South African Weather Service 2006/7 Annual Report: briefing


24 October 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

24 October 2007

Chairperson: Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents handed out:
South Africa Weather Services Annual Report 06/07 Presentation
South Africa Weather Services Annual Report 06/07[available at]

Audio recording of meeting

The Committee was briefed by the South African Weather Service (SAWS) on its annual report. The mandate and function of the Service was set out and the SAWS aimed to be a world class meteorological organisation that contributed to the sustainable development of South Africa. There were various sub-committees of the Board attending to different issues. The audit report this year had contained only one matter of emphasis, in relation to land that had subsequently been registered to SAWS. There were currently 12 integrated radar systems and 168 Automatic Weather Stations. Data was collected through upper-air ground receiving stations and through a contract with South African Airways by installing software in aircraft. Its international liaison that was set out, and the Meteorological Association of Southern Africa would promote regional collaboration. The financial statements were presented, showing income from capital injections and a government grant. Challenges included the retention of skilled staff and the need to train aircraft pilots and weather reports in using the correct terminology and in acknowledging the Service as the source of information.

Questions by Members addressed the gender balance and retention strategies, linkages in the board committees, the number of radar stations, the use of radar, cooperation with neighbouring countries, weather pollution data and lightning detection, and the security of weather stations. Further questions were asked around the business plan for the land, and some suggestions made in that regard, the televised weather reports, marketing in the Southern African region, Mr the qualifications needed from meteorologists, the strategy for donor funding, the problem of hoax reports, publication by the research scientists, and the possibility of a carbon-neutral set-up at Centurion. Further queries related to the number of disabled staff, the sabbatical programme, customised products, and global warming issues.

South African Weather Service (SAWS) briefing

Dr Linda Makuleni, CEO, South African Weather Service, opened the presentation by saying that the strategic objective of the South African Weather Service (SAWS) was to pursue scientific and business excellence. The vision of SAWS was to be a world class meteorological organisation that contributed to the sustainable development of South Africa.

The organisation had various committees within its board of directors, which included an Audit Committee, Human Resource & Remuneration Committee and Finance Committee. The Audit Committee assisted in ensuring that the organisation was ready for audit and also assisted in reaching the resolution on certain other issues. Land was finally registered in SAWS’s name on 18 October 2007. The audit report moved from having 12 matters of emphasis in the previous year to one. However since the land issue had been resolved, there was no matter of emphasis remaining. The organisational structure put in place by the Human Resource Committee supported the three year strategic plan of the Board. One particular focus of this Committee this year was recruiting and maintaining black scientists within the field. The Finance Committee assisted in resolving issues raised by SCOPA.

The core business operation of SAWS was collecting weather and climate data . There were currently 12 integrated radar systems and 168 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) in operation. For collecting weather and climate data, it leased 2 upper-air ground receiving stations and had finalised the contract with South African Airways SAA to install aircraft meteorological Data Relay Software. The SUMO Software Package was developed in-house as part of satellite technology. SAWS also managed to get software needed by forecasters like the NinJo Forecasting Working Station, which was finalised and was now fully functional.

SAWS has international liaison that enabled it to have strategic participation also. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, there had been formation of the Meteorological Association of Southern Africa (MASA), which would promote regional collaboration amongst SADC National Weather Services in order to enhance socio-economic applications of weather and climate information.

SAWS presented its financial statements. The cash in bank amounted to R50 million. Capital injections included an injection of R240 million from a shareholder for radar and a government grant of R5 million. The challenges faced by SAWS included the need to work out a strategy to keep people within the organization, and the need to train airplane pilots and radio weather reporters away from using incorrect jargon and not acknowledging SAWS as their source of information.

Ms M Ntuli (ANC) firstly commended the SAWS for the good work done.

Ms Ntuli asked whether the organisation considered issues like balance of gender when they recruited black scientists, and how it was formulating a strategy of how to keep the young scientists within the organisation and make them passionate about working for SAWS.

Dr Makuleni responded that the organisation had started to recruit at the bursary level, in that when it gave students bursaries, it would also give them the opportunity to be absorbed into the organisation. SAWS was currently busy with job evaluation, comparing itself with other institutions.
SAWS was also busy formulating a career path model, because some people did not want to be managers but wanted to remain scientists, although they might be forced into management because of higher pay scales. Therefore there was a need to address how to keep them in the field, and this would be addressed through the career path model. The growth in grant provided was 7%, but the cost was about 18%, and SAWS was also looking at other benefits besides remuneration. With respect to gender balance, Dr Makuleni said that getting more females into the field was something that needed to be addressed and she acknowledged that currently there was a gender imbalance.

