Hansard: Appropriation Bill: Vote No 33 – Science and Technology
House: National Assembly
Date of Meeting: 19 Apr 2011
No summary available.
TUESDAY, 20 APRIL 2010
PROCEEDINGS OF EXTENDED PUBLIC COMMITTEE – OLD ASSEMBLY CHAMBER
Members of the Extended Public Committee met in the Old Assembly Chamber at 14:05.
House Chairperson Ms N M Oliphant, as Chairperson, took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment of silence for prayers or meditation.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant)
Start of Day
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant): I would like to welcome all the members who are present here, including members in the gallery.
Vote No 33 – Science and Technology:
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Chairperson, hon members, Ministers, Deputy Minister Hanekom, Deputy Minister Mahlangu-Nkabinde, and stakeholders of the science and technology community, I'm pleased to welcome you all to this presentation of the Budget Vote of the Department of Science and Technology. Those of you who have walked through our modest exhibition have been able to get some insight into some of the work that is being supported by the department. As you will have seen, we operate in a wide range of fields, from aerospace to paleoanthropology, stem-cell research to nanotechnology, reviving African identity to understanding social change and advancing excellence in health and agriculture. We have also contributed to South Africa's first electric car, the Joule.
The science and technology sector is replete with examples of excellence and has immense potential to support South Africa in responding to a wide range of challenges, while also advancing us in innovation and technology-based business development. If, Chairperson, the Speaker and Whips gave Ministers more time to speak in the Budget Vote debates, I would have been able to tell you about all these things. [Applause.]
The past financial year has been an active and very productive year for the department. We have participated in shaping government's agenda for growth and industrial development, while also acting on our intention to establish a robust and productive system of innovation.
Our primary mandate is the promotion of research and development. Government has supported this objective by ensuring that we have continued growth in research and development funding. Our 2006 R16 billion investment, as a country, in research and development grew to R18 billion in 2007. This is not yet the 1% of Gross Domestic Product, GDP, that we want to achieve, but we are tantalisingly close at 0,93%. We believe that as government we need to aim for at least 1,5% of GDP by 2014, if we were to build on the progress achieved in the past six years.
Our 2002 National Research and Development Strategy and the 2007 10-year innovation plan remain the basis for our interventions. I have directed my department to develop an integrated research and development strategy document, drawing on these two important strategic policies. This will ensure that we have a coherent strategic framework and avoid a situation where at one point we referred to the 2002 document and at another to the 2007 document.
Members are aware that in our 10-year plan, we focus on five priority areas, while also integrating those research areas elaborated on in the 2002 research and development strategy. In the past year, we have provided support to programmes that bolster research and innovation in biotechnology, hydrogen energy initiatives, advanced materials manufacturing and the Square Kilometre Array, among many others.
Our investment in research is directed at ensuring that we enhance and expand excellence in universities, science councils and industry. Four important objectives are being actively pursued: adequate human capital and significantly expanded research and development activity, socioeconomic development, enhanced innovation and international research collaboration.
Regarding human capital development, we believe that this area is key to our intention to build a sustainable platform for innovation. Our country needs thousands of talented and skilled researchers and technologists if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for the sector. Investment in support for bursaries has grown every year since 2004. The allocation for 2010-2011 increases by R76 million from the 2009-10 allocation. The value of awards has been negatively affected by inflation and, given the important need to ensure we attract and retain the most talented, we have decided to adjust our priorities and to allocate a further R52,7 million in the 2010 financial year to improve the value of grant holder-linked and freestanding bursaries. That deserves a round of applause. [Applause.]
We have also provided funding to improve our investment in academic and research staff and in research infrastructure. We will expand our Research Chairs Initiative by adding 20 new research chairs within the medium-term expenditure period. This initiative has allowed us to attract leading researchers and doctoral candidates and is a programme that I believe we need to expand well beyond the current planned 210 research chairs.
We are also working with the Department of Higher Education and Training to develop a plan and strategy to improve the qualifications profile of academics and researchers at our universities. Currently, approximately 37% of university academics have a doctoral degree. Such a degree is a fundamental prerequisite for a person to participate meaningfully in research, as well as to supervise postgraduate students. We must therefore ensure that we improve the profile, in terms of qualifications, of our academics.
Hon members, our science councils and national facilities are all making an important contribution to the objective of training more senior researchers in our country. They train interns at master's and doctoral level. Along with universities they are making an immeasurable contribution to our ambitions. We need to ensure that we provide all these institutions with sufficient resources to continue to play a role in national development plans.
It is my intention to appoint a ministerial committee to review the national innovation system and to assess whether our systems and infrastructure are of a quality to support our implementation of our national research agenda. I intend to use the committee's report to develop a national science and technology infrastructure investment plan.
We will continue to invest in infrastructure, even as we develop a plan. An amount of R1,35 billion is provided in this financial year for research and equipment infrastructure. Of this, R538 million is allocated to the South African National Research and Education Network, Sanren, and the Centre for High Performance Computing.
Our expanding research mandate and activity will have to be supported by capable and efficient institutions that have the capacity and flexibility to identify talent and opportunity and to ensure sustained support to established researchers. In the past few years, the National Research Foundation, the NRF, has been assigned a wide range of mandates and strategic contracts by our department. I believe this may have distracted it from its core purpose of funding research, providing high-quality research facilities and promoting innovation. I will direct the department and the NRF board to assess the impact of ring-fenced funding and contracts on the ability of NRF to execute its core mandate. One area that I believe requires attention is that of developing black and women senior researchers. We will ask the NRF to advise us on steps to be taken to achieve higher levels of success in this regard. [Applause.]
We will also work closely with the Human Sciences Research Council, HSRC, and Africa Institute of South Africa, AISA, to determine support interventions to give impetus to the humanities, the social sciences and the important study of Africa. Both councils are doing excellent work in these fields, and I'm committed to ensuring they enjoy full support from the Department of Science and Technology and from the Ministry. We must never neglect to ensure that our human and social sciences also enjoy attention and grow, particularly in supporting a society as involved in change as ours is.
Earlier this year, I signalled my intention to review the current location of the ratings system. I'm hopeful that the NRF and the Academy of Science of South Africa, Assaf, will advise me on the most appropriate location for ensuring continued attention and reward for excellence in research and development. Raising a query about the location of the ratings system does not mean we wish to do away with it, but that we want to address the issue of whether it is best located in an institution that funds researchers and also rewards good researchers. It is just a peculiar link that we believe requires some attention.
I also believe that given the challenge of transforming the sector in order to improve quality and to increase black and female researchers, we need to provide specific rewards for nurturing nontraditional researchers, as well as for institutions that are working hard to establish a competent research profile. So, we will find ways of rewarding institutions both for nurturing this category that remains nontraditional, and for ensuring that universities that are publishing more, that are innovating, get the necessary support from government and don't miss the boat because they are not traditionally recognised as having competence in the research arena.
One of the neglected areas that I believe the department must pay attention to is the issue of collaborating more closely with the universities of technology. We tend, in the department, to be far more focused on the science than on the technology part of our mandate, and it is an area I think we must address. Our mandate of technology innovation and promotion means dedicated attention must be given to applied research institutions. Universities of technology do have close links with industry, and these may be very useful in securing increased access to innovative ideas and to the identification of programmes in industry that could benefit from direct government support.
We will be doing much more to ensure that we improve the links between that triple helix of universities, government and industry, to make the strides we must in innovation. We have provided funding to improve our investment in academic and research staff and in research infrastructure. I believe I may be committing the terrible error of repeating myself, Deputy Minister.
Our expansion programme will devote increasing attention to ensuring coordinated government research support. Our government invests in research via several departments - some control key national research facilities: the forensic laboratory, the Agricultural Research Council and many others. This department has to ensure that quality infrastructure and high-level skills are present in all national research facilities. I intend to propose the establishment of an interministerial science and technology committee to ensure improved planning and resourcing. We will investigate the possibility of establishing appropriate oversight mechanisms with the assistance of the National Planning Commission. It cannot be that in our country we have a forensic laboratory that is not of a world-class standard. [Applause.] All our facilities must be world class.
Science and technology, I believe, has significant potential for assisting South Africa to resolve its most intractable socioeconomic problems and challenges. In fact, I believe socioeconomic problems are opportunities for innovators. One of our biggest challenges is poverty and its associated features of joblessness and community neglect.
In the 2009 Budget speech, I indicated that traditional approaches to socioeconomic development can no longer suffice for our country. All of us have to recognise that future growth will depend on how well we exploit science, technology and innovation. We have worked with several partners on a number of pilot initiatives that are beginning to show promising results. Our successful implementation of the Wireless Mesh Network in municipalities in the Northern Cape, in the John Taolo Gaetsewe Municipality, and in Limpopo, in the Sekhukhune region, indicates that we are on target to connect at least 450 schools and to create sustainable job opportunities for young entrepreneurs who will manage service provision. The Department of Science and Technology also provides support to a number of technology-transfer initiatives that are directly addressing and targeting poverty. These are directed at providing innovative local technology solutions through the creation of small, medium and micro enterprises and through providing sustainable job-creation and wealth-creation opportunities.
Aquaculture is a noteworthy example. The Department of Science and Technology supported an aquaculture abalone-harvesting pilot in Hondeklip Bay in the Northern Cape. This pilot has shown us that it is possible to utilise aquaculture to improve abalone production for commercial purposes. The pilot is going to draw the Northern Cape government, the private sector and ourselves into a R48,8 million capital investment project to develop an abalone farm with a production capacity of 120 tonnes, creating 120 full-time jobs and 25 part-time job opportunities. [Applause.] A women-owned medium enterprise to produce abalone baskets for commercial production has also been created. Two abalone hatcheries will also be established to draw on intellectual property that emerged from Innovation Fund-supported research. The hatcheries will be built in the Northern Cape and in the Western Cape.
