for compensation if there was expropriation.

MINUTES
Human Sciences Research Council Bill
Ms Majorie Pyoos (Deputy Director-General: Department of Science and Technology) said that the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) was established under the Human Sciences Research Act of 1968. The rationale for the new Bill was based on the DST harmonising its legislation and the suggestion by Cabinet that the HSRC Act be brought in line with the current state of affairs. Recommendations were made that called for a stronger focus on the public purpose approach of the HSRC to orientate its activities and research in the field of human sciences in the future. The drafting process had involved consultations, workshops and comments invited from the public. Various institutions were consulted in addition to the HSRC which included the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA).

Ms Pyoos then looked at the key elements of the Bill: its Preamble, the objects and functions of the Council, and details on its Board.

 The objects of the council was that it was designed to initiate, undertake research, inform processes, stimulate public debate, build research capacity and infrastructure, foster and support research collaboration, respond to needs to vulnerable and marginalized groups, develop and make available new data sets. The functions of the council included undertaking investigations and research and advising the Minister through research. The Board of the Council would comprise of a ministerially appointed Chairperson and a minimum of six additional members and a maximum of ten members including the Chairperson. The selection criteria would include representation of the wide area of social sciences, financial capacity and representation in terms of legal, human resources and governance. The Act was specific in requiring financial expertise and a representative for the rest of Africa.

The term of office for the Board would be four years with the provision for reappointment. The Board would meet four times a year and would determine procedures and had powers to convene special meetings. The committees of the Board were designed to assist the Board in meeting its commitments and obligations. The Board with the approval of the Minister would appoint the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Council. The term of office was five years and the CEO could not serve for more that two consecutive terms. If the CEO was absent for more than two months then the Board would be allowed to appoint an acting CEO.

The CEO of the Council would be appointed in compliance with labour legislation with the Board approving the terms and conditions of employment. The Act allows for the secondment of persons in the full time employ of the state to be seconded to or from the HSRC.

Ms Pyoos also looked at the sections dealing with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), the funding of the Council and the making of regulations.

The Minister can make regulations. Interim measures were in place for governance if the Board were to be dissolved.

Discussion
Mr A Sulliman (Northern Cape, ANC) referred to the term of office for the Board and noted that it was for four years whereas the CEO’s terms of office was five years.

Ms Faith Mazibuko (Gauteng; ANC) voiced her concerns with the different duration of term of office for the Board and for the CEO.

Ms Pyoos responded that this was designed to make provision for overlap between the functions of the CEO and the Board. The new Board would then have enough time to recruit a new CEO during their first year in office.

Ms Xoliswa Mdludla (State Law Advisor) added that as it was the CEO that managed the HSRC daily, for purposes of continuity it would be appropriate to give the CEO an additional year.

Mr Sulliman asked for further clarity on why, if the CEO was absent, the Board can appoint an acting CEO.
 
Ms Pyoos replied that the appointment of an acting CEO only happened if the CEO was absent for less than two months.

Mr Sulliman then referred to Clause 5(3) stating ‘in consultation with the National Assembly’ and asked why it was only the National Assembly and not the National Council of Provinces as well.

Ms J Masilo (North West; ANC) questioned the decision that the Minister inform the National Assembly rather than Parliament in Clause 5(c) of the removal of a board member.

Mr Tolo reiterated the previous question and went further to ask why it did not state “after” consultation.

Ms Pyoos replied that the National Assembly deliberated on the matter, and decided that it should be in consultation so that they were allowed to make inputs during the process. The Minister was concerned because this would cause tension between the legislature and executive. The Department was not satisfied with that decision. She added that there should be further deliberation on this issue.

Ms Mdludla replied that it was the view of the Office of the Chief Law State Advisor that “after” consultation was the correct route and the Department was in agreement. The National Assembly, however, decided after a meeting of the Chairpersons that it should be ‘in consultation’.

Ms F Mazibuko (Gauteng, ANC) was concerned about the numerous times a Bill could be amended and asked if it could carry on like this continually.

Ms Mdludlu replied that one can amend a Bill as often needed, depending on the volume of amendments. After a certain point it would be decided to overhaul that Bill completely. However this would be subject to policy considerations. 