Ms Ntuli asked whether there were linkages within the board committees.

Dr Makuleni said that the six board committees were also part of the team of people responding to challenges raised, and said that the key executive managers were also key players within the organisation.

Ms Ntuli acknowledged that a lot of work was being done in terms of radar and asked how many radar stations South Africa needed to be in a comfortable position.

Ms Ntuli commented that the SADC issue seemed quite crucial. She said that South Africa could do its best, but if neighboring countries were not co-operating then it would result in problems. She asked whether the organisation had a strategy of moving forward together with other neighbouring countries.

Dr Makuleni said that there was the formation of an association last year with South Africa appointed as the secretariat, and that this would be looking at a strategy for the region. The constitution had been adopted and this would assist in coming up with subscriptions. She said that mobilization of funding would be easier because funders would rather approach a corporate body.

Dr I Cachalia (ANC) asked whether SAWS collected data on weather pollution. He also asked whether it supplied data to people in relation to where lightning was expected to strike, especially for protection of the public and sportsmen. Lastly, he asked whether there were any structures in place to protect weather stations form theft.

Mr Gerhard Schulze, Manager: Observations and Infrastructure, SAWS, responded that SAWS had the ability to get weather pollution dimensions . He then said that SAWS had a lightning detection tool, which was a very valuable tool, and one of its advantages was to warn sportsmen, especially golfers. He said that it had the ability to detect lightning, and just needed to refine it, and get communication going via methods such as cellphone alerts.

Dr Makuleni added comments on Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Security, saying that the AWS were stationed in areas where there was security. However, there were still some problems, although the SAWS did try to put their stations in secure and protected areas. Dr Makuleni said that SAWS would undertake risk assessment and that it would explore other means of security.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC) asked whether SAWS had a business plan for the land for which it had now received a title deed.

Dr Makuleni responded that there had been meetings and the board would start reviewing the minutes of these meetings. She said that this was still at first levels and there was no structured business plan in place yet.

Mr Mokoena said that when television weather forecasts were announced, they were done so fast that even though they were well articulated, they were difficult to follow. He suggested that some kind of talk show should be done for weather forecast reports, where people could interact.

Dr Makuleni said that the organisation was going to formulate a protocol that guided how weather information should be disseminated by the SABC. She said that there was a commercial side where SAWS had entered into discussions about SABC mobile.

Mr Mokoena asked whether the department linked up with fire stations when a fire occurred, in order to give information like the wind speed and wind direction.

Mr Mokoena said that when employees left the organization, this would leave a gap in knowledge. He asked whether SAWS had a way of ensuring that the information and patents of SAWS did not leave.

Dr Makuleni responded that the organisation as looking at having a confidentiality clause in the employment contracts. Within the mandate of knowledge management, there as total quality management, which ensured that whatever was done by a scientist was documented. SAWS would be looking to gear this up as part of the succession planning of the organisation.

Mr Mokoena asked how SAWS would be marketing in the SADC region.

Dr Makuleni said that the MASA would be used as a marketing tool in the SADC region. As SAWS and the other associates were able to start to mobilising funding for MASA that would be the platform to market SAWS’ products.

Mr Mnikeli Ndabambi, Manager: Public Weather Service,SAWS, added that with respect to media, SAWS had
workshopped the media in five provinces to create a partnership with them, and to encourage them to educate the community at large.

Ms C
Zikalala (IFP) asked what were the qualifications expected from meteorologists.

Mr Ndabambi (SAWS) responded that students needed to have
Maths and Physical Science at matric level, but Geography was not compulsory. At tertiary level they needed to study a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Meteorology in the honours year.

Ms Zikalala asked about how radar functioned and asked why there was a guide translated into French and Portuguese, but not in English.

Mr Schulze responded that radar was a device that sent out sensors to a cloud and then sent a picture back of how the cloud looked. He said that SAWS was looking to putting in ten in the biggest areas of thunderstorms. He said that South Africa needed seventeen or eighteen radars to be comfortable.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) asked what SAWS strategy was on dealing with donor funding, as it seemed to have it properly controlled, which still remained a challenge in many departments and organisations.

