S A Council for National & Scientific Professions: Strategic Plan 2008

Science and Technology

14 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr G Oliphant (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Council for National and Scientific Professions briefed the Committee, noting that its core function was to register natural scientists.  Membership was compulsory and currently stood at 3 540, but it was estimated that only a third of practicing scientists were in fact registered.  The office had a small staff complement with the Council members all being volunteers, but they were planning to appoint a Chief Executive Officer and an Education Officer.  The Council also had a role in monitoring the programmes offered by universities.  Its income came mainly from membership fees.

Some Members were critical of the effectiveness of the Council, saying that it seemed to failing in its primary task of registering scientists.  The Council was encouraged to continue its efforts to increase membership.  It was suggested that universities be more active in encouraging graduates to register, but it was noted co-operation with the universities was lacking at present.  Members were told that there was no sanction for employers who made use of the services of unregistered scientists. They queried the intended role of the CEO, how often the Council met, what other support it was offered, and supported the compilation of a review document. It was further suggested that any successes be recorded through the Department of Science and Technology, and that national priorities be made a part of the work.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed Ms Madlala-Routledge as a new Member of the Committee

South African Council for National and Scientific Professions (SACNASP) Strategic Plan 2008
Dr Dhiro Gihwala, Vice President, South African Council for National and Scientific Professions (SACNASP), apologised for the late delivery of documents.  He had been a scientist at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) for many years.  He had joined SACNSAP in 1993, a year after the formation of the body.  A core function of SACNASP was to maintain a register of practicing scientists.  This was mandated by the Natural Scientific Professions Act of 2003.  Another function was to protect the public against malpractice.

He said that there were various categories.  One was for certified natural scientists.  This applied to scientists who held a minimum of a three year qualification and wanted to practise.  There were currently 104 members in this category.  The second category was for candidate natural scientists.  These were people who had completed an honours degree or a Bachelor of Technology degree at a University of Technology.  There were currently 162 members in this group.  They were mentored by a qualified natural scientist and would register fully in time.  The final category was that of practicing natural scientist and there were 3 450 members of the SACNASP in this category.  The highest distribution was in the field of geology, and the second highest in chemistry and earth sciences.

Dr Gihwala said that there was a small administrative structure.  There was a permanent secretariat of a registrar and three other staff members in Pretoria.  All other members acted on a voluntary basis.  There was a Council, and various committees were appointed to manage the Council’s activities.  An important field was that of ethics.  The SACNASP’s mission was to establish high level professional standards, and to look at best practice.  The body enjoyed international recognition.

Dr Gihwala said that the Council wanted to promote the natural sciences and exercise control over standards.  They recognised that the actions of scientists could influence the public.  They were monitoring the standards of education and training.  There was one university which offered geology as a subject, but not chemistry.  They said that the chemical aspects were incorporated into the geology curriculum, but SACNASP would monitor the appropriateness of the training.  Their intention was to work with the Higher Education Council (HEC).

In the field of medicine, a practitioner would not practice if he or she was not registered with the Medical Council.  Any person found guilty of malpractice was scrapped from the roll.  The position with engineers was similar.

Dr Gihwala said that SACNASP had approximately 3 500 members, but he did not know how many qualified scientists were in the country.  He hoped that the body could do marketing to encourage more members.

He said there were international bodies in various disciplines in the European Union, Canada, Australia and other countries.  SACNASP received queries from other African countries and did register these persons.

Dr Gihwala said that at the end of February there were 3 667 registered natural scientists in South Africa.  The body’s Annual Report had been received positively.  Provision was being made for professional scientists to put a title behind their name. 

He said that the organisation’s overheads were fairly low.  A serious weakness was the lack of staff at the office.  There was a lack of leadership.  There was a lack of a general marketing strategy.  There was no official newsletter.  There was a lack of commitment by employers, although this was changing slowly.  Unregistered practising scientists would be operating illegally.  There had been complaints that the Council did not provide benefits, but having the right to practice was a major benefit of registration.

