The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) briefed the Committee and outlined their strategic priorities for 2008/09. It was noted that the CSIR strategic priorities were driven by its mandate of addressing priority issues that contributed to the national programme of development for the benefit of all South Africans. One of the targets by the CSIR was to have 329 staff members with PhD level qualifications by 2010/11.
Members noted that the CSIR produced 30 PhD’s per annum, and asked CSIR to comment on where they saw themselves in 2014. Members felt that whilst it was important to produce PhD’s, it was also equally important for the CSIR to try and apply their minds in assisting with the various delivery challenges that were faced. Whilst it was clear that the CSIR was performing a lot of valuable research; the people in the rural areas did not see the impact of their work and there was therefore a need to address that specific issue. Clearer focus needed to be put on the strategic priorities. Further questions by Members addressed sanitation issues, the percentages spent on Research and Development, the distinction between service delivery and technological innovations in attacking a problem, the innovation chasm, the question of the roll overs, the need to increase the gender bias in favour of women, programmes to address small businesses and learners. Members asked that specific targets be listed, as well as challenges and how they could be addressed. CSIR commented that there needed to be a holistic view on the science system and whether the system was suited to address the specific needs of the country.
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Strategic Plan Presentation
Dr Sibusiso Sibisi, President and Chief Executive Officer, CSIR, provided a lengthy presentation where he outlined CSIR strategic priorities for 2008/09. He firstly explained the context in which the CSIR found itself, and the internal and external factors impinging on it. The CSIR strategic priorities were driven by its mandate of addressing priority issues that contributed to the national programme of development for the benefit of all South Africans. The CSIR had a track record of operational efficiency and good governance. The aim of the organisation was to maintain an unqualified audit, a risk management plan, and fraud prevention Plan. The CSIR was continuously exploring new areas of research of future importance. The projects included Bio-engineering through Synthetic Biology, artificial Intelligence through Mobile Intelligence and opto-electronics / photonics through the Photonics Centre of Competence. One of the targets was to have 329 staff members with PhD level qualifications by 2010/11. The CSIR had also implemented an employee Wellness Programme and was looking into ways of reducing energy consumption. Further details of all programmes were listed in the attached document.
Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) asked CSIR to comment on what was being done to reign in on the innovation chasm, and how they planned to tap into the economy. CSIR should also comment on their role in addressing issues such as sanitation. It was noted by CSIR that they produced 30 PhD graduates per annum, but she asked where would the CSIR see itself in 2014. CSIR was also asked to comment on the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that went into Research and Development (R&D).
Dr Sibisi replied that the CSIR had not conducted a survey on how much was spent on R&D, so he was not really placed to confirm or question the issue of R&D. It had been noted that the country was approaching 1% expenditure on science and technology; however most of it was not on R&D.
Dr Hoffie Maree, Group Executive: Operations, CSIR, added that on the longer term perspective, seen from the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) side, expenditure on R&D was set to increase to 2%. There needed to be an increase in spending in order for
Dr Sibisi replied that the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries spent close to 4% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on R&D. In respect of issues such as sanitation there was a point where one had to ask whether a given problem required technological innovation or an improvement in service delivery. CSIR was interested in solving this problem, despite the fact that the matter was not a CSIR issue. In order to address the service delivery issues, one needed to have a clear understanding on what the problem was before technology innovations were implemented.
Ms Khungeka Njobe, Group Executive: Research and Development Outcomes, CSIR, replied
on the innovation chasm that there was a strategy to increase the intellectual property innovations, and there was also an effort to transfer the innovations strategies. Within the organisation a lot of attention had been paid to improve intellectual processes. A fund would be set up which would enable researchers to take ideas to venture capitalists, and CSIR was engaging actively with other organisations in obtaining external funding. In relation to the production of PHDs the targets for 2014 had not yet been set.
Ms F Mohamed (ANC) asked for comment on whether there would be any roll overs at the end of the financial year. She asked if the figure of 329 PhDs among number of staff in 2010/2011 were already in the pipeline or was this merely projected. She asked whether the figures provided for patents were not too little. She noted that the issue of only 20% woman staff was very worrying and needed to be dealt with as a matter of great urgency. She also questioned if
Ms Njobe replied that the 329 PhD process was already in place, through recruitment and student development programmes.
Dr Sibisi added that school level intervention was very specific. The CSIR looked at various programmes, such as bridging courses for students who wanted to receive tertiary education. CSIR would look into addressing the innovation challenge, and there were various programmes that were being looked into. These programmes included the establishing and supporting of small incubation companies. On the issue of women, the CSIR agreed that more could be done.
Dr Maree replied that CSIR was a Schedule 3b organisation, and it was governed by the Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GAAP). There was R30 million of the Parliamentary grants funding which remained unutilised. As a research institution it would be difficult to fully utilise the funds within the financial year, as further research was needing to be done. Provision would be created in the balance sheet and funds would be used in the new financial year.
Ms Mohamed said that she understood that the CSIR performed packaged research; however it was an issues of great concern when there was R30 million rolled over.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) said he had a major problem in that the presentation did provide targets, and only outlined general work. This would make it difficult for the Committee to hold the CSIR accountable for the work done. 2008 had been earmarked as the year of the mass mobilisation of South African society, and the CSIR team had noted that they were aware of the challenges faced by South Africans. The CSIR strategic plan as presented however did not mention the challenges nor how they could be addressed. Since the parliamentary term begun, people in the constituencies had been questioning the relevance of the research that was being performed by institutions such as the CSIR, and how the research impacted on their daily lives. The strategic plan was therefore seeming to offer “business as usual”, and did not speak to the people on the ground.
Dr Sibisi replied that it would be very harsh a judgment to say that the science system had done nothing to assist with the development of the country and eradicating poverty. It would be helpful if there were regular interactions with the Portfolio Committee in which the CSIR outlined the work that was being done. There needed to be a holistic view on the science system and whether the system was suited to address the specific needs of the country. CSIR tended to be guided by strategies that were either crafted by CSIR, DST, Department of Trade and Industry or other Departments. It was very difficult to respond to a comment that said that CSIR was doing nothing about eradicating poverty. It was also very exasperating to provide examples for five years, and still be questioned regarding CSIR research impact
The Chairperson said that there was a grievance in that there were gaps in the system. It was true that the CSIR was doing much work. However the people in the rural areas did not see the impact of this work. The question should be why so much work did not reach people in the communities. The frustrations were not just directed against the CSIR, but there was a real need to focus on what were the strategic priorities.
Mr S Nxumalo (ANC) said that the main question was whether the strategic plan was responsive to the Polokwane resolutions. As long as there was no improvement in the lives of the people in the constituencies, then the issues would be raised time and time again.
Mr J Blanche (DA) noted that the CSIR should examine the state of South African infrastructure, and provide suggestions on what could be done. CSIR should also look into the manufacturing of energy efficient material. It should investigate whether there was a need to look into whether local government officials were using electricity efficiently.
Dr Sibisi replied that the CSIR had worked on road infrastructure and would continue to look into solutions aimed at improving road infrastructure systems and the maintenance regime. On the issues of appliances, this matter lay in the field of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), although CSIR was willing to look into the matter.
Mr Maree added that a matter that crossed over between local government, the CSIR and the Department of Trade and Industry was a centre for cleaner production, which looked at electricity usage and water re-usage.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC) asked whether it would make any difference if a political decision was taken to reduce energy consumption from 250 volts to 120 volts.
Dr Sibisi replied that he was unable to answer this question.
The meeting was adjourned.
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