Dr Makuleni acknowledged that most institutions were challenged by donor requirements. SAWS had special expertise and did not need people from outside. The people doing and managing the work were based inside the organization so donors wanted to utilise these internal services.

Mr D Maluleke (ANC) said that not long ago there was a hoax weather report in the country, which had financial impact on the country. He asked what strategy SAWS had in place to prevent this from happening in future.

Dr Makuleni responded that there was no regulation or legislation that made it an offence to give a false alarm although this behavior would result in serious implications. She said that the giving of a false alarm was similar to a bomb scare. She said that this was an area where SAWS needed to engage with the Ministry. SAWS however did interact with the media and would give them the correct information. They had used the incident to engage certain departments about the need to meet with them. The biggest problem that SAWS realised from the false alarm was interpretation of information by end users. She said that the organisation needed to develop easy language that end-users understood.

Mr Maluleke noted SAWS was catering for people that use sign language.

Dr Makuleni said that there had been discussions of having a weather channel.

Mr Maluleke then gave a suggestion for the use of the land; namely that it could be used as a daycare centre as most of the employees within SAWS were of an age where they would be planning their families, or had young children.

Dr Makuleni appreciated the suggestion of the daycare centre and said that she would take it forward as an idea to explore.

Mr G Morgan (DA) commented that scientists liked to publish and share their expertise and that was how they got their recognition. He asked whether SAWS was pleased with the extent of publishing. He also asked whether the scientists were given sufficient time to publish as this could be a possible retention strategy.

Dr Makuleni responded that scientists and researchers were encouraged to publish in a number of publications.

Mr Morgan asked whether the organisation had plans for the station in Centurion, to make it into a carbon-neutral organization. He said that if SAWS had not considered it, that he hoped it would be something they would start thinking about as it would be good corporate social responsibility programme, and impressive branding for SAWS.

Dr Makuleni responded that the Centurion station project would involve a lot of money and that SAWS would need to look at whether South African infrastructure could support such a move. She added that SAWS had a Climate Change Division and that they would start to strengthen that division. She said that they did not have a policy in place for a carbon-neutral organisation.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) commented that it was good that the organisation was coming up with a career model.

Ms Chalmers asked how SAWS communicated the phenomenon of global warming to communities, and whether there were personnel who were able to address the people in the communities in their appropriate language.

Mr P Kgabanakgosi (ANC) asked whether the 366 employees in the organisation included people with disabilities. He also asked whether the number of bursaries that were granted represented a national number and asked whether any bursaries had been given in the North West.

Dr Makuleni responded that she was not sure about the number of employees living with disabilities, but assured the Committee that she would find out. In response to the question of bursaries, she said that SAWS was going to co-ordinate a programme of targets that they should fund and absorb in each province.

The Chairperson asked whether SAWS had a programme for sabbaticals and also asked what the organization’s percentage profile of procurement was.

Dr Makuleni responded that SAWS was in the process of developing a sabbatical program as part of the retention strategy of the organisation.

The Chairperson commented favourably on the format of the report, which was easily readable. However, he asked for clarity on why some areas had not changed since the previous report.

The Chairperson asked whether the organisation had any customised products that would enable users to receive information from them.

Dr Makuleni said that SAWS was moving towards customising its products but added that it was important to note that there was a vast number of customers that needed different products and for that, better ICTS was needed. Dr Makuleni said that that was definitely an area that had room for improvement.

The Chairperson enquired whether a member that resigned from the board of SAWS was related a person of the same name, working at dti.

Dr Makuleni was not in a position to respond about the issue of the member who had resigned.

Ms Hanlie Grobler, Chief Financial Officer, SAWS noted that 15% - 20% of procurement was done through high suppliers and 53% was done to black owned enterprises.

Ms N Ntuli (ANC) said that her understanding of global warming was that the ice at the polecaps was melting and did not know precisely why this was happening. She said that everyone was drawing their own conclusions and asked for clarity on how global warming impacted on South African weather.

Mr Ndabambi responded that as a result of global warming South Africa could expect extreme weather conditions. He said that there was a need to address how people were going to cope with changes as a form of awareness, because the climate could not be changed. Explaining the concept of global warming, he said it was related to the greenhouse effect. He said that if there were many clouds in the sky, the temperature at night did not drop substantially because the heat energy was trapped by the clouds and then relayed back to the earth. He said that gases emitted from pollutants like smoke also formed a layer and had the same effect and that was sometimes the reason for the nights appearing to be warm.

The meeting was then adjourned.


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