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SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 AUGUST 2007
HUMAN SCIENCES RESEARCH COUNCIL BILL [B16-2007]: PUBLIC HEARING
Chairperson: Mr E Ngcobo (ANC)
Documents handed out:
Department of Science and Technology Summary of Submissions
Department of Science and Technology Responses to HSRC Submission
Human Sciences Research Council Bill [B16-2007]
Audio recording of meeting
The Committee heard submissions from the Human Sciences Research Council and members of the Department of Science and Technology on the proposed Human Sciences Research Council Bill. It was noted that the Council had been actively involved in the drafting process, and that it had also discussed the tabled draft with the Department, when it was agreed that some changes would be made to clarify the references to the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act, and the constitution of the Board. It was agreed that the draft would be amended to allow Board members to serve on more than the originally stated two sub-committees of the Board. It was also agreed to insert a clause relating to the possibility of secondment of employees to and from non-State institutions, and to clarify that intellectual property rights vested in the Council in respect of work done there. There was not as yet a final recommendation from the Department as to whether board members should be appointed to the Board by the Minister "in consultation with" or "after consultation with" the Committee, and the implications of the wording were fully debated. The Committee indicated that "in consultation" would be the preferred option, but the final wording would be tabled on the following day.
Further questions were asked by Members about the situation in regard to intellectual property rights, whether there had been any problems in the past, and participation in other countries, under Clause 3. The need to try to achieve uniformity across the other science councils was raised. The Department's response to the public submissions and a new draft of the Bill would be considered at a subsequent meeting.
Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) Presentation
Dr Olive Shisana, CEO: HSRC and Mr Vuyisile Vena, Legal Services, HSRC provided a background to the Bill, stating that HSRC was extensively involved in the preparatory stages of the Bill. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) then took the process forward and approved a Bill to enter the legislative process. The HSRC then submitted its comments on the new Bill to the Department. HSRC proposed that the references to the Promotion of Justice Act be clarified. It also suggested that Clause 5 should be amended to insert specific functions of the Board, and to specify a term of office of five years. The proposed two thirds quorum was too cumbersome and should be fifty percent plus one. Presently a Member of the Board was not permitted to serve on more than two board committees. HSRC believed it night be necessary for some members to do so, and therefore proposed the deletion of this provision. It commented on the clause dealing with staff secondments, stating that this should be allowed to or from an institution other than a State or State-financed institution. Finally it commented on intellectual property rights. The current legislation did not cover copyright and and it was suggested that the necessary words be inserted to allow for copyright protection of research conducted under the auspices of the HSRC..
Dr Shisana noted that HSRC had met with DST and the parties had agreed to effect amendments in relation to the Committees of the Board, the transfer of employees and the intellectual property rights. Stylistic changes were agreed to as suggested. It was noted that the responsibilities of the Board were already outlined in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). It was felt by DST that the term of office should remain at four year as this was in conformity with other science councils.
The Chairperson stated that due to the lack of significant submissions, there would be some scheduling changes which would affect the public hearings.
Mr J Blanche (ANC) proposed to accept the changes, and this was seconded by Ms B Ngcobo (ANC).
The Chairperson stated that he felt that there could be a problem with the principle that board members would not be limited in respect of issues they could undertake. CEOs should have sufficient time to deal with organisational issues, and not be hampered by sitting on too many boards. He also asked for further clarity on the quorum suggestions.
Mr Blanche asked for clarity on clause 3 and to what extent the proposed amendments would be helping HSRC.
Dr Shisana responded that this clause enabled the HSRC to engage with the rest of the continent, and also allowed opportunities to work with other organisations. South Africa had been part of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) for a number of years. The clause would therefore enable the HSRC to further its research with partners in other places.
Mr A Nyambi (ANC) commended the HSRC on their presentation, but asked for further elaboration on the changes that HSRC proposed to Clause 13, dealing with transfer of assets.
Mr A Ainslee (ANC) asked for clarity on the appointment of the board, and whether parliament had any role with regard to providing assistance to the Minister. He also raised concern on the criticisms that some board members were serving on too many boards.
Dr Shisana responded that in terms of the Board, HSRC concurred that perhaps there should be a provision that would allow parliament to play an important role in electing the board members.
Prof I Mohamed (ANC) commented that in respect of the quorum the numbers did not seem to tally. He also raised concern about the amount of boards members were allowed to sit on.
