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TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
30 October 2007
S A COUNCIL FOR NATURAL SCIENTIFIC PROFESSIONS & AFRICA INSTITUTE OF SA ANNUAL REPORT 2006/07 BRIEFINGS
Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)
Documents handed out:
South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions Presentation [Part 1][Part 2]
Africa Institute of South Africa Annual Report [available shortly at www.ai.org.za]
Africa Institute of South Africa Presentation
Audio recording of meeting
Members met with the
South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions and the Africa
Institute of South Africa in order to discuss their Annual Reports. The Council’s presentation
outlined the main objectives, the finances, and the registration statistics of
the organisation. It had managed to revise its admission requirements and
restructured its remuneration. Members questioned the removal of members from
the register, and the incentives that had been implemented in order to attract
black women. The role of the Council was clarified, and further questions
related to the registration subscriptions, whether these were tax deductible,
and whether it was possible for government to subsidise the subscription costs
in any way, publication by scientists in any journals, and the challenges in
non-registered scientists being appointed on tenders.
The AISA presentation outlined the achievements in the face of the numerous challenges, which included substantial loss of management staff, and a disclaimed audit report, as well as challenges to governance and the financial management. The Institute had appointed a new council in January 2007, and established an audit committee and tabled plans for the way forward in the next year.
Members questioned AISA on what was being done to address the exodus of staff from the organisation, staff loans, how it planned to graduate from a disclaimer to an unqualified report, and also how they planned to recruit young researchers.
South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNSAP) Annual Report Briefing
Prof Pieter Marais, President, SACNASP, outlined the main objectives, the finances, and the registration statistics of the organisation. He stated that some of the main objectives included the increase of professionalism and competence amongst natural scientists, and protection of the community against incompetent practitioners. During the financial year SACNASP had managed to revise its admission requirements and restructured its remuneration packages. The financial situation improved significantly due to the increase in the number of registrations. The increase in annual fees was kept at inflation rate, but it was still the lowest compared to other scientific councils. Some of the challenges faced included the fact that academics still felt negatively about registration, and there were relatively few registered black and female scientists. More detailed charts in support of the statistics mentioned were tabled (see attached presentation).
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) stated that nothing would ever have prevented him, as a scientist, from publishing a report overseas and he would not, during his practising career, have registered with the SACNSAP. He asked for clarity on the removal of members from the register, which he found objectionable. .
Prof Marais replied that the SACNASP did not remove members from the register for arbitrary reasons. The removals in questions were in respect of retired and non practising members. Some of the members had simply failed to re-register, while others had disappeared without paying membership fees. With regard to the publications, it should be noted that there was nothing to prevent a scientist from publishing anywhere he or she wished, without the necessity to register. Academics did not have to be registered, unless they wanted to practise in a private capacity.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked for comment on the incentives that had been implemented in order to attract black women. She asked for clarity on what SACNASP meant by non-compliance by government departments, and whether SACNASP scientists had any plans in addressing issues that arose from the Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS).
Prof Marais responded that SACNASP had been informed by its members that
Government departments would put out tenders, and non registered scientists
would get the tenders.
Prof Marais noted that SACNASP was not involved with the IKS in that the organisation’s main function was to try to ensure that scientists were registered, and ensure that there was compliance with the SACNASP Act.
Prof Marais noted that SACNASP had a few women on its Council, who had resigned for various reasons. SACNASP did not have the funds to incentivise women in particular, but there was a drive to recruit women wherever possible.
Mr J Blanche (DA) asked for clarity on the registration cost figure, and whether it was tax deductible. He asked whether it was possible for government to subsidise the subscription costs, and stated that there should not be an annual subscription, but a once off initial payment.
Prof Marais responded that it would be wonderful if the government subsidised the fees, but it would not be feasible. The amount had in the past been tax-deductible but after the tax rules had changed, this no longer applied.
Ms F Mahomed (ANC)asked for clarity how many local and foreign qualifications had been evaluated by SACNASP. She also asked for clarity on how SACNASP planned on dealing with youth enterprise, and whether there was a mandatory meeting on the question of council members.
Prof Marais responded that local qualifications were not assessed unless they were new qualifications, and it was the candidate who was rather registered according to her or his portfolio. New qualifications would be newly offered by existing or new universities, or by foreign academics. SACNASP had no particular programmes on youth, but it had worked upon increasing awareness amongst universities. With regard to council members, he explained that the problem lay in the subcommittees. There was a ruling in the SACNAB legislation that if Council members missed three or more meetings they would be dismissed, and this situation had already occurred.
South Africa (AISA) Annual Report briefing
Prof Nthabiseng Ogude, Chairperson of the Council, and Dr Matlotleng Matlou, Chief Executive Officer, AISA, outlined the achievements and challenges, governance structures, and the financial management of the organisation. They stated that the 2006/07 financial year proved to be a very difficult year for AISA in many respects. AISA had experienced high attrition rates at three tiers of management. The COO, Acting CEO, Director of Publications, CFO and replacing CEO had all resigned between April and August 2006. The Director of Library and documentation services and the Acting Director of Publications had also resigned later in the year. There were no internal auditors for the better part of the 2006/07 financial year. The Council had appointed MANCO on 1 July 2006 to manage the day to day activities of AISA. It had operated for eight months without an accounting officer.