A number of other research-based business initiatives that draw on existing programmes will give rise to new enterprises and new jobs, exploiting opportunities derived from indigenous knowledge, from advanced manufacturing processes and chemicals development. We are also making good progress in an innovative process for the production of low-cost titanium. Two patent applications have been filed on the primary process. Initial success in this research will be supported by the establishment and operational testing of a primary titanium plant in the 2011-12 financial year.
Our country has a comparative advantage in zircon. We supply 30% of the world's zircon in an unbeneficiated form. Our advanced materials initiative, in collaboration with Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, Necsa, is developing a technology to add value, by producing nuclear-grade zirconium material. In its raw form, zircon sells at $800 per ton; when beneficiated, nuclear-grade zirconium sells at $2 300 per ton. An innovative plasma-technology process has been developed, and three patents have been filed by our scientists. These are a few examples of our responsiveness to socioeconomic challenges. There are many more, but we don't have the speaking time.
The projects I referred to above have been initiated and nurtured by the Department of Science and Technology due to an inadequate infrastructure for innovation. Many of these promising initiatives will be handed over to the Technology Innovation Agency, TIA, for future funding. The TIA's priority in the 2010-11 financial year will be to build a high-performance organisation from the merger of the seven entities. This year, TIA will focus on a number of strategic projects, particularly those that address social needs, such as the HIV and TB pandemic, education challenges and rural development. The TIA has begun to analyse its historical portfolio, starting with the information communication technology, ICT, and biotechnology initiatives already under way. The repositioning and restructuring of the current portfolio, they tell me, will take between 12 to 24 months. We believe that the existence of TIA is going to give rise to significant benefits for our economy through research that successfully results in commercial products.
We will also soon gazette the regulations of intellectual property rights from the Publicly Financed Research and Development Act, Act 51 of 2008. The Act should come into operation in June this year. We are planning to establish the National Intellectual Property Management Office, NIPMO, as well as to facilitate the setting up of offices of technology transfer at publicly funded institutions. We have pursued innovation by also initiating ambitious global-scale initiatives. I'm pleased that in all our initiatives we provide for post-graduate development programmes and we also ensure that we promote local technology innovation.
Hon members, our strategies include a number of science focus areas that draw on our geographic advantage. These include astronomy...
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant): Hon Minister, your time has expired, but I will give three minutes from your later time slot.
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: I think, Chairperson, I should conclude by saying our most ambitious project is the grand challenges of trying to win the bid for building the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array. We have completed the first phase of this telescope, building the first seven dishes, KAT-7. Four of the dishes are now operational and receiving information. Construction of the 80-dish MeerKAT will soon begin. If, in 2012, we are awarded the bid, we will build a large number of dish arrays of over 3 000km in scope, which will be inclusive of eight African partner countries. This will be a significant development for South Africa. [Applause.]
Chairperson, thank you for giving me more time. I would like to conclude by thanking my colleague, Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom, for his support and hard work. He is a fantastic colleague; we work together very well, and we haven't had a single Deputy Minister-Minister conflict. [Laughter.] In fact, I think we are succeeding to work well with our department, unlike my conflicts with hon Mike Ellis from time to time. [Laughter.] I also wish to thank the director-general, Dr Phil Mjwara, for his hard work, and also his team of deputy directors-general. Of course I thank all my officials, the Minister's Office team, the board chairs and members of all the science councils, chief executive officers of the science councils, the hon members, led by Dr Ngcobo, who are in the portfolio committee, and my colleagues in Cabinet, who are always supporting the potential that science and technology has for contributing to innovation. Thank you very much, Chairperson.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant)
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant): Thank you very much, Minister. I would just like to indicate that the time allocation is decided by the Chief Whips of all political parties and, unfortunately, the hon Ellis is one of those members who sit in the Chief Whips Forum. [Laughter.]
Mr P F SMITH: Chairperson, on a point of order: When members from this side speak, and perhaps from that side as well, rather than just cutting them short when they reach their allocated time, could you indicate maybe 30 seconds before that they should wind up? We don't have clocks here to tell us how much time we have left.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant): Hon member, I think you are out of order. There is a watch that is given to the members when they are speaking, so they will be able to see how many minutes are left. That watch is given to the speaker only. Thank you.
Mr E N N NGCOBO: Chairperson, hon Minister of Science and Technology, hon Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, hon Deputy Minister Mahlangu-Nkabinde, hon Minister Patel, any Ministers I might have overlooked, all protocol observed, hon members of Parliament, the leaders of science councils and their delegations, the Director-General of Science and Technology, Dr Mjwara, and his delegation, sons of the soil, flowers of the nation, people of integrity, on 10 March 2010 a delegation from the Department of Science and Technology led by the Acting Director-General of International Co-operation and Resources, Dr Auf der Heyde, acting on behalf of the Director-General Dr Mjwara, appeared before our portfolio committee to present the department's corporate strategy, representing strategic performance plans for 2010 to 2013.
Part of the oversight task of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology is to specifically evaluate elements of the strategic and annual performance plans as presented by the department. Among elements to be evaluated, the portfolio committee has to consider whether: the vision refers to the desired outcomes; the mission clearly state the department's core services and delivery priorities; the mission describes how the department is organised to deliver these services; the mission statement includes a statement relating to the quality of service delivery; there are clear guidelines for how individuals in the department should treat one another and the community.
It is needless to reinvent the entire checklist for evaluation, such as situational analysis, strategic goals and objectives, measurable objectives, performance measures and targets, etc., and probably sufficient at this juncture, due to time constraints, to summarise the overall evaluation as expected of the portfolio committee on Science and Technology: first, whether there is a clear link between the strategic performance plan and the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, that is, the existence of budget lines reflecting the actual delivery targets in the strategic performance plan; second, whether there are clear links between the annual performance plans and the budget for the year; and third, whether the strategic plans and annual performance plan targets are costed properly and accurately in the time budget. There are many such things that you have to look into when you analyse the budget. I will not go into the detail of analysing what is supposed to be done, but that is what our committee has done.
In response to the above-mentioned requirements, the portfolio committee was satisfied that the corporate strategy seemed to align with the Medium-Term Strategic Framework, MTSF, the 10-year innovation plan of 2007, as well as the National Research and Development Strategy of the ANC-led Cabinet of 2002. The vision and mission statements were also found to be in line with the expected delivery targets of the department. Following this evaluation, our portfolio committee was unanimous in accepting the department's plans, except for one area where the portfolio committee felt that very little co-ordination seemed visible. This was as far as the indigenous knowledge systems strategy was concerned. Many well-informed and interested groupings are working in silos in this area. For this reason the portfolio committee will be working hard to co-ordinate a kind of a national workshop on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, IKS, to effect a productive outcome in this uncoordinated but highly strategic effort.
In fact, nationally we have the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office, Nikso, under the Department of Science and Technology. On the continent we have the African Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office, AIKS, which is planning to host the African Indigenous Knowledge Systems Conference at the Park Hyatt in Rosebank in Johannesburg from 2 to 3 June. There is another working group at the University of the Western Cape, known as the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Project Team, led by Prof Meshach Ogunniyi from the Department of Science and Mathematics Education, which has great interest in the indigenous knowledge systems. Another grouping is working from North West University, while yet another, focusing on medicinal indigenous knowledge systems, is located at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Faculty of Medicine. It is led by Prof Gqaleni, who is also the dean of the faculty there.
Indigenous knowledge systems play a significant role in advancing scientific research in the African context, especially for our SADC region of countries; in the promotion and strengthening of African humanity, ubuntu, as a vehicle for moral regeneration; in the promotion and enhancement of African indigenous games; in the promotion and protection of cultural and linguistic diversity; in addressing climate-change adaptation; in the promotion of rural development; in the promotion and commercialisation of indigenous food products at global level, etc.
Another of the many challenges facing the department is the development of human capital in science and technology, with particular emphasis on youth development in this regard. Of course, this can only be realised if there is a change in the way we do things. The lack of technical resources and of technology and innovation management skills in the majority of public schools, at basic-education level up to high-school level, suggests that we still have a long way to go to get to the level that the Asian Tiger economies have attained.
Our answer to this challenge is to start doing unusual things, such as implementing one of our Polokwane policy recommendations relating to the establishment of the Innovation Management Framework. The framework's main component for success is the proper analysis of population numbers and the growth rate, coupled with the number of pupils finishing high school and entering tertiary levels of education and those finishing their junior degrees and moving into the economy and into research.
It should not be forgotten that the bulk of our population, especially from historically disadvantaged communities, are in professions that are no more than accidents of history, stemming from the legacy of apartheid. Many people had no access to career guidance as a preparatory tool and now they are what they are, not because it was planned either by state institutions or their parents, but just because it happened to be like that; an accident of history. It is important for an organised society to provide organised information and that career decisions are made based on career guidance. Thanks to our ANC-led government, it is now a mandatory requirement for any pupil at grade-10 level to be given career guidance, although this is still slippery path with various challenges. One important redress made by the Department of Science and Technology to the above-mentioned challenges was the PhD project.
Last week, on Thursday, I was invited by Cape Peninsula University of Technology to give the keynote address at the graduation of students in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. One of the points I raised as encouragement to the graduates – and this was well received by the leadership of the university - was the department's PhD project initiative and the financial incentives associated with it. These incentives are meant to help those students from disadvantaged backgrounds to have some means of supporting their families while they pursue their research. This is a very important and strategic contribution by the department to support research, particularly for those from historically disadvantaged communities. [Applause.]
Of course, the co-ordination of this effort lies with the Departments of Higher Education and Basic Education. So, the department alone cannot make this project succeed. It needs the support of the departments that are directly involved in education.
