The South African National Space Agency Bill was adopted without amendments. Prior to voting on the Bill, the Committee heard the submission from SunSpace, a company which designs and manufactures satellites. They asked for the removal of a provision in the proposed South African National Space Agency Bill which would empower the National Space Agency to own companies. It was their contention that this confused the roles of implementation and coordination and it created the opportunity for the agency to actively participate and therefore compete within the space industry. The Department of Science and Technology pointed out that various other bodies and sections in the Bill guarded against this and made it obvious that this was not the intention of the Bill or the aim of the proposed agency.
Mr Tolo said that the Committee would hear a submission from SunSpace before finalizing the South African National Space Bill. He noted that Sunspace had also presented their submission to the National Assembly and to the Department, and that the latter had in fact responded. It was necessary to hear the submission in the Select Committee in order to ensure an independent decision on the matter.
Mr Ron Olivier, Director, said that he would speak on behalf of their board of directors. He apologized for the absence of Mr Themba Vilakazi, their Executive Chairman, as he had received notice of the meeting only the day before and was unable to attend.
Mr Olivier said their concern was that the Bill was not clearly defining whether the Space Agency would be an implementing agency as opposed to a coordinating agency. The first would place them in a position to own companies and make judgement on strategies. They requested that the agency fulfil purely a coordinating role, by interpreting space strategies and defining missions in accordance with those. It would be unreasonable for the agency to be capacitated to own companies, as this would imply that the agency became an active role player rather than coordinator in the industry. It was therefore desirable to excise subsections 5(2)(c)(i) and (ii) from the Bill. The very nature of the agency would be affected by the inclusion of these provisions in changing its role in the space industry in
Mr Olivier hastened to add that the Bill was otherwise fully supported and welcomed by SunSpace. It remained a realistic fear, in view of human behaviour, that if the proposed subsections remained a part of the Bill, this would lead to possible unfair practices by the agency. The Technical Innovation Agency (TIA) could fulfil the same functions as the Space Agency, in that it would be empowered to provide financial and other assistance to any person, for the purpose of enabling that person to develop a technical innovation, to establish a company, to acquire any interest in any person undertaking the development or exploitation of any technological innovation supported by the Agency and various other capacities.
Mr M Sulliman (ANC,
Ms F Mazibuko (ANC) asked that SunSpace provide evidence of this claim. She said a free market system prevailed in
Mr T Setona (ANC,
Ms Madlana-Magubane (ANC,
Ms Masilo asked for more information on what SunSpace actually did.
Mr Olivier agreed that monopoly was certainly not desirable and that competition should always be encouraged, except perhaps in the case where the competition would be between a state-owned monopoly and a small private company like theirs. Monopolies were institutions like Telkom and Eskom, certainly not their company of 70 employees. He challenged the implication that this was a case of a monopoly trying to protect its turf. Competition was fair among equals, He said it was not up to SunSpace to prove a negative somewhere in the future, whereas the department could not seem to motivate why they required these two subsections, if not to use them somewhere in the future.
Mr Olivier explained Sunspace was a small satellite manufacturing and design company, based in Stellenbosch, which had flowed from a previous programme, Sunsat, and which had been university driven, together with assistance form the state and industry. They had small satellite capacity in
Mr Olivier raised the question of democratic process. He said the Chairperson had been correct in pointing out that they had had a chance to present their submission to the National Assembly, and that they had received a response from the DST regarding subsections (5)(2)(c)(i) and (ii). They had simply responded by writing that these powers were necessary to enable them to function fully and effectively. This was a bland statement. The onus was on the DST to prove they needed those clauses to function in a way which was in support of the TIA.
Mr Olivier said this was round two of a democratic process and that this was not yet the time to withdraw from this process. Their company was small but the only one in the country that manufactured satellites. They were involved in another project called the Rapideye constellation, which was being sponsored by the Bavarian government. This would supply a once off product. This project actually required the construction of sixty-six satellites, which would cover the entire globe at any time. The budget for this project was beyond the scale of the DST. The company was desperate to retain engineering expertise within
Mr Setona said he still required legal evidence. A state that did not regulate affairs of business and which did not intervene was a neo-liberal state. He suggested that the Department be given a chance to explain in order to ally their fears.
Mr Tolo asked that parliamentary law advisors shed some light on the legality of the subsections in question, in order to establish whether these provisions would stand the test of time.
Mr Daniel Moagi, Senior Manager: DST, referred to Clause 4(b) of the Bill which read that the Agency sought “to support the creation of an environment conducive to industrial development in space technology”. Clause 5 had to be read in the context of this previous clause. He also referred to Clause 17 on funding for the Agency, which showed that the Agency was clearly not in the business of making profit. It would need the power to intervene where necessary. The DST was not able to buy equity into SunSpace, as the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) did not allow this. He said the CSIR had been opposed to doing a due diligence as part of a process to buy equity, because of the risk associated as the company was not considered financially stable. He was baffled by the statement by SunSpace claiming they were being marginalized as they had received two contracts of R25 million and a further R20 million within a three year period. The Sumbandila satellite was waiting to be launched and was due for launching on 25 December. There was a legal dispute pending over the South African Multi-Sensor Microsatellite Imager (MSMI) contract which had since expired and on which R9 million had already been spent. They considered SunSpace a strategic company, which could compete globally in this area and as such a very necessary institution.
Dr Val Munsami, Manager: Space Science and Technology, DST, replied to the issue of an implementation role versus a coordination role for the Agency. A regulatory instrument in the form of the Space Affairs Act would mandate the agency to develop space technology. The DTI would take a lead in implementation but could not play and referee. The response from the DST in the presentation document had no detail, but it had been elaborated upon in the meeting. Regarding subsections 5(2)(c)(i) and (ii), he said It was a highly regulated sector as per certain UN resolutions passed in 2004, which stated that non-state actors should not have possession of such technology. TIA would regulate such highly sensitive technology. SunSpace by their own admission had stated that they were the only company in
Mr Tolo said the fear expressed by SunSpace seemed unfounded. The PFMA did not allow contravention of the law in this respect.
Mr Munsani reminded him that they were talking about an outside agency and not a government department.
Mr Tolo said he saw no reason to doubt the information given by DST as these were people of integrity. He thanked all present for their engagements. He said the oversight function of the Committee could always be called upon by parties if they felt there was call for it and they were being unjustly treated in contradiction to what had been stated in Parliament.
Mr Olivier said there had been certain misrepresentations by the Department. They had lost engineers to wider industry and overseas and had reached a critically low level of capacity. The Department seemed confused about the difference between aeronautical and space technology as they had very different quality standards. This had partly brought about a deadlock in negotiations between the Department and SunSpace.
Mr Tolo said the parties needed to thrash things out as they obviously needed each other.
Mr Setona agreed and said contract issues could not be discussed in the tribunal of the people. There was an existing framework with historical issues, in which the Committee could not arbitrate. They were here simply to discuss policy issues and as such they had the right to air their grievances. He warned against setting unwanted and undesirable precedents.
Mr Tolo asked to end the debate. It was his view this was not a legal issue, but a policy matter. He asked if any parliamentary advisor could advise on the matter.
A parliamentary advisor confirmed this.
Mr Tolo asked whether there were any other parties that wished to effect amendment to the Bill.
He said they had looked at the text to see there was no need for change.
Voting on the Bill
Mr Tolo read out the objects of the Bill.
All clauses of the Bill were agreed to by the Committee. It was reported that the Select Committee had, on the subject of the South African National Space Agency Bill of 2008, agreed to the bill without any amendments.
The draft minutes of meetings on 18 June, 29 July, 19 and 27 August were then adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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