Dr Gihwala said that there was an opportunity in exploring the high number of unregistered scientists.  The Act was changing all the time.  At present only scientists were registered, not technicians and technologists.  The SACNASP wanted to serve as a quality assurance agency with the HEC.

He said that one of the threats facing the body was the many unregistered scientists.  He had not heard of any prosecutions of unregistered scientists.  Increasing registrations would be a strategic thrust in the next year. He noted that people should know better and should be prepared to register. There was a skewed distribution of leadership.  There were only three forensic scientists registered, although he queried the definition of this term.  Another threat was the non-payment of fees by members.  The Council was lenient in this aspect, but might have to considering suspending membership for non-payment.

Dr Gihwala said that SACNASP needed to appoint two more staff members.  One would be an education officer and the other a Chief Executive Officer (CEO).  The suggested salaries were in line with the going rate.  They would have to motivate for additional funds.  Once the office had been bolstered, the CEO could look at strategic issues.  He or she would be responsible for executing the Act and would organise office activities.

He said that the Council had to protect people against incompetent activities.  All disciplines had to be represented and the Council should be a focal point to answer queries. Budgetary provision was made mainly for legal fees.  Policies should be improved, and these were indeed constantly under review.  Revisions were made where necessary.  There was a need for a Code of Conduct to be enforced.

Dr Gihwala said that he had drawn up a Code of Conduct as Vice President.  He had also drawn up a document to table the conditions of service for the staff.

Dr Gihwala said that financial management was needed.  This was not an enormous task, and there had been no reported irregularities to date.  Further priorities must be the education mandate as if an educational institute was not offering appropriate courses, then the HEC must be made aware of and deal with the issue.  SACNASP would need to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the HEC.  SACNASP would then enjoy official status.  The body must also promote a culture of registration.  A marketing strategy had to be established.  Membership had increased by about one hundred in the previous year, but more aggressive efforts were needed.  The importance of membership had to be emphasised, as well as the fact that membership was compulsory.

In terms of the budget, Dr Gihwala said that the income for the financial year (FY) ending in March 2008 was R2 million.  This was derived from the payment of annual fees and registration fees for new members.  Expenditure exceeded income by R230 000. He explained that for the first time the accumulated leave of the staff had been paid out.  The new policy was that staff were no longer able to accumulate leave, but had to take it during the year.  There was a budget for R75 000  in legal fees, but only R35 000 had been spent.

He presented the budget for 2008/09.  Annual fees would increase.  New members did not pay the annual fee in their first year, but instead paid a registration fee.  At approximately R500, the annual fee would still be amongst the lowest of all the various Councils for professionals.  They Council was asking for a grant of R1 million, and would make a presentation to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in this regard.  Interest would go up as more members joined.

Dr Gihwala said that the expenditure prediction covered a range of unresolved legal issues.  Salaries would be paid to existing staff as well as the proposed CEO and Education Officer.  Council members should receive honoraria for attending meetings.  The operational budget was more or less in balance. The Council would negotiate with the DST over the two appointments, and they might receive additional funding to pay the Council members.

The Chairperson thanked Dr Gihwala for his presentation.  He was trying to get a sense of the leadership of SACNASP.  He asked what else he was saying about registration.

Dr Gihwala replied that he believed that the ratio of unregistered to registered scientists was three to one.  He did not know if the unregistered scientists knew that they were breaking the law by not being registered.  Many did not even know about the existence of the Council.  Some did not want to pay the registration fee, and took an indifferent attitude.  Nothing was being done about them.  Unregistered scientists were being given work, and this had to be explored.  Parliament had promulgated the Act, and the SACNASP was the custodian of that law.  A number of people needed to registered.  The four people in the office were only doing operational work at present and did not have the time to chase unregistered scientists.

Ms N Madlala-Routledge (ANC) said that the position of CEO was provided for in the Act.  She asked why it was taking so long to fill it.  There seemed to be a number of weaknesses in the Council due to the lack of a CEO.  Her second question was about registration.  She thought that only consulting practitioners were registered, which sounded limited.  She asked if all natural scientists, including lecturers and those in the industry, should be registered.