With regard to science and technology in a global context, at the core of the concept of globalisation lies the reality of the unrestricted flow of capital across markets and national borders. In the African context, and in line with the philosophy of the African renaissance, our challenge is to lead the African continent into becoming an economically competitive regional force. We would do so by using our better developed science and technology infrastructure to provide essential services ranging from electricity, agriculture, communications, education and other products of the human mind.
Science and technology is indeed a crucial instrument in all forms if human endeavour in this regard. As the ANC-led government it is part of our accepted international obligations to advocate the eradication of global poverty and the marginalisation of developing countries. These countries form two-thirds of the world community, yet they are condemned to backwardness, superstition and disease by the so-called modern society. Therefore, the nomination of our department, on behalf of the ANC-led government, to lead the science and technology wing of the Non-Alligned Movement could not have come at a better time for this goal to be achieved by South Africa. I thought this would be applauded. [Applause.] You don't appreciate our department's leading role in science and technology in the Non-alligned Movement?
Our government has provided super leadership in the procedures of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, Nepad, and the African Union, AU. Similarly, we hope this new role in the Non-Alligned Movement will also advance positive development in our region and, indeed, on our continent.
Scarce skills and technologies are one of the most important issues which we have to pay attention to. As the Minister has already mentioned, nanotechnology is an important new scientific discipline, which addresses the way we live at the molecular level. We have nanomachines, which are at our level if you want to develop them into what can be useful, and replicators, which are used when you are presenting the crystals of nanomachines into three-dimensional levels of operation. Nanotechnology is going to be a very important discipline in the future and it is important that the department has already developed programmes in this field. We commend the department for this initiative.
The other important technology is fuel cell technology. It depends mostly on platinum as a catalyst to work and it is an important future energy alternative for industrialised countries. We are the second-biggest, if not the biggest, exporter of platinum in the world. Therefore, if this technology succeeded, we would stand a better chance in good markets.
With regard to space science, as the Minister was saying, we have Square Kilometres Arrays based on radio astronomy. Radio astronomy is another of the important disciplines that our children and our human resource capital investment should focus on. We have the Sumbandila satellite that was launched. We need people to manage that satellite and to keep improving it.
The President was recently in Brazil, where they struck a deal on a joint venture in satellite development. Therefore, astrophysics, radio astronomy and optical astronomy are indeed very important when we consider the development of the human capital of our children in the field of science and technology.
Regarding nuclear science and engineering, very important systems are being developed based on what is known as "accelerator-driven systems". These are systems that would be addressing the problems of nuclear waste, which is at the heart of an international challenge. Basically, very heavy nuclide oxides would be changed into fashionable material and made to be short-lived rather than long-lived. Thank you very much. [Time expired.] [Applause.]
Ms M R SHINN: Chairperson, hon colleagues, South African science is awash with talent. Our scientists are at the forefront of addressing our immense developmental challenges, from delivering potable water to developing disease- and drought-resistant crops, medicines and leading-edge technology that creates new industries. I believe that if our scientists were more widely acknowledged and their work made more accessible, the majority of South Africans would not struggle to understand the value that science and technology delivers to their doorsteps.
Kofi Annan, African statesman and former UN Secretary-General, said, "While technology shapes the future, it is the people who shape technology and decide what it should be used for."
Let us not forget that it is individuals, often working in robust teams, who transform good ideas into scientific achievements. South Africa has produced individuals whose endeavours have won that highest accolade for science, the Nobel Prize. They don't enjoy the same public recognition as our writers and peacemakers, but their achievements have had an impact on millions of lives worldwide.
Let's briefly acknowledge our Nobel scientists. In 1951, nine years before Albert Luthuli won the Nobel Peace Prize, Max Theiler won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for developing the vaccine against yellow fever. Next was Alan Cormack, in 1979, for his work in co-inventing the Computerised Axial Tomography, CAT, scanner. Three years later, in 1982, Aaron Klug won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work in molecular biology. And lastly, in 2002, Sydney Brenner shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work in genetic analysis.
Klug, Brenner and Cormack have also won the Gold Order of Mapungubwe, South Africa's highest award for citizens who have excelled. Another South African scientist to receive this award is physicist Sir Basil Schonland, the founding president of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR.
Other South African scientists have been awarded different categories of the Order of Mapungubwe, and we commend the Presidency for acknowledging the importance of their achievements.
South African science needs these ambassadors, particularly in the fields where we can play a leading role on international science platforms, for example, astronomy, global change, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and drug and vaccine development.
Astronomy has been the recent trailblazer here. An exceptional example was set by young astronomers Kevin Govender, Thebe Modupe and Enrico Oliver, who used the International Year of Astronomy last year to inspire our nation's youngsters to become astronomers.
Once we have inspired our individuals to become scientist, we must be careful that our institutions and bureaucratic attitudes do not push our investment in scientific talent to other countries. We need to appreciate that scientists flourish when they work in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and rigorous debate.
Two weeks ago, the Academy for Science in South Africa warned of three more threats to academic freedom: the intrusive effect of government regulations, the excessive influence of private-sector sponsorship of universities and the limitations of freedom of speech within universities.
When the National Research Foundation, NRF, instituted its now failed disciplinary hearing against the astronomer Professor Phil Charles, the nation's scientific organisations issued statements warning of our national scientific facilities falling victim to totalitarian control and of a bureaucratic blunder that jeopardised our standing in the international science community.
I believe one of the main impediments our scientific community faces is political meddling. In many cases, the stumbling block to delivering the benefits of science to the majority of South Africans is the bureaucratic cadre class in all spheres of government and in our institutions.
One of South Africa's top scientists in local government is battling to decide whether to leave the land of his birth to join an international foundation where he will be responsible for delivering to the developing world what he struggles to deliver at home. Having his managers undermined by cadres with political agendas is part of the daily grind.
Is it poor communication or just disinterest that sees many scientific developments, for instance in drought- and disease-resistant crops, fail to reach emerging farmers? It's more likely to be the widespread inertia of the Department of Agriculture's extension services.
Breakthroughs in genetically modified crops are rejected more through misunderstanding of technicalities and mandates than of an appreciation of the scientific rigour with which they were developed. The developers of Spunta G2, our moth-resistant potato, are appealing its rejection by the Executive Council for Genetically Modified Organisms because of these misunderstandings.
If our bureaucracy fails to recognise the value of our scientific breakthroughs, it will be South Africa's loss. Many countries in Africa and the developing world are snapping up our inventions and scientific expertise, particularly in the fields of medicine and agriculture.
The scientific entities under the department's control are not without their bureaucratic or ham-fisted impediments to a contented and productive scientific community. I mentioned early the NRF's action against Professor Charles, of which the international fallout still needs to be resolved. I've asked the Minister to initiate an impartial enquiry, headed by an international scientist, to review the NRF's operations and suggest remedies to ensure it operates according to international best practice. This is essential if you want to clear the air and attract top-class scientists to work on South Africa's best scientific platforms, such as the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, and to assure them that they will be treated rationally and with respect.
The NRF's action was indicative of its seeming lack of understanding of the environment in which it serves. Last year, it changed the system of funding research in a manner referred to by an eminent scientist as a "crashing of gears". It brought many projects to abrupt halt, illustrating a lack of understanding of how research programmes work. It blames the department's funding cut for this.
The NRF's academic rating system research funding model is under review. Let's hope this ushers in a more productive system. The department's ambitious plans demand nothing less. Getting the funding of research right is critical to what I believe are the true fundamentals for South Africa to succeed as an innovative nation: developing scientists with the appropriate knowledge to focus on our opportunities, and an investment in the right instruments and infrastructure on which to do their research. Get these fundamentals right and innovations will follow.
We welcome the Minister's announcement to focus investment in these areas. I believe the Department of Science and Technology needs to fine-tune its five grand challenges to ensure that programmes are still relevant, affordable and can realistically be achieved by its 2018 deadline.
Are we attracting enough undergraduates to study the subjects needed for research that will make South Africa a global leader in biotechnology by 2018, or to become oceanographers to work on the new southern ocean research vessel due to for delivery in 2012?
We want to be a leader in pharmaceuticals, but the Academy of Science's recent review says the necessary activity and capacity of clinical research in South Africa has drastically declined and is in urgent need of revitalisation.
We must prioritise our science spend to ensure that the NRF has the money it needs to attend its target of 6 000 Doctor of Philosophy, PhDs, a year by 2025. There must be no excuses of a lack of funds. Cut the millions of rands government spends on frivolity and invest in the nation's knowledge resource base. We will soon be asked to buy new scientific equipment and improve the infrastructure at our research facilities. This must be done, perhaps with the help of innovative financing and tax breaks.
The private sector must also take up government's incentives to increase its investment in research and development. Let me say that the Department of Science and Technology stands head and shoulders above other government departments in the way it manages its programmes and spends taxpayers' money. Its governance processes are role models for other departments. Perhaps this management efficiency should encourage Cabinet to consider placing the dysfunctional Medical and Agricultural Research Councils under science and technology's care.
There is tough competition for our science funds. A recurring debate is whether South Africa should invest in big science projects such as the SKA. I believe the discussion should differentiate between "big science" and "big ego" projects.
South Africa is spoilt for choice when it comes to what we can achieve. But we must focus our "big science" spend on fields where we can exploit our geographic uniqueness to play a leading role in international science projects. Our scientific investments must use the wide open sky above our arid regions to explore the beginning of time. We must use our proximity to three oceans to play a leading role in the science of global change. Our mineral wealth and resulting beneficiation development must continue to lead the world.
We don't need to spend our science funds on "big ego" investments that have little to do with breaking new scientific ground, no matter how politically expedient. Government science spend must invest in fundamental research, not risk taxpayers' money in the commercialisation of proven technology, particularly if that technology is available fairly cheaply and there is plenty of it worldwide.