Mr Bethuel Sehlapelo (Deputy Director General: Human Capital and Knowledge Systems: DST) responded that usually if there were a transfer of functions then it would require an amendment.

Ms Mazibuko was not sure if the composition of the Board would take into consideration issues of gender parity

Mr Arthur Maisela (Legal Advisor: DST) replied that the Bill covered issues of gender and disability.

Ms Pyoos added that the legislation did allow for the scrutiny of the demographics of the Board and this would include gender.

Ms Mazibuko asked if it was the norm to include a specification that instructed the Minister of Science and Technology to publicise in two national newspapers the fact that there was to be an appointment of members to the HSRC Board.

Ms Pyoos replied that the legislation allowed for circulation in at least two national newspapers, however it could be more. The intention was not to limit it to two publications.

Ms Mdludlu replied that it was standard procedure to state at least two national newspapers.

Ms Mazibuko asked if the HSRC Bill was applicable only to the Minister of Science and Technology, and what would happen if Cabinet were to change and designations and titles were to change.

Ms Pyoos replied that if there were a transfer of functions, then it would be effected by a presidential minute. At this point, it was felt that sector specific institutions should report to sector specific Ministers. The HSRC did have crosscutting functions, but it was determined that it should report to the Minister of Science and Technology.

Ms Mazibuko hoped that it would be noted that the National Council of Provinces was also a house within Parliament and that there might be some amendments. She was sure that the Committee would do further consultation.

Mr Tolo sought clarification with respect to the financial arrangements mentioned in Clause 4(2)(c)(ii) and 4(7)(b) where it was stated that the Minister had to inform the National Assembly, he asked if it was their intention to make the Minister of Science and Technology irrelevant.

Ms Pyoos responded that the Council had to receive authorisation from the Minister as would be stated in the business plan, with regard to seeking concurrence from the Minister of Finance, it was in accordance with the PFMA. She said that the point was taken, with the regard to the Minister having to inform Parliament.

Ms Mazibuko noted that there was no mention of a deputy chairperson and asked if there was no need for a deputy chairperson.

Ms Pyoos replied that the chairperson in terms of the Bill was required to preside over the meetings. It did indicate that the Board, if the chairperson was unable to preside, may elect a member present at the meeting to act as chairperson.

Ms Mazibuko maintained that even if it was a small Board, there should be a deputy chairperson.

Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill presentation
Mr Tsepho Seekoe (Chief Director: Radio Astronomy Advances: DST) said that multi-wavelength research meant that South Africa would have land-based telescopes that covered all forms of astronomy. Currently there were plans towards building the Karoo Array Telescope.  Linked to this was the Square Kilometre Array telescope (SKA) that South Africa was bidding on which would be built in the Northern Cape. The purpose of the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Bill would include protection of the astronomy investments already in the country, to maintain global astronomy, create a competitive edge and to attract further astronomy investments.  The process of the Bill was explained. The astronomy advantage areas were listed in that there were core, central and coordinated advantage areas, with graphical maps provided. The broadcasting and telecommunication impact was clarified.  

Mr Sehlapelo added that the SKA would be approximately 1.3billion Euros. If they were to be successful, there would be ripple effects on the economy and the growth of astronomy within South Africa.

Mr Tolo indicated that he had received a letter from Transnet with regard to the Astronomy Geographic Advantage (AGA) Bill

Transnet submission
Ms Fortune Legoabe (Legal Advisor: Freight Rail: Transnet) explained the concerns that were in the letter to the Chairperson. She indicated that Transnet did have an opportunity to raise their concerns during the public hearings and were now raising those concerns with the Select Committee. Their issue was that the proposed site SKA would impact on the current rail and freight activities. The actual area has railway lines and it employs the use of radio frequencies that would possibly impact on the SKA project. The actual AGA Bill allows the Minister to prohibit or restrict the use of radio frequencies as well as the construction of railway within the area, this in turn impacts on Freight Rail. If Freight Rail were to change the manner in which it conducted its business in that area, it was envisaged that it would cost R200 million.

