The Committee adopted the Technology Innovation Agency Bill with amendments.
The National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) presented its Annual Report and explained the key highlights for the past year and its outlook for 2007/2008. The Committee was not happy with the output of NACI as they staed that there had been a lot of overseas trips and attending of conferences with very little happening on the ground. They queried the type of advice that NACI gave the Minister. NACI was asked to return in order to answer pertinent questions that had been raised by the Committee.
Technology Innovation Agency Bill: voting
The Committee went through the amendments to the Bill, looking at both the A version (Portfolio Committee amendments only) and the B version (Portfolio Committee amendments incorporated into original bill).
Dr Francis Peterson (Head Strategy: Angloplatinum on behalf of NACI) outlined NACI’s conception, functions and objectives. He stressed that the statutory mandate of NACI was to advise the Minister of Science and Technology on matters pertaining to science, technology and innovation. It aimed to promote and achieve national objectives and goals such as the improvement and sustainability of the quality of life of South Africans. He also stated that the development of women was on their agenda. NACI is made up of members who work on a part time basis but are all specialists in their field and they hold plenary sessions four times a year. There was a full-time NACI-secretariat.
• participating in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country review of the SA National System of Innovation (NSI)
• the policy framework on gender and race equity for Science, Engineering and Technology
• launching the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee (NBAC)
• providing advice on physical infrastructure for Science and Technology
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked why an audit report was not included in the Annual Report. She also asked why there was not a similar presentation in 2007.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) questioned why the NACI report had outdated information about infrastructure to attain the vision presented to the Minister.
The response to this was that the information had been presented in December, and the information was gathered from fact-finding missions in
Mr M Bhengu (IFP) said that he was frustrated that all the strategic plans that had been presented from previous years, including the current one, looked alike. In his view he felt it was a sign of non-growth on NACI’s part. He also asked why there was an Acting Head and for how long would he be ‘acting’. What type of advice was NACI giving to the Minister about the quality of life of ordinary South Africans and its improvement for rural folk.
Dr Peterson replied that the annual strategic plan was forward looking and not stagnant in any way as some projects stretch over a number of years for them to be fulfilled. The Acting Head would remain in his position until there was a change-over but this would only take place once staff has been shifted around in their various capacities. On the quality of life of urban and rural South Africans, NACI advised the Minister broadly on key issues that ought to be focused on. He added that NACI was an arm of the Department of Science and Technology and its purse strings are held by the Department.
The Chair interjected that the quality of life of rural folk was of paramount importance and how NACI advises the Minister was of paramount importance. This question ought to be approached with more depth.
Mr P Nefolovhodwe (AZAPO) questioned if persons with disabilities were included in any of NACI’s plans. He also asked how many women are employed by NACI and how many are to be found in the secretariat.
The response was that there were broad policies in place that included all marginalised groups thus women and disabled persons were catered for.
Mr S Farrow (DA) questioned who decided which issues were of importance since most the programs mentioned involved Chapter 9 institutions which focused on gender and race thus making them focal points was mere duplication. He also inquired about the type of advice NACI gave the Minister about the ESKOM crisis and load shedding. He asked why home grown solutions to problems were being shunned and more focus or emphasis was being placed on foreign fact finding missions.
Mr J Blanche (DA) was not at ease with the fact that NACI was packed to the brim with doctors and professors who have a passion for presenting papers at conferences and no engineers on the ground who have the capabilities to solve problems. He went on to list several innovations that had been rejected by local government and questioned whether the problem was due to the composition of the councils.
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) lambasted NACI for going to a lot of overseas conferences but the results of these conferences were still a mystery. He asked what advice NACI gave the Minister on nuclear energy as opposed to other forms of electricity generation. Finally he wanted to know the demographic make up of NACI’s secretariat.
Dr Peterson responded that he did not have the information about the demographic make-up of the NACI secretariat. He noted that they advised the Minister of Science and Technology and not the Minister on Energy Affairs who had publicly provided a response on nuclear energy.
Mr A Ainslie (ANC) sought clarity on how NACI gets monitored and evaluated. He was not impressed with the financial statements at the back of the Annual Report as they did not explain anything since they were out of context. He asked who funded the conferences and workshops. Finally he wanted to know what the difference between advising and researching are.
The response was that the OECD Report was available.
Ms Ngcobo asked whether NACI gets external funding, and whether NACI could serve the whole country and not only the Department of Science and Technology.
Dr Peterson replied that funding was only available from the Department of Science and Technology and that NACI did serve the whole country.
The Chair concluded the meeting by stating that NACI had to set another date with the Committee in order to fully answer pertinent questions that were raised by the Committee.
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