Government must develop policies that guide skills development, research and innovation in pursuit of its national vision. It must provide an enabling environment for our scientists and innovative entrepreneurs to stretch their imaginations to solve the problems we see around us and usher in the open-opportunity society. I thank you. [Applause.]
Ms S K MOLAO
Ms M SHINN
Ms S K MOLAO: Chairperson, hon Minister and invited guests, it is important that the department views itself as being at the forefront of the delivery process. South Africa needs to view itself as if it were in a war situation, with very tight time frames for delivery. Researchers in Africa produce less than two percent of the world's total scholarly scientific publications. South Africa and Egypt, between them, produce half of these. On a slightly brighter side, 88% of scientific activity in Africa is concentrated in South Africa.
It is clear that we are lagging behind the rest of the world in science, technology and innovation. To achieve the Millennium Development Goals, it is absolutely necessary to accelerate the pace of development in science and technology.
In order for there to be faster development, it is necessary to constantly monitor and evaluate various components of our significant enterprises. As the cost of research rises, it is important to make intelligent allocation of resources to get the best results for economic growth and sustainable development.
To us as COPE it is clear that we need an effective programme of evaluation to make three assessments: Which initiatives have been successful? Which initiatives need improvement? Which initiatives need to be discarded?
Moreover, programme evaluation must help to shift our focus from resources, activities and output into actual achievements. Surely, on a yearly basis, Parliament should have a list of achievements. We need to know whether the priorities the department has set are being achieved or not.
With regard to research, development and innovatiion, this year, an amount of R1,284 billion is to be spent on research, development and innovation. However, on page 681 of the Estimates of National Expenditure, ENE, the department is unbelievably presenting a scenario that is allocated two years backwards. It is projecting expenditure on research and development for 2008 when we are already in 2010. This doesn't say much for the Department of Science and Technology.
On MeerKAT and the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, COPE supports continued investment in space science, and in MeerKAT, the 80-dish Karoo Array Telescope that will be a forerunner to the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, telescope. Will the required seven dishes be set up in two years' time?
A more serious issue regarding this project was the suspension of Professor Phil Charles. It seems to have set South Africa back in the race. Will the Minister please inform the House what the suspension was about? Will the Minister also tell the House whether there are any serious tensions between scientists and administrators at the National Research Foundation, NRF? Our country is hotly competing with Australia to host the R20 billion SKA radio telescopes; therefore, we cannot afford power struggles.
With regard to hydrogen and energy, will South Africa have hybrid transport technology ready for roll-out by next year? What exactly are we as nation being promised in this regard? Also, why is South Africa not moving towards the use of compressed natural gases for use by vehicles in all our cities, as this is now a proven technology? Two years ago, there was also a great buzz about an electrical car. What has happened to this project?
South Africa needs a really compelling story of achievement in respect of biotechnology and health. In the Cape, we have an entire floral kingdom, one of six in the world. COPE believes that South Africa needs to know about performance, products and direct economic inputs into the economy.
South Africa has always had a high profile in the diamond industry. Scientists are working to make diamonds replace silicon as the preferred choice in electronics because diamond demonstrates greater heat resistance and incredible hardness. Electronics, appliances and automobiles will be using diamonds in their manufacture in future. COPE strongly recommends that we prioritise the use of diamond dust and particles from natural diamond.
This year, the budget has allocated R135 million to develop good relations with various countries of the world. This needs to be unpacked so that we also understand what has been achieved in the past 16 years. COPE supports this item of the budget.
In conclusion, this year, R1, 748 billion is being set aside to support science, engineering and technology. The National Research Foundation has backed a number of post-graduate students. Perhaps it is now time to evaluate what benefits have flowed into South Africa from the investment made by the state.
Our economy is in trouble. Our rate of unemployment is one of the highest in the world, at about 40%. Therefore, science and technology has to come to the rescue, quickly and invisibly. It must leave aside promises and start to produce products and results. I thank you.
Mr P F SMITH
Ms S K MOLAO
Mr P F SMITH: Chairperson, may I start with a bit of praise. I really think the department deserves some because this is a department with leadership, vision and dedicated staff. It is also one of the few government departments that manages to achieve an unqualified audit, which is laudable. I must say this is a department that continues to surprise us all with the number of projects it is involved in – very exciting projects, colleagues. For those of you who are not members of the committee, it is worth your while to see what they are doing. It is really good stuff.
Having said that, I do have some concerns. Maybe I should start by reiterating the IFP's view that the country's expenditure on research and development, R&D, is too low and needs to be doubled from 1% to 2%. Last year, the hon Minister agreed with this sentiment but the reality is that nothing seems to have happened in the interim. When we engaged with the department about the budget, we were told this was merely an aspiration, not a decision. Frankly, Minister, this is not good enough. For example, even today you referred to a 1,5% increase not as a decision of government but a wish. In our view, if innovation is going to be central to the economy, you have to spend on R&D. Could we ask you that if we're going to have an increase of 1,5%, it should not be a wish but a decision of Cabinet.
Last week, for example, the Academy of Sciences of South Africa also requested that the expenditure be doubled. That's great, but if you look at the budget of this department, the medium-term expenditure trend for R&D in fact declines with 50% over the next two years. The reason is that the department is winding down spending on the SKA and because other departments are also lead departments for spending. Nonetheless, it sends the wrong signal. In our view, what should have happened is that the level of expenditure should have been maintained to fund new projects, rather than cutting expenditure down. It is not healthy when you reduce R&D by 50% but it is happening.
The second issue is the country's human resource capacity initiatives. I think it's time for the department to complete its SET Human Capacity Development Strategy. The Minister spoke a lot about human resource development and we applaud what the department is doing. The additional R52 billion on 76 basic lines for bursaries for students is great. Much of what the department is doing in response to the challenges of human resource constraints is to be applauded.
However, the reality is that its time the department concluded its SET Human Capacity Development Strategy. Two years ago, the department was talking about it. Last year, when the committee engaged with the department, they said they would be ready within a month or two. This year, when we engaged with the department, they said their medium-term target date is 2013. That is not acceptable. In our view, this is an urgent issue and it needs to be attended to as a priority. It's an immediate priority now, not for 2013.
The third issue I would like to make reference to is what appear to be delays in or the slow implementation of operationalising certain entities within the DST family. Let me make reference to the Telecommunications Industry Association, TIA, for example, which the Minister spoke about. Now, this House processed the founding legislation over two years ago. Yet the department's medium-term output date for the full operationalisation is March 2013. This is four-and-a-half years after the President signed off legislation that gave effect to this body. That is simply too long and we really have to make all sorts of efforts to fast-track this. TIA is not an ordinary, nondescript entity. It is a key institution that is being established to bridge the gap between innovation and commercialisation. It is a very important initiative and we must get it running as soon as possible. To take four-and-a-half years for its inception and to get it fully up and running is too long.
We have another concern related to TIA - an issue that is being raised by TIA itself and by some of the migrating entities; the seven that the Minister referred to. This relates to the fact that all organs of state are compelled to comply with Public Finance Management Act, PMFA. However, the PMFA has certain conditions that are not applicable to TIA because institutions of that kind are impartial, risk-taking enterprises.
The risk-taking nature of structures like TIA does not sit well with the PFMA. The threat is that if the PFMA is rigidly implemented in regard to TIA, it will hamper the TIA's mandate. The question we are asking is, since this is well known to everybody, and has been for some time, why has it not been sorted out yet? What has been done between the department and Treasury to either make an exemption for TIA or to draft the rules in such a way that they won't hamper its mandate?
In conclusion, there is much about this department that we are very happy with and we don't have the time to state all the problems, but well done. We will support the vote. Thank you.
Ms M L DUNJWA
Mr P F Smith
Ms M L DUNJWA: Chairperson, hon Minister of Science and Technology, hon members of Parliament, distinguished guests, comrades and fellow South Africans, the first black President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, said, and I quote:
The young people of the world must be empowered to participate in the building of the information age. They must become citizens of the global information society. And we must create the best conditions for their participation.
It is in this context that my focus in this debate is on empowering the young people of this country, both male and female, who have been disadvantaged. We know that was deliberately done. That is why we are still seeing a gap between black African scientists and white scientists.
The ANC-led government saw the need for interventions to deal with that. I will quickly run through these interventions. I am aware that we are talking about science and technology. However, one cannot separate science and technology from education. It is in that context that the Department of Education, working together with the Department of Science and Technology, saw the need to create the Dinaledi schools. The ANC-led government is proud that there is an increase. At least we can see the value of this project.
Another project was the Youth Into Science strategy. That project was launched to assist young people to identify and have an interest in careers around science and technology.
It is disappointing that the hon member of Cope, a member of that team, asked the department what has happened with the electric car. As we are standing here, it is outside. We have viewed it. [Applause.] For me, this is not about the hon member being mischievous but it displays the level at which black Africans in particular have been deprived of an understanding of the creation of knowledge and of issues of science, technology and mathematics. I am not blaming the hon member for that.
Other projects that have been developed by the ANC-led government – I don't know if you are aware of that and that it is still functioning – is the Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology, a campaign that began in 1998. The objectives of that campaign were to promote science and technological literacy and to promote the power of knowledge, science and technology in human life.
At the ANC 52nd National Conference, a recommendation was tabled that the ANC should develop a comprehensive strategy on early childhood development. In the discussion on education, it was said that people must be encouraged to do mathematics, science and IT and that we must promote and support it by offering bursaries to students and teachers. Education is one the five key priorities of the ANC Manifesto. In the state of the nation address, the President of the Republic, the hon Jacob Zuma, also said we must focus on education. Have we done enough? No.
The people who are saying no are people who know very well that the challenges of education are structural and were created about 50 years ago. That is why the ANC-led government saw the need to develop all these interventions, like Education working together with departments like Science and Technology. I am of the view that Science and Technology cuts across each and every programme of this Parliament.