Dr Gihwala replied that SACNASP had reserves of about R2 million.  Membership fees were the only source of income.  As with this body, other councils used their registrar to act as a CEO.  SACNASP’s registrar did not have the capacity to act as a CEO, and was more of a functionary.  On the question of consultancy, this was regarded as any work done for monetary gain.  Academics often did consult, even if they were not paid for this.  The term was broad enough to embrace any person giving advice or practising science as a means of generating income.

The Chairperson said that the Council had reserves of R2 million, but had no money to appoint a CEO.  He asked if this was a strategic decision by the Council.

Dr Gihwala replied that the Act did not compel SACNASP to appoint a CEO.  The wording was “may”. In the last two years they had met with Eskom, the Agricultural Research Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.  The result of these meetings had been a significant increase in membership.  The reserves had doubled over the last two years.  The Council felt it was now the appropriate time to appoint a CEO.

Mr S Dithebe (ANC) said that no attention had been paid to the Bill.  There had to be returns for investment.  He asked what was more appropriate – encouraging scientists to register or using a threatening approach.  The Council had to ensure that services were not mediocre.

Dr Gihwala said that the Council would only deal with issues raised regarding the registration of members.  There were situations of a conflict of interest where a registered member applied for a contract in competition with an unregistered member.  If the unregistered member won the contract, the registered member might report this to SACNASP.  His personal opinion was that the Council should engage more in the promotion of membership.

Ms B Ngcobo (ANC) was surprised that SACNASP was so lax over the payment of registration fees.  The Act prescribed in Sections 11 and 12 that registration fees must be paid at regular intervals.  She had been told that there were very few specialist veterinarians.  The question was how to encourage the improvement of the position of veterinarians in a “business unusual” way.  She asked how the Council was contributing to national priorities.  She thought that the professional councils were in a position to address turnaround strategies for the 2014 millennium goals.

Dr Gihwala needed some elaboration.  He needed to remind the Committee that they wished to provide a culture of scientists wanting to register.  The process was good, but at the moment there was no mechanism for encouraging registration.  He was not sure of the implications of Sections 11 and 12 of the Act.

The Chairperson said that the Council’s income derived from registration and membership fees.  This was how they had managed to double their reserves.  A tentative approach was being followed in recruiting members.  They had managed to increase membership by meeting with the various scientific bodies.  He asked why SACNASP did not continue with this trend.  He wanted to know what other difficulties the Council faced.  He asked about scientists who may already be registered with other bodies.

Dr Gihwala said they must consider member of other Councils as being voluntary.  Scientists had to be reminded of the need to follow the Act.  The terms of many Council members were coming to an end.  Interaction was needed with the big parastatal companies.  The DST had been good in informing their stakeholders of the need for scientists to register, but many were employed by private companies.

The Chairperson understood the problem.  The law was crafted on these lines.  He asked how SACNASP’s situation could be compared to other professional councils.  The issue of registration was worrisome.  This was the crux of the law, but not much had been achieved.

Dr Gihwala said that he was not familiar with the position of veterinarians as scientists.  There were 235 registered natural scientists in the field of animal science.  The issue could be taken back to the Council and investigated by an appropriate sub-committee.  He was not aware of there being an issue.  Not all of the 235 people he alluded to were necessarily veterinarians.

The Chairperson asked if any work was being to align the objectives to the Apex priorities mentioned in the last State of the Nation Address..

Dr Gihwala said there was nothing.  He would take this issue back to Council.

Mr A Ainslie (ANC) was greatly disappointed.  The core function of SACNASP was registration, but it was failing dismally.  He knew that there were few hands to do the work, but there was no ongoing campaign in government departments and parastatals.  The efforts had only started the previous year.  It was difficult to prosecute unknown people.  He asked what could be done with those who stopped their payments.

The Chairperson asked if any work was being done at universities to recruit graduates.

Dr Gihwala replied that he disagreed that SACNASP was failing dismally.  Membership of the Council had been increasing for some while.  Many of the universities did not inform their students about the Council, citing their autonomy.  Universities like the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape did not like to be interfered with in this way.  The result was that the graduates were ill-informed.