The auditor General (AG) had issued a disclaimer for AISA’s 2006/07 financial statements, based on the lack of internal controls, the preparation of the Annual financial statements not being in accordance with Generally Accepted or Generally Recognised accounting principles, lack of asset verification and an inability to comment on the validity, accuracy and completeness of sales and other income.
Nonetheless AISA had made some achievements. These included the hosting of three high level conference seminars, and the achievement of the publication targets, as well as retaining the accreditation of Africa Insight. AISA had also appointed a new Council in January 2007, and had established an executive, an audit , a research and an HR and Finance committee. The audit committee was to meet on a monthly basis until normality was restored. Internal auditors were appointed on 28 February 2007, and the aim was to improve the financial policy framework, to revamp the IT infrastructure and improve the security of library assets, as also to develop a third stream of income to avoid over-reliance on the government grant. Dr Matlou was appointed as CEO on 1 September 2007. A full time Chief Financial Officer had also been appointed and the rest of the management vacancies should be filled by December 2007. He outlined the strategies for the way forward as improving financial management, aligning the research strategy, improving compliance with legislation, and meeting and exceeding business plans and shareholder compacts.
The Chairperson asked for clarity on the exodus of staff from AISA
Prof Ogude replied that the organisation had undergone a turbulent time, which created a lot of instability, which had resulted in poor running of the organization and a loss of staff.
Mr A Ainslee (ANC) thanked Dr Matlou for an open and honest report, and stated that he was happy that steps were being taken to address the Auditor General’s concerns. He asked AISA to comment on the staff loans, as it was surprising to see that this situation was being allowed at government institutions. Clarity should also be given on who the loaning staff members were, and whether credit checks had been done on them. With regard to the publications, he asked for a comment on why none of the publications were published internationally.
Prof Ogude responded that AISA was not in the business of giving loans. Only one person had been given a loan, and that loan was outside the policy framework of the organisation. The loan was just one of many examples of the lack of controls that existed during the reign of the previous CEO.
Prof Bernard Lategan, Member of Council, AISA, added that research was a very important aspect of AISA. The organisation had set new targets for research, and the goal was to provide research that would in turn assist policy formulation. It should be noted that a new post had been advertised, for an executive director for research, which was aimed at providing AISA with a stronger publication record.
Ms Ngcobo questioned AISA on the incentives that had been implemented in order to attract black women. Clarity should be provided on whether AISA had received any funding from other African countries, and what the progress was between Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with regard to AISA.
Dr Matlou replied that the issue of attracting women was something with which AISA was trying to come to grips. AISA had implemented a young graduate scholar’s programme, in which a large number were women. With regard to funding, AISA relied mainly on the parliamentary grant. There had been various organisations who had contributed to the funding, but it should be noted that AISA was not funded by any African government, although there might be funding from outside South Africa.
Prof Ogude added that in terms of incentivising women, five of the nine AISA Council members were women, and the chairperson of the Audit committee was a woman. With regard to the other Departments mentioned, he noted that the Board’s perspective was that research was above any political alignment with any Department, as it would compromise the integrity of research at the organization.
Mr Tshapelo, Deputy Director General, Human Capital and Science Missions, DST, stated that the reason why there was a proposal that AISA be transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs was that at one time DST was not comfortable with dealing with the social sciences. DST however had finally accepted that social science was part of the sciences field. DST would soon be launching a plan which focused on social sciences and humanities. Therefore AISA would very much remain a part of DST.
Mr Blanche complained about the very expensive Annual Report that had been provided by AISA, and stated that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. He also felt this institution was performing research on irrelevant topics, and was duplicating functions. AISA should provide clarity on how it planned on rebuilding the brand after the turbulent times.
Dr Matlou responded that in order to successfully restructure the organisation, AISA needed to look into what had worked in the past, in order to determine the way forward. Another way was too look at forming partnerships within African countries and the diaspora.
Mr S Farrow (DA) stated that there seemed to be duplication of roles and functions between the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and AISA. The Council members also had to focus on accountability and compliance in order to achieve their targets. There was no relationship between what AISA was trying to do and its financial performance.
The Chairperson stated that during the oversight visit, the Committee would meet with the Council and look into some of the issues that had been raised.
Mr S Dithebe (ANC) asked for clarity what was being done to change the negative perception on registration amongst the academics.
Prof Marais responded that the there had been an establishment of a Deans’ council, which planned on going on a road show across all universities in order to change the perceptions.
Mr Dithebe noted that AISA had not made mention on how it planned to graduate from a disclaimer audit report to an unqualified report. He also noted that it should give clarity how it planned to ensure that there were young researchers.
Dr Matlou replied that it was difficult to leave out the achievements. However the governance structure slide dealt with all the issues moving forward.
Mr Ainslee stated that the Minister should consult the Committee with regard to the appointment of the Council.
Prof Ogude stated that the new Council agonised a lot before choosing to be part of AISA. Many Council members knew the state of AISA before they accepted becoming part of the Council, and there was a high level now of commitment and no problems of attendance.
The meeting was adjourned.
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