From here I can see young girls and I can tell you now that those girls don't have a foundation in science and technology. They don't have a foundation in mathematics. The recommendation made at the ANC 52nd National Conference was about developing a programme on early childhood development. My emphasis will be on early childhood development. Without that, we will stand here and lament and blame each other but we know that white people had the privilege of their children being given a foundation in science and technology.
Here is a case in point. E-tv showed two young South African men who had developed a gladiator. It was clear that they started at a tender age. Their parents encouraged them to ensure that they had an interest. I don't know what they were doing when they were young but there is an indication that their parents and maybe the school encouraged them to do whatever they wanted to do. Unfortunately, I left the newspaper clip from the Herald in PE.
They are 25 years old, they have manufactured a gladiator and they are white. When are we going to have a Mamkhize's boy and girl who will manufacture a gladiator? When are we going to have Madlamini'sdaughter and son who will have the ability to manufacture a gladiator? When are going to have a Mamkwena's daughter and son who can manufacture a gladiator?
We will not have it until we ensure that we develop a comprehensive programme and work together with the Department of Basic Education for our children to have a foundation. I can see that people are bit surprised. It was on television. [Interjections.] A glador. I am not a scientist.
I am standing here because I want to bring into this debate the understanding that some of the mistakes we made were not deliberate. It is also a reflection that science and technology by its nature is a subject that is high powered in terms of language. How do we ensure that we simplify it, then? To simplify it, we must start at an early age and ensure that our children understand what we are talking about. It is to ensure that ordinary women in the rural areas, when making fire and when the water is boiling, understand that this is indeed science. The Public Understanding of Science, Engineering and Technology, Puset, campaign was launched to ensure that ordinary people understand the impact of science and technology in their lives.
The ANC supports the Budget Vote. We think, however, that more resources must be given to science and technology in order for the department to assist and work together with other departments to ensure that the ANC achieves its goals, particularly around these five areas: rural development, agriculture, water and the environment. Without us focusing on those areas, and without our communities understanding the impact of science and technology on our lives, we will be standing here and complaining. The ANC supports Budget Vote NO 33. Thank you. [Applause.]
Adv A de W ALBERTS
Ms M L DUNJWA
Adv A de W ALBERTS: Chairperson, in evaluating the budget for this department the following words of Friedrich von Hayek come to mind: "It is not the fruits of past success, but the living in and for the future in which human intelligence proves itself."
Minister Pandor, it is indeed so that this is the one department that must have a broad-minded future orientation and consciousness so as to unlock the hidden potential that lies within each South African to not rely on the state for assistance, but to innovate, produce and grow. Therefore, this department, more so than most, can create the type of future we deserve. After all, the best way to predict the future is to create it.
Oorhoofs beskou, blyk dit dat die departement se fokus en strategie die regte pad inslaan. Die VF Plus is egter van mening dat hierdie departement se belangrikheid in ekonomiese ontwikkeling steeds te gering geskat word. Die regering sal 'n groter prioriteit van wetenskap en tegnologie moet maak.
Die wese van moderne vooruitgang lê in die skep van 'n omgewing waar wetenskaplike en tegnologiese innovasie gedy. Volgens die Verenigde Nasies Ontwikkelingsprogram se tegnologie ontwikkelingsindeks, lê Suid-Afrika nie baie hoog op die skaal nie. Die indeks dui aan hoe goed 'n land nuwe tegnologie skep en versprei, en menslike hulpbronne rondom tegnologie ontwikkel. Tans lê Suid-Afrika net onder die gemiddelde.
Why is science and technology so important? From an economic growth point of view, a relationship exists between productivity and national wealth. The relationship is: the more improved the productivity, the more national wealth is created, thus enabling human development. In essence, it is science and technology that drives productivity and actually forms a virtuous cycle, where productivity and wealth leads to further research and skills development, which leads to productivity and wealth.
How, then, can we further enhance our science and technology abilities? Firstly, government needs to spend more of its budget on this sector. Other than policing, health, energy and education, which provide for social stability, this department is the rocket engine that can eventually launch South Africa into the fraternity of developed nations.
Dit is ook die VF Plus se opinie dat die volgende stappe 'n aansienlike rol kan speel in die ontwikkeling van wetenskap en tegnologie:
Eerstens, die skep van 'n arbeidsomgewing, waar verlore kundigheid weer teruggewen en korrek aangewend word. Dit is byvoorbeeld kommerwekkend as van ons beste kernwetenskaplikes oorsee gaan werk soek.
Tweedens, die skep van 'n navorsingsomgewing, waar baie meer navorsers as dié wat geoormerk is, befonds word. Ons sal ook ons akademiese publikasievermoë en uitsette drasties moet verhoog. Daarby moet die staat behulpsaam daarin wees, soos die grondwet ook vereis, dat navorsers in hulle moedertaal navorsing doen en publiseer. Dit sal lei tot die verbetering van konseptuele denke, die bevordering van inheemse tale en inheemse kennisstelsels, wat ook bekend is as Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Vertalings kan byvoorbeeld met behulp van rekenaarprogrammatuur gedoen word, wat kostes ook verlaag. Aan die ander kant is dit ook goed dat daar meer werk vir vertalers geskep word.
Derdens, die aanwysing van universiteite wat die inheemse tale in beskerming neem in hulle navorsingsuitsette. Dit is immers 'n Afrikaanse universiteit wat Suid-Afrika se eerste private satelliet gebou het.
Laastens, Suid-Afrika moet ook begin investeer in navorsing en ontwikkeling in tegnologieë wat behoort tot 'n toekomstige ontwikkelingsdrywer bedryf.
We have to invest in the future by supporting research in space technology. I thank you.
THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Adv A D ALBERTS
THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Chairperson, Ministers, Minister Pandor, Deputy Ministers, hon members, vice-chancellors present, researchers, scientists and learners in the gallery, our country occupies an increasingly prominent place at the frontiers of science. Any lingering doubts about this assertion were surely laid to rest when, earlier this month, Deputy President Motlanthe announced what is being referred to as "the most significant paleontological find in nearly a century".
This was, of course, the remarkable discovery by Professor Lee Berger of two fossil skeletons of a previously unknown hominid species, now known as Australopithecus Sediba, at the Cradle of Humankind. One of these fossils will be on display at the Iziko Museum – please take note, hon members - which will be hosting a paleo focus week on behalf of the Department of Science and Technology during the next four days, starting tomorrow. It will include a number of lectures by prominent palaeontologists and exhibitions of our entire, extraordinarily rich fossil spectrum.
These early ancestors of ours lived in the Cradle of Humankind area some 2 million years ago. The painstaking research undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Witwatersrand – and we know the vice-chancellor is here and his head is held high and his chest is swelling with pride - to ensure the success of this project speaks volumes about the calibre and dedication of our scientists.
On an entirely different front, our astronomers and engineers once again demonstrated that they rank among the best in the world when, just a few weeks ago, Minister Pandor launched the first seven of the 80 dishes that will constitute the MeerKAT radio telescope. As Minister Pandor already said, if we succeed in our bid to build the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, we will be host to the largest radio telescope ever constructed. The SKA will enable us to look back 13 billion years to a period just a few million years after the "Big Bang" that signalled the formation of the universe.
South Africa's prolific evidence of the origins of life on earth has shed significant new light on how life on our planet has evolved over millions of years. Through our increasing mastery of the two disciplines of palaeontology and astronomy, we are becoming the world's experts on unveiling the mysteries of the past - how the universe came to be, what made us what we are today, and what significance this knowledge may have for our decisions about our future.
While we pride ourselves on our status as the "cradle of humankind", we need to ensure that we are also the custodians of the future of humankind. We have a special responsibility to care for our planet and apply our knowledge to shape a better future for the generations that follow us. Our early ancestors used stone tools, but we have at our disposal the tool of modern science - our best chance of finding solutions to the most pressing needs of society.
One of the broad goals we have set for ourselves as government is to increase the life expectancy of our people. This will not be achieved unless we are able to combat HIV and Aids more effectively. While this challenge is now being vigorously addressed by the Department of Health, it is clear that only through a collective effort will we break the back of this devastating virus. Our research community plays a vital role in this effort.
During the past three years, researchers at the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa, based in Durban, have been testing an antiretroviral, Tenofovir, as a microbicide gel. The trial, funded jointly by the Department of Science and Technology and the government of the United States of America, involved 1 000 women, and was completed in March this year. The results will be announced in July.
We are optimistic that the gel will prove an effective method of HIV prevention for those women who are exposed to multiple sexual partners or are, for some reason, restricted in their use of condoms. If, as we hope, the gel is effective in preventing HIV infection in just one third of the users, it will have an enormously positive impact on the HIV epidemic in our country. The gel will also have to be affordable. The good news is that the Department of Science and Technology has secured a royalty fee for the manufacturing of the product. Our researchers are now investigating how we can manufacture it locally.
Also on the health front, there is encouraging news from tuberculosis researchers. The South Africa Tuberculosis Research and Innovation Initiative and the USA's National Institutes of Health have completed the first phase of a programme to discover new drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis. Led by a South African biologist stationed at NIH, the South African-United States teams in Washington have screened 35 000 drug-like compounds, discovering 640 totally new drug-like compounds, which present exciting potential to become new drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis.
Over the next 10 years, scientists from both countries will be working together to realise the goal of developing the first South African drug for TB treatment. At the same time they will be contributing to global discovery efforts in this arena and building local capacity and capabilities in drug discovery and development. [Applause.]
This is what drives us - the pursuit of knowledge and the application of science that makes a difference to people's lives. It should be clear by now that by using the best modern tools at our disposal, we are both mastering the science of the past and actively engaging with the challenges of the present.