Dr Shisana replied that with regard to board members serving on multiple boards, it should be noted that in view of the fact that there were between six and nine board members, yet there were four committees, inevitably there would not be sufficient board members to spread evenly across those four committees. HSRC was recommending that board members should serve in multiple boards within the HSRC.
The Chairperson stated that it should have been made clear that the issue regarding the board members dealt with the internal operations of the HSRC and not with board members serving on external boards.
Mr Ainslee stated that anyone could serve on the HSRC committees, and membership should not only be restricted to board members.
Dr Shisana replied that the board members were the people who were responsible for making the strategic decisions of the HSRC, and for that reason the Commission respectfully requested that a member of the board should not serve in more than two HSRC Committees.
The Chairperson responded that he was concerned with the request. Clause 8.2 gave a variety of options with regard to the functioning of the committees. However, in view of the limited number of board members, this would hamper the functioning of the Committees. A possible solution might be to rephrase this clause to state that any decision taken in any of the Committees had to be ratified by the board.
Mr Puletso Loselo, Legal Services, Department of Science and Technology, stated that the committees would be subcommittees of the board, and any decisions taken would eventually have to be approved by the full board. Therefore it would be unnecessary to add a clause which states that the subcommittee should report to the board.
The Chairperson added that this would also mean that a member of the board would not necessarily have to be present during the sub-committee meetings, and he could simply be playing an advisory role.
Mr Nyambi believed that the DST's analysis was correct. He believed that there was not a need for any amendments, and the Commission’s proposal was a correct proposal.
Mr Blanche stated that the function of a sub-committee was rather akin to that of a parliamentary portfolio committee, whose decisions had to be ratified by the full House. Decisions taken by the sub committees would need to be approved by the full Board.
The Chairperson stated that he was still not clear about what the proposals and asked Members to provide further clarity.
Mr Nyambi stated that the proposal by the Commission was to delete section 8.4, which stated that a member of the board may not serve on more than two committees, as this would be very limiting to the role of the Committees. HSRC proposed that board members should be allowed to serve on various Committees within the HSRC. Members believed that the HSRC proposal was acceptable.
Mr Vena added that there was an incorrect wording in the presentation which the issue of the quorum was dealt with. The wording should not have read "members present", but instead should have read "members of the board present, plus one".
Mr Loselo stated that when it came to the appointment of board members the Department of Public Service and Administration regulations would apply. The regulations called for the appointment of an independent committee to shortlist candidates for the Board, and make recommendations to the Minister. The Minister would then be tasked with appointing candidates, based on the recommendations, and these would also go to Cabinet for approval.
The Chairperson stated that he was unclear about the regulation, but he was aware of many different pieces of legislation that gave power to the relevant Minister to appoint Board members. There were instances when the Minister sent a list of names to parliament for consultation.
Mr Blanche stated that would be very useful for the Committee to receive a list of the guidelines. Parliament should play a significant role in the appointment of board members.
Ms S Nxumalo (ANC) stated that the Portfolio Committee on Communications was currently in the process of conducting interview processes for the appointment to the SABC Board. Once the interview process was completed then the names would be forwarded to the Minister, and once the Minister had made a selection, the names would be forwarded to parliament where they would be debated.
The Chairperson questioned what would happen if the full House were to reject the names suggested by the Committee. He felt that the Committee's role must be meaningful and effective.
Mr Blanche added that it was important to ensure that the right people were appointed to a board.
Dr Shisana stated that the HSRC would be happy with a broad statement that the Minister should act in consultation with the Committee on the appointments to the board.
Dr Arushna Lucen, Deputy Director General, Corporate Services, DST, stated that the was still the issue of "in consultation" as against "after consultation", and there were still no clear guidelines on how the process was to move forward. This was a matter in which the DST needed to consult further in the absence of such guidelines.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee would not take any final resolution until DST reported back to the Committee.
Mr Blanche questioned when the Department would return to the Committee.
Dr Lucen stated that the matter would most probably be cleared within 24 hours.
Ms B Nqcobo (ANC) asked whether the proposal to change "in consultation" to "after consultation" would make a difference
Mr Nyambi asked for the State Law Advisors who were present at the meeting to give some guidance.