She continued that Clause 23(3)(a) of the AGA Bill only provides for the compensation of the persons that ceased activities in totality.  It does not afford compensation to persons in order to comply with the Bill. Transnet did explore the Treasury contingency reserve and were informed that that there would be no compensation available for modifications to the rail and freight lines. The recommendation was that a subclause (c) should be inserted under Section 23(3), that allowed for compensation to be granted to the organ of state that complied with the prescribed conditions as stated in 23(b) of the Bill. Transnet sought the possibility of compensation. In terms of Section 25 of the Constitution, compensation was provided for. Compensation had to, therefore, be legislated and budgeted for in this Bill. Transnet wanted to ensure that if modifications were required in order to comply with the prescribed conditions of the Bill, Transnet would be compensated.

Discussion
Mr Tolo stated that the Committee would consider it.

Mr Sulliman understood Transnet concerns. The Bill did have financial implications, and suggest that would have to apply their minds properly.

Mr Tolo asked if the Department had budgeted for the financial implications.

Ms Mapula Khuduga (Deputy Director General: DST) responded that the position at this point was that the Department, through regulations, would invite public participation and the affected parties would be identified. The Department had opted not to place anything specific regarding compensation in the Bill.

Mr Tolo asked if Transnet had participated in the meetings with the various stakeholders and trusted the process.

Ms Legoabe replied that they had. Further, she clarified that this was legislation that dealt with compensation. They merely wanted a procedure in the legislation that dealt with compensation so that they could be secure from a legal standpoint. She indicated that perhaps Transnet would not even require compensation.

Ms Mazibuko asked why they would require legislation in the AGA Bill about the location. What would happen if they decided to position it elsewhere?

Mr Seekoe replied that the location in the Northern Cape was the best possible solution in terms of radio transmissions. The likelihood of the telescope moving was small. There was no need to have zero transmissions.

Ms Mazibuko required clarification on the language used in the Bill.

Mr Sehlapelo suggested that the Department return to give a better explanation of the Bill to Committee.

Mr Paki Monyobi (Project Manager: SKA Northern Cape) added that besides the small population, the Northern Cape also had the cleanest sky and air and little dust.  All of these factors were taken into consideration.

Ms Mazibuko asked why the currency used was Euros.

Ms Pyoos stated that it was a European investment.

Ms N Madlana-Magubane (Gauteng; ANC) asked if the Bill was not supposed to be in the Department of Communications.

Mr Sehlapelo replied that the development of the SKA was different to the erection of a cellphone mast.  The SKA was using frontier technology that involved lots of research and development. The Department of Communications would not able to do what was necessary, however, the Department of Science and Technology was not working alone.

Ms Pyoos added that the focus of SKA was around technology and therefore it was with the Department of Science and Technology. However, they would have to work closely with those departments that would be termed as enablers

Ms Madlana-Magubane asked if SA had the skills to provide capacity for the SKA project.

Mr Monyobi responded that there was plenty of potential in the country. Mr Seekoe added that the skills in the country should not be underestimated.

Mr Sehlapelo also added that they had already appointed a number of research chairs particularly within radio astronomy, some from South Africa and others from other countries.

Mr Tolo referred to the issue of broadcasting and asked for clarification.

Mr Seekoe responded that there was technology that could limit transmissions in certain areas. There had been evidence that this technology could improve the clarity of transmissions.

Mr Sulliman asked for an explanation on Chapter Two, Section 5(2) and asked if the Minister of Local Government were to be involved, would it not then be wise to involve the MEC of Local Government as well? 

Ms Khuduga replied that the MEC of provinces would not make a difference if the Department opted to add it in the Bill.

Ms Mazibuko questioned the fact that the Bill was trying to prescribe to the courts about fines and penalties.

Ms Khuduga replied that the intention was not to dictate to the courts. It provided a direction to indicate how the seriousness of the offence could be measured.

Ms Mdludla added that the fines were not prescribing to the courts. The enabling Act had to provide a framework for the courts to determine punishment.

Ms Mazibuko expressed concern about the possible health consequences presented by the SKA.

Ms Pyoos replied that the SKA would be analysing radio signals coming from deep space that could not be heard in any other way.

Mr Monyobi indicated that the SKA did not emit rays and therefore did not pose a health threat.
                                                                                                                    
Mr Tolo thanked the department for the briefing.  He would appreciate a synopsis on the Bill and their response to the Transnet recommendation.

Mr Tolo adjourned the meeting.

 

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