Now we come to one of the biggest issues confronting humankind: the threat of climate change. Science has woken us up to the threats facing our planet. Currently, we are losing up to 140 000 species per year. However, unlike past mass-extinction events, the current "sixth extinction" is induced by humans. We are at the crossroads - we can either plunge further and irreversibly into this looming catastrophe, or we can use science to help us make new choices, and modify our behaviour to rescue the situation.
South Africa is among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Recognising the seriousness of our situation and the impact of human activity on the natural resources on which life depends, the Department of Science and Technology has included global change science as one of the grand challenge areas in our 10-year innovation plan. Any effective response to climate change must be linked to the broader outcome of building an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable South Africa.
Globally, knowledge, technology development and innovation are regarded as core to any attempt to cope with and adapt to the negative consequences of climate and other environmental changes. Our challenge is to find and adopt ways of reducing our carbon, pollution and waste footprint.
The Department of Science and Technology has made important progress in supporting South Africa's efforts to adapt to climate change and to support mitigation efforts. I would like to highlight four aspects: First, through a partnership with the scientific and research community, we have finalised a 10-year Global Change Research Plan. The plan identifies areas of knowledge generation that are key to supporting not only a better understanding of climate change and environmental impacts but also policy, decision-making and action. The research plan will be published and widely circulated in the next few months.
Second, through focused initiatives like the South African Research Chairs Initiative, the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science and other innovative programmes, the department is helping to build the next generation of leaders, managers and researchers to support the sustainable development efforts of government, industry and other institutions.
Third, in response to the weaknesses in the data and models currently available, the DST initiated the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas programme. The programme is targeted at supporting local-level decision-making and will include capacity-building and support in interpreting the information in the Atlas. A hard-copy version of the Atlas and an interactive web-based tool will be available in the next few months.
And finally, if South Africa is to become a low-carbon economy, more attention needs to be paid to energy issues and to efforts to find low-carbon energy solutions. The department continues to support research, innovation and human capital development in the field of alternative and renewable energies. This brings me to the matter of renewable energy.
South Africa has the potential for large-scale solar energy generation, but we have yet to exploit this potential fully. The department has embarked on a process of assessing where solar energy technology might play a significant role in our country and how we can develop and strengthen it to achieve a competitive advantage from which economic benefits can be derived. In this regard the department commissioned the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR, to facilitate the development of a long-term national solar technology road map to guide our activities. The department will be engaging with various stakeholders on the draft technology road map so that we can finalise and agree on a national implementation plan.
Parallel to this, the department will promote strategic partnerships and establish a solar energy centre of competence that will serve as a platform for commercialising solar energy innovations. Of course, solar energy is not the only alternative to our current reliance on fossil fuels. The department is pioneering and supporting a number of exciting initiatives in this area which will contribute both to a growing green economy and, ultimately, to the protection of the future of our planet.
The vehicles that brought us to Parliament this morning are among the greatest contributors to the emissions threatening our planet. To make matters worse, they rely on a non-renewable resource, which will run out one day. One vehicle that arrived here this morning did not pollute the atmosphere, and it arrived quietly, because it is driven by an electric motor. It is called the Joule. This vehicle was designed by a team of South Africans, supported by the Department of Science and Technology, and it is parked outside for all of you to see.
It is estimated that by 2020 electric and hybrid vehicles could account for up to 20% of vehicle sales globally. In this context, South Africa needs to ensure that it is not left behind in the growing demand for environmentally friendly vehicles. It is our business to fund this kind of innovation. In a globally competitive market, not all innovations will be successfully commercialised. Hon member Shinn, we take your point very well. We take note of that and we assure you that we are not in the business of commercialising things but in the business of promoting innovation. Your point is well noted. Working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry, we will ensure that the necessary backing is there, including further research in improved battery technology, the training of engineers, and the registration of intellectual property rights, to support South African innovations such as these so that they have a better chance of penetrating an extremely competitive global market.
We have yet to find satisfactory answers to a great many scientific challenges, but perhaps the biggest challenge of them all is on the human-capital front. The reality is that we are not producing nearly enough scientists, and without scientists there can be no science.
Success in our efforts to develop science, engineering and technology human resources that are representative of South Africa's demographics depends largely on having sufficient numbers of school leavers with passes in mathematics and science. We are aware that to do this we will have to encourage more learners to choose mathematics and science when they enter grade 10, and then attract the best performers to science-based careers.
The Youth into Science Strategy, which the Department of Science and Technology adopted in 2007, contributes to this goal. That beeping is not from me, Chairperson. Thank you. We are working closely with the Department of Basic Education. We are very happy to have the Deputy Minister, Enver Surty, here with us in the implementation of its National Strategy for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education. It is in this context that the department has adopted 18 Dinaledi Schools - two schools in each province, in reasonable proximity to Science Centres. I have already started a programme of visits to our adopted schools in order to assess the situation on the ground and to find out how we can strengthen our support to them. At the same time, the Department is drafting a comprehensive plan for support to the 18 Dinaledi schools.
One of the innovative ways in which we hope to assist learners is through the Dr Math project, an initiative of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's Meraka Institute. Dr Math gives learners online assistance with their maths homework. The software has been enhanced to allow tutors to log on from dispersed locations. The Meraka Institute is in discussion with the Department of Basic Education and network operators on further expansion plans for the programme.
The department remains committed to the cause of making citizens aware of the importance of science in their lives. One of the key instruments we are using to do this is the annual National Science Week, NSW. In our quest to improve the quality and reach of the event, a 10-year review of this intervention will be conducted this year. The conclusion of the review will inform our next five-year strategy, which will come into effect in 2012. Meanwhile, we have adopted an interim strategy to guide the implementation of the National Science Week in 2010 and 2011, and for these two years the theme will be "The Role of Science in Economic Development".
In this vein we urge you to return to your own constituencies and assist in fostering greater interest in the sciences among our young people. Indeed, there is a science in everything we do. There is science in the construction of an informal shack and in the building of a satellite. It is science that will enable us to identify new vaccines or to learn about our past through the analysis of ancient fossils. It is up to us to excite and enthuse our younger generation and to give them all the necessary support to become the great scientists of the future.
In order for our economy to become more competitive and achieve higher growth rates and for us to continue to address the needs of ordinary people in our country, we must increase our investment in our research capabilities. By doing so, we will secure our prominent place at the frontiers of global science. Mister Pandor, thanks for your kind words, but it has been a pleasure for me to work with you, and the pleasure grows.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N Oliphant): Please wrap up your speech, hon Deputy Minister.
THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Working together, with a highly motivated and competent department and the portfolio committee - whose probing question we welcome, by the way - we believe we can take science and technology in our country to far greater heights. After all, this is our country; it belongs to all of us. And Australopithecus Sediba is our collective ancestor. Thank you very much. [Applause.]
Ms C DUDLEY
THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Ms C DUDLEY: Chair, hon Ministers, the ACDP notes that the Department of Science and Technology has been allocated R4,6 billion for the 2010-11 financial year. This is a 1,5% increase. This, we hope, will allow for significant progress in the development of human resources, knowledge generation and investment in science and technology infrastructure.
The Minister's enthusiastic report was encouraging and very interesting. The information around solar energy initiatives, vehicle innovations and more was exciting and inspirational. Thank you.
In view of the underspending in the previous financial year due to staff turnover and vacant posts, hon Minister, what is the current personnel vacancy rate, and what obstacles are being experienced in filling these positions?
The ACDP is concerned that the skills deficit in the department could impact negatively on the department's ability to deliver on its mandate. We call on the Minister to prioritise the resourcing of relevant skills.
Recognising the role of the Research Development and Innovation, RDI, programme in providing policy leadership in long-term and cross-cutting research and innovation, does the department's South African HIV and Aids research and innovation platform link with initiatives like the SA Aids Vaccine Initiative, Savi? Is there greater scope for linking initiatives and is this aspect adequately budgeted for? Thank you, Deputy Minister, for your input on these issues.
The International Cooperation and Resources, ICR, programme, which aims to develop and service bilateral and multilateral relationships and agreements in science and technology, has a 4% decrease in expenditure. Will this decrease have repercussions in terms of the work being done in this area? How much donor funding does the department hope to secure over the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, period, and has this funding been earmarked for any specific projects?
We are pleased to know that the programme which prioritises the development and implementation of national programmes to produce knowledge and development of human capital, the associated infrastructure equipment and public research services has increased from R1,6 billion to R1,7 billion.
The ACDP recognises the importance and the need for the intended additional 150 research chairs to be awarded across various fields of science and technology. I heard the Minister talking about 20; I hope it is not just 20. We also commend the department on the seven centres of excellence that have been established, but note that nine were originally envisioned. Are the remaining two still on the cards, and what has caused the delay?
The ACDP is encouraged by plans to increase the number of learners in schools benefiting from supplementary tuition in mathematics, physical sciences and English. The public would, however, like to know what criteria the department uses to determine which schools and learners benefit from the supplementary tuition.
Will you be considering the success of the LEAP Science and Maths schools in Langa, Gugulethu and Alexandra, where the former achieved an average matric pass rate of 94%? Of all LEAP's matriculants, 70% have gone on to study at tertiary level. Their principal and originator is reported to have suggested that government must take over the schools with a view to extending the model.
Lastly, the ACDP will like to know the extent to which budget focuses... [Time expired.]
Mr L N MKHIZE
Ms C DUDLEY
Mr L N MKHIZE: Chairperson, hon Minister, hon Deputy Minister, hon members, ladies and gentlemen, the Square Kilometre Array, SKA, telescope will be one of the largest scientific research facilities in the world and will position South Africa as a major hub for astronomy in the world. The SKA will benefit South Africa, Africa, the world and the radio-astronomers' community to explore the origins of galaxies and probe the edges of the universe.