Ms Aziza Fredericks, Parliamentary Officer: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, stated that although guidance from the Department was appreciated, it should be noted that at this stage the Bill was in the hands of the Parliamentary Committee and the decisions must be made by them. "In consultation" meant that the Committee must agree to the candidates being appointed. "After consultation" meant that the Minister, after taking their views into consideration, may decide to appoint candidates not specifically agreed by the Committee.
Mr Nyambi stated that the Committee should try strike a balance between what needed to be done as a Committee and what the Minister would want to be done. Therefore "in consultation" would be a useful phrase. The whole issue should not be looked at in terms of power, but rather in terms of strengthening the work of parliament.
Mr Blanche proposed that the wording should state "in consultation".
Ms S Williams, State Law Advisor, stated that if the Committee wanted to change the provisions of the Bill, this could be done by the State Law Advisors' office.
The Chairperson stated that it seemed that members wished to make an impact on the process of transparent and democratic appointment.
Mr Loselo stated that DST recognised the role of parliament in the appointment process. However, he noted that it was necessary to cater for a situation where there might be deadlock between the Committee and the Minister. He suggested that there needed to be agreement on the number of appointments to the Board. This should balance Parliament's need to be part of the process with the broader interests of the DST.
The Chairperson warned that individual interests should not be brought into the matter, which must be approached in a democratic and constitutional manner.
Mr Loselo stated that if the clause was worded "in consultation", then Members and the Minister would have to agree on the same issues.
Ms Nxumalo stated that the matter was being debated unnecessarily and that this was an issue being handled by other committees.
Mr Mnyandu stated that he did not believe that it was likely that the full house would reject the Committee's recommendations or decisions. Another way to resolve the matter was to remove Parliament altogether from the decision making process.
Mr Blanche stated that maybe this Committee should look at how other Committees followed their processes.
Prof Mohammed noted that in the past the Committee would make recommendations and the Minister would select those to be appointed from a short listed pool of candidates.
The Chairperson stated that Members should make a decision that would not cause any debate or in-fighting with the Department. The majority of the Committee were seeming to support "in consultation" as the correct approach.
Dr Shisana said that whatever wording was used should be consistent with the wording used in other science councils.
Mr Mnyandu raised the issue of intellectual property rights, and asked the HSRC to elaborate whether it had encountered problems with employees over these rights. He also asked for comment on the implications of the amendment on intellectual property rights in a situation where an employee left the HSRC.
Ms Shisana responded that she was not aware of any problematic cases. Contracts signed by employees agreed to use the resources of HSRC for their research and also specified that the intellectual property rights emanating out of their work would belong to the HSRC.
Mr Veli added that he had not experienced any problems. If an employee leaving the organisation had contributed to the copyright, then it would be an issue that had to be resolved between the HSRC and the employee.
Mr B Mnyandu (ANC)asked whether the employee was allowed to cite the property in another journal for the purpose of individual benefit.
Dr Shisana added that if an employee had researched a matter at the HSRC, the research, when published, likewise remained the intellectual property of the HSRC. Research which was not conducted in HSRC and published elsewhere would be in a different category.
The Chairperson stated that the process worked in a similar manner to that of a university thesis
Prof Mohamed asked for clarity on what he believed was a contradictory statement about the ownership of the research.
The Chairperson clarified that a researcher participating in the research should understand that the research would end up becoming the intellectual property of the research institution.
Mr Mnyandu was happy with the answers provided but believed that the work done by the individual should be accredited to the individual and not to the institution.
Mr Vena stated that the HSRC had recommended the insertion of two further subsections. He repeated that the HSRC wished there to be the possibility of an appointment from an institution that was a non-State institution.
Dr Shisana proposed the addition of two sub-clauses for clarity. Clause 12(3) would state that a person who was in the employment of another institution, may, with the consent of the individual or the consent of the CEO, be transferred or seconded to the employment of the HSRC. Clause 12 (4) would then state that a person who was in the employment of the HSRC, may with his or her consent or the consent of the CEO be transferred or seconded to another institution.
The Chairperson agreed that there did not seem to be any problem with these changes.
Dr Lucen stated that the Department was happy with the additions.
Mr Mnyandu asked for progress on the submission by the National House of Traditional Leaders
Ms Lucen stated that the Department had seen and accepted the submission that had been made, and that the comments would be incorporated in the next version of the Bill
The meeting was adjourned.
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