Mr C Morkel (ANC) asked who else was concerned by registration.  He asked why this was not being advertised.  He understood the comments about the HEC institutes.  He asked about the penalties for non-registration.  He asked if the budget had been so diminished that no information could be disseminated at the educational institutes.  Penalties should be two or three times as great as the offender’s salary.  He asked if there were any penalties for companies who hired such people. 

Dr Gihwala said that the Council met with all Deans of Science on an annual basis.  They stressed the need for graduates to register, and for students to be informed.  This was not being done in a systematic way.  SACNASP had consulted with DST regarding the budget.  The Council was the custodian of the Act.  The names of companies employing unregistered scientists had been brought to the attention of the Council.  They could let the situation continue as it was, or they could do something to correct it.  They had not yet gone to other organisations. 

Mr G Selau (ANC) said he had looked at the Strategic Plan for 2008.  It was clear that the SACNASP had missed the important objectives of the Act.  There were a number of strategic areas addressed such as the appointment of a CEO and Education Officer.  There was no budgetary provision for activities except these two appointments.  There was no back-up.  A CEO could not be expected to do menial work.  The Council could take such measures as necessary to achieve its objectives.  The Act expected the SACNASP to register all scientists.  There were only three employees in the office, and the rest were volunteers.  There could be no responsible administration as the CEO was normally the accounting officer in an entity.  There was no back-up in the education function.  He asked if there were more researchers available.  He could not see how the Council could implement the Act with its present component.

Dr Gihwala said that the realistic view was that the CEO would take responsibility, but would not be the only person doing the work.  A sub-committee was doing was doing a lot of work.

The Chairperson asked when last the Council had met, and how regular their meetings were.

Dr Gihwala said that three meetings were held per annum.  The sub-committees met more regularly, especially the one dealing with registration.  Most of the Council’s activities were about operational issues, and little time was spent discussing strategic issues.  The last Council meeting had been three weeks previously.

Mr Ainslie said it would be very useful if the outgoing Council did a thorough review of the work it had done.  This would benefit the incoming Council.  The way forward was to maintain close contact with the Department.

Dr Gihwala said the Council would consider this suggestion.  No action could be taken against the employers of unregistered natural scientists.  He did not think that this fell within the body’s mandate.

Mr Morkel said that the employment of registered natural scientists only should be enforced.  Action should be taken at the scene of the crime, namely where the work was being done.  It should be compulsory for higher education institutions to make lists of graduates available to the Council.

Dr Gihwala replied that SACNASP had looked at the sciences programmes at each university.  There was a matrix of between 700 and 800 points on which they were evaluated.  The Act required that they look into the contents of specific programmes.  He liked the latter suggestion of Mr Morkel, but support from the Deans was lacking.  The Council had no enforcement tools. Legal issues only arose when there were complaints.

The Chairperson suspected that the Council was doing a good job.  He supported the compilation of a review.  He would like to see a copy of this document.  He was interested in the Council’s successes.  These should be recorded through the DST, and the Department should meet with the Council and its sub-committees.  They must give themselves time, and look into national priorities.

He was worried about the low level of registration.  This could lead to the collapse of the system.  Mistakes must not be repeated.  The Committee might visit the Council’s office to gain an appreciation of the day to day activities.  Government would strengthen the law if needed, but would rely on the review to guide them.

Dr Gihwala wanted the Committee to believe that there was light at the end of the tunnel.  The Council was not failing.  They were the incoming members for the last four years.  Some Council members were leaving but others were coming in.  The review was an excellent idea, and it might throw up some pleasant surprises.  When the MoU was finalised it would put the Council in a better position to use the Act as a legal way of engaging with the universities.  SACNASP could then also influence the science programmes at these institutions.  The Committee was welcome to visit, and would find the office buzzing with operational issues.  Some issues had not been dealt with for twenty years, and some strategic issues had been overlooked.

The Chairperson appreciated the issues.  The Committee was eager to see the Council’s successes.  He noted that the Department was represented at the meeting and he asked the delegation if they wished to address the Committee, but they declined. He noted that the DST could not support all funding requests.

The meeting was adjourned.


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