The MeerKAT, the SKA and the findings of Sediba will attract scientists, engineers and paleoanthropologists to come and work in Africa. This is an opportunity for Africa and South Africa, in particular, to expose young males and females from historically disadvantaged individuals to science and related matters. Through SKA, the country will enjoy all the direct benefits of a powerful radiotelescope, capital operations and maintenance costs, job creation during the construction, extensive skills development opportunities and sharing information with the world's best scientists and the engineering community.
South Africa, as one of the short-listed countries, is currently building a pathfinder telescope. The MeerKAT will act as the pre-cursor for SKA but whether we win (which is possible) or not (which is unthinkable), the country will benefit from having a high-powered data network that will link the telescope site in the Karoo to the control centre in Cape Town. It's vital to manage properly the MeerKAT project because that will build the confidence with the International SKA Site Advisory Committee.
We must profile this bid as an African bid because while the project is situated in South Africa's Karoo region, in the Northern Cape Province, there will be outlying stations in Africa. The SKA will spread to countries like Namibia, Madagascar, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Mauritius. These augurs well for the African renaissance programme.
It is encouraging to know that newly qualified engineers have no problem in joining and even leading SKA and MeerKAT teams. It's crucial for African scientists and engineers to benefit from this world-class cutting-edge technology development.
The most important factor is to keep the community of the area informed and involved in the project. The project team must consider a stakeholder forum as an important part of the project, not as a distant matter that does not require immediate attention. The team, however, should avoid a lengthy consultation process that might delay project completion.
The MeerKAT and SKA projects will yield some positive results for the community in the area and the country at large. Let me highlight some immediate benefits for the community. First, local business and the hospitality industry will benefit from the influx of constructors of the telescope. Second, MeerKAT and SKA will bring much-needed infrastructure into the area, like roads, water and power. There will also be job creation in the laying of underground optic fibre cables and there will be additional maths and science educators in the area, which is very important. Third, the communities of Klerefontein and Losberg will enjoy much-needed business and job opportunities during the construction period. Finally, these communities will also enjoy the benefits of having a cyberlab in their area.
We understand the requirements that made the Karoo area qualify as a suitable place for SKA, but at the same time the community must enjoy equal access to a radio frequency that is even better than before. Sentech and SABC are busy building low masts to ensure there is no loss of service like television, radio and other alternative communication means. It is important to ensure that the community receives a better service than before, not the other way round.
The Youth into Science and Engineering programme is the right thing to do. Congratulations to the department. What is also important is the involvement of the departments of Basic and Higher Education to encourage youth into science at an early stage. The programme will help diversify the scientific community so that it will reflect the demographics of this country. Yes, it requires patience but failure to try is not an option.
The challenge that we need to address is that MeerKAt and SKA are not profiled and publicised enough outside the normal communication channels of the scientific community. We should prepare all South Africans for the fact that a huge project, bigger than the 2010 World Cup, is coming to Africa. We are still waiting for the volcano ash to clear, then all of us will see this project. This is not a project for scientists only. We must rally all South Africans behind it. Indeed South Africa, your time is now.
The Technology Innovation Agency, TIA, is envisaged as the institutional mechanism that has the competency to assist the National System of Innovation, NSI, to mine the existing body of knowledge and to stimulate the generation of new knowledge in order to develop technology-based products and services that have the potential to be commercialised and distributed locally and abroad.
The TIA intends to advocate the "working together" mentality through building on existing innovation capacity by integrating the management of different technological innovations, incubation and diffusion initiatives in the country. The entities and programmes that will be incorporated into TIA are the biotechnology innovation centres, health centres, energy security grand challenges, Innovation Fund, National Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy, Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Strategy of SA, and the Tshumisano Trust.
It is important that while the TIA is repositioning and restructuring the current portfolio, the project that addresses social needs, like the HIV and TB pandemics, continue to deliver results. The reconfiguration should not delay the work that needs to be done in order for the country to move forward in terms of innovation.
Partnerships and working relationships with other relevant departments and institutions are crucial for TIA to bring along even other departments on the journey of creating attractive, world-class and large-scale innovation projects. If we work as one organism, not in silos, the country stands to benefit greatly.
TIA has six product offerings that are aimed at maximising socio-economic benefits. These offerings are of great importance for technology development, innovation capacity building, technology nursery programmes, and promoting a much-needed national culture of innovation transfer for a country like South Africa. Indeed, we hope that TIA will be able to solve the issue of the innovation chasm and the fragmentation of funding instruments, which was evident in the NSI. The ANC supports the budget. I thank you.
Ms S V KALYAN
Mr L N MKHIZE
Ms S V KALYAN: Hon Chairperson, since science and technology separated from the mother ship in 2004, it has been busy restructuring and "revisioning" itself. Six years later, the process has yet to come together. The Technology Innovation Agency, TIA, is but one example.
Despite the Technology Innovation Agency Act being passed in 2008, a chief executive officer has yet to be appointed. Very little progress has been achieved with the migration of the seven entities into TIA. By the own admission of the chairman of the board, the set-up costs of TIA were not considered when the Act was passed. I think it's a case of "Houston, we have a problem".
The 10-year innovation plan of the department states that the aim is to transform the South African economy into a knowledge-based one. The knowledge-based economy is an expression coined to describe trends in advanced economies towards greater dependence on knowledge, information and high skills levels and the increasing need for ready access to all of these by business and public sectors.
Ireland is a good example of a successful knowledge-based economy. One of the key reasons is the heavy state investment in tertiary education as well as providing generous funding for research and development.
A three-year study of prospective science students at one South African university showed that almost half of the 313 students in a bridging programme had difficulties with basic mathematics skills. More than half were baffled by a simple graph, with 80% unable to combine equations and about 35%unable to solve even examples of problems encountered in their daily lives. Given the results of this study and that South Africa has been ranked number 45 out of 134 countries in the 2009 World Economic Forum, there clearly is still a lot of work to be done to achieve the department's vision.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR, is a major player in South Africa's research and industrial arena so as to establish the relevancy of its business focus, particularly to address our drastic need to export products to earn foreign exchange for wealth creation. This entity's research impacts on, among other areas, renewable and alternative energy, new drug development, climate change, and water and coastal issues.
While the CSIR has listed its achievements in its glossy publication, detail about its role in respect of climate change is seriously lacking. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges ever to confront humanity. South Africa's geographic position is one of its assets, and it can enable us to play a leading role in climate change.
What are our researchers doing in respect of land degradation, drought-resistant crops, water quality and ocean changes on our coastline? What is the Deputy Minister doing for South Africans to map their carbon footprint?
One of the main effects of climate change is the increased incidence of malaria and other vector-borne diseases. A more urgent response is needed in prevention, early-warning systems – detection - and treatment. It is my considered opinion that these areas fall in the research domain of the CSIR.
One way to close the gap is to commercialise the results of scientific research. The Department of Science and Technology, DST, says it is committed to value-adding of research and development, yet it stopped its funding to the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative,Savi. How does cutting funding for HIV and Aids research add value? Savi is developing a vaccine specifically for subtype C, which is the dominant strain of the HIV epidemic in South Africa. The DST says that since the vaccine has entered clinical trials, the department's job is done.
Carol Williamson from the University of Cape Town, UCT, argues in an article in the South African Journal of Science that it does not make sense for the DST to fund only up to phase-one safety trials, as vaccine trials take over 15 years to come to fruition.
South Africa is a highly desirable location for the HIV-vaccine research. The DST argues that Sharp was launched in July 2009 as a means of "revisiting" its expectations of the HIV-vaccine research in favour of a "strategic combination of interventions", whatever that means. This is not acceptable. Sharp currently supports nine research projects but none of them compares to that of Savi.
Carolyn Williamson goes on to say, and I quote, "They are funding only basic science in isolation but it is not obvious from the outside what their long-term strategy is." She says further, and I quote, "If the DST's mission is product development, I don't think it has a sensible approach. If you develop a product, why go all the way to trial and then just dump it? What kind of a science and technology department are you?"
South Africa lacked the capacity to produce a vaccine for foot and mouth disease and Botswana captured the market. It is precisely this kind of foot-dragging that will hinder South Africa from becoming a knowledge-based economy.
I am sure many present here are intrigued and fascinated by the Joule car on display here today. A question to the Minister: Why do you consider this car "innovative"? I have travelled in a battery-operated bus in India, outside the Taj Mahal. This kind of product is already a world product, regarded as "off the shelf" and not innovative, as in the DST's definition. There is nothing unique about the Joule in terms of manufacture and development.
An amount of R50 million was spent on it and I'm given to understand from an article in a motoring magazine that only 50%of the parts will be made in SA. The article goes on to state that the developer, Optimal Energy, is planning to test a fleet of Joule cars during the World Cup to gauge public response and gather technical feedback. The timing of the test launch during the World Cup is an interesting development, given that the car will only be ready for a formal launch in 2012. Can the Minister explain the timing? More importantly, can she tell us who will benefit from the development and sale of the battery-operated car - the DST, ANC or Optimal Energy? The selling price of the Joule car is expected to be in the region of about R200 000. So, clearly, it is not aimed at the ordinary man in the street.
2010 has been declared "The Year of Biotechnology" by the United Nations, UN. DST acknowledges that it should take the lead in the emerging area of biotechnology and the Minister has made commitments about South Africa being world leaders, especially in biopesticides. Yet again the question is what has the DST done in this regard to date? The current registration process is a joke. Furthermore, does a register exist of all the research bodies, including private companies, involved in biotechnology?
I am glad that the Minister mentioned the state of our forensic labs. I spoke to a head of one of the laboratories in Johannesburg and discovered that at the present moment the backlog at forensic laboratories is up to four years in Pretoria and six years in Johannesburg. Our courts will be jammed up with litigation challenging results, because I don't believe that the blood will yield proper results, given that it has been stored for such a long time. It's really an indictment and I'm glad the Minster mentioned it. I hope the Minister will spearhead urgent action around that.
We all concur that there is a lot to be done to make the field of science and technology more sexy and appealing to Joe Public. The overuse of highly scientific language and rebranding are perhaps starting points from which to break down the psychological barriers that exist in young learner's minds ... [Interjections.] [Time expired.] [Applause.]
Ms M M A NYAMA
Ms S V KALYAN
Ms M M A NYAMA: Chairperson, hon Minister, Deputy Minister and other Ministers present, chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, hon members, we are meeting here today to approve the funds allocated to the Department of Science and Technology for their programmes. As we look at this department and its programmes, the question is: do we, as Parliament, agree that the funds allocated to the department will be used for a just cause?
One of the priorities of the department is to cushion the impact of climate change on our people. The department accepts that climate change is one of the major threats facing humanity in the 21st century, with Africa being the hardest hit. The challenge is to have the capacity to adapt to climate change. Climate change poses a greater threat to poor people, whose survival depends on natural resources. Subsistence farmers, for example, depend on rainfall for irrigation. If rainfall patterns change, their lives are disrupted.
Let us try to see what made the department concentrate on this phenomenon of climate change. Let's look at the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security.
I grew up in a rural area, as a rural girl, as a daughter to subsistence farmers. Around September, the first rains would fall. Around October, more rain would fall. We would start ploughing and we would harvest bags and bags of mealies. For the whole year we would be exchanging bags of mealies for mealie meal. We would have food on our table every day.
But, over time, that has changed. One asks oneself what is happening. The answer is always: It is climate change. [Applause.] Climate change comes with floods that will clean off the good soil from the earth's surface - soil that is needed for food production. Then, when the droughts come and we want to plant, it is a disaster. Food production is made more difficult.
Climate change also has an impact on biodiversity, because higher temperatures, droughts and floods are threats to ecosystems. Even the migration patterns of some migratory animals might change. At times, the changes in temperature affect species distribution and population sizes. This causes changes in reproduction patterns and, at times, even the extinction of species.
If we look at the impact on human health we see that once there are floods, we have a larger area in which disease-carrying insects can start reproducing. For example, we'll have malaria mosquitoes breeding in flooded areas, and the breeding area grows larger and larger with the floods. We also find that even where there was no malaria in the past, we will now start having outbreaks. That is one of the impacts of climate change.
Climate change also has an impact on water resources. We will have water, then not have water; we will have floods followed by droughts. We will find that the places where people can get water will become very scarce. As these water sources dry up, competition between animals and people for water will start to develop. Forget about plants being irrigated. When people and animals share drinking places, one can imagine what will happen there: the development of disease will become very easy.
Such are the impacts of climate change, and they are the things that made the Department of Science and Technology decide that it needed to start studying these phenomena and developing people who could look at intervention strategies that could save people from these horrible things that are bound to happen to them.
Looking at all this, one can observe that the use of these funds by this department would be for a good cause. It is to save people from the horrible impact that they could experience from climate change.
A number of things have been said here, by the Minister herself, as well as by other members of the committee. I observed something important in what each and every one of them said. Everybody has spoken and from what has been said, one can see how everything –the MeerKAT, or whatever - is going to impact positively on people who would otherwise have been impacted on negatively. Therefore, I recommend that, as Parliament, we give this budget the thumbs-up.
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Ms M M A NYAMA
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Chairperson, I would like to begin by thanking all the members who have participated in the debate for their contributions. It is clear that all members have an astute appreciation of the critical role that science and technology can play in our country, on the continent and globally. I am therefore very pleased by the support that we have received and the understanding shown by members of all the critical areas that we must address.
I do agree with hon members that we need an improved budget. Of course, I remind hon members that in terms of a new law they do have the power to make recommendations in respect of adjustments to the budget. I am hopeful that they are sharing their sentiments with members in other committees of Parliament.
Hon Smith, we have a commitment to 1% of GDP. It is not an aspiration but a target that the department has set for itself. Sadly, I believe the achievement of that target did not follow as it should have done. So, when I say I believe we must aim for at least 1,5% by 2014 – or more, with your assistance and that of other hon members – we plan to follow through and achieve that target. We will not aspire. I don't believe in aspirations; I believe in following through. So, I believe we must have improvement. We must plan for improvement. We must fight for improvement and ensure that we do have better resourcing of research in the country.
In the European Union they have a 3% threshold, and this is set. I read in an article recently that the Ministers of finance of EU countries are very unhappy about this. They argued that there should not be a hard-and-fast target, especially in these difficult economic times. The Ministers of science and the science councils argued that such a threshold must be maintained; in fact, it should grow even further. So, I believe this is something we must pursue vigorously and not be shy about.
The development of a human capital strategy was delayed by the absence of a full complement of staff in that particular section in the department. We have now made the necessary appointments and I believe the committee was informed that, within the next few months, we will be coming to it with a strategy to indicate how we intend to proceed in respect of investment in human capital development in science and technology. We will be coming to the committee with that particular draft plan.
On the matter of the Technology Innovation Agency, TIA, and the Space Agency, you must remember that these are new institutions. We had a number of entities in the country existing as distinct and separate components doing different work, either in biotechnology or in space science or other areas. These have existed as entities with their own rules on financial management, human resource practices, etc. We need to bring these entities under two major agencies with similar policies on human resources, salaries, financial management and so on.
To do that, you do need to take your time, particularly when, with TIA, you are dealing with more than one entity. There are several Brics that will now reside under the ambit of TIA. That is why I have said that it will take 12 to 24 months. I am not sure why 2013 was mentioned in the committee. I suspect it was a slip of the tongue on the part of a member who was very nervous in front of hon Smith. [Laughter.] We are working very hard to ensure that the time frame I have referred to is indeed achieved. We are addressing the organisational requirements and policy aspects that I have referred to, as well as the requirements of National Treasury, because we must meet their particular rules to begin to make our case for financing.
I am always a bit worried when organisations begin by arguing for increased resources before getting their establishment issues right. We believe the establishment issues must be addressed while these institutions also make use of the funding that is already available to them. There is funding allocated to the TIA entities. TIA is actually able to get off the ground, but its full operation – where we begin to see the results of an innovation agency – will, I think, be evident within the 24-month period I have referred to.
I think we should give them the space to really get the organisational structure right so that, when we make the argument to Treasury for the kind of resources that will begin to place us at a level where we have venture support that really enhances innovation in South Africa, we would do so in an orderly way. I would ask that members of Parliament really support us in that regard.
Mr W G JAMES: Will the hon Minister take a question?
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Definitely not from the hon James, as I know he will give me a very hard time.
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms M N OLIPHANT): Hon member, you know the procedures of the House. You can't just stand up and ask the Minister whether she would take a question. You must ask that through the Chairperson. You may continue, hon Minister.
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Thank you, Chairperson. We will have dinner together later and he will be able to ask me all sorts of questions, plus he can put them on the Order Paper.
The matter of monitoring and evaluation that was referred to by the hon member from Cope is something we have begun to address in the department. We must align our framework for monitoring and evaluation with the requirements emanating from the Presidency, as well as the performance requirements that come from statutes and from the Public Finance Management Act. So, through a unit we have established, we are establishing a proper set of criteria that we will utilise in order to respond to the framework that government is currently using. I assure you that you should not worry that we are not going to monitor progress. In fact, as I have said, we are no longer going to be hoping and aspiring; we want to be performing and planning appropriately.
I hope members will pay attention to the department and ensure that it does meet the indicators and targets that it has put before you in the corporate strategy.
Members made reference through hon Shinn to the matter of the National Research Foundation, NRF, and Professor Charles. We have had discussions with Mrs Shinn on this matter and I really don't want to delve into it in this honourable House. We have asked the chairperson of the NRF board to undertake certain steps to repair the damage that the hon Shinn has referred to. I don't want to convert the House into a tribunal of some kind because we don't know the full story. I certainly don't. I want the orderly performance of science to proceed and our programmes to be achieved and everybody to be satisfied that they are being treated fairly and with justice in our system.
I would be the first to fight if the academic intention of one of our professionals was impacted upon by any of the science councils. If a paper that was written with content that the NRF disagreed with was being hidden in a drawer, I would quarrel. If a person had an opinion with which the NRF disagreed, and they tried to stop that opinion from being expressed, I would have a quarrel. But, as to a disciplinary case within their human resource processes, if it harms relations, I believe the board has the capacity to address that and I have asked them to pay attention to it. If members wish to delve further, I will certainly come before the committee, as I had indicated to Dr Ngcobo, and give you any further explanation that you might want, but I really don't wish to delay the House with that particular matter.
On the question of the Joule and the hon Kalyan's comments, as the hon Kalyan stood up I said to Deputy Minister Hanekom that it had been a great debate but now we were in trouble. He said to me, no, she's going to be very positive. I said, you watch. And I was correct, as usual. [Laughter.]
Hon Kalyan, on the question of what we are doing about learners regarding maths and science, I certainly believe the hon Dunjwa referred to some of that. I know that Minister Motshekga dealt with some of that in the Basic Education debate. I am sure Minister Nzimande would also have addressed that in his budget debate. The documents of the education departments as well as the work the Deputy Minister referred to speak of what is being done.
Concerning climate change, we certainly are supporting a lot of research in the area, but I believe that there are a number of very exciting initiatives in the environment and geo-sciences faculties at our universities that we need to tap into. There are also institutes in our universities that have a great deal of experience in research on climate change. I believe an alliance must be built between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR, and performing institutions, so that we make the greatest possible use of the research and activity that is coming out of all these learned bodies in the country. I don't think there is enough collaboration and we need to do more around that.
On drought-resistant crops and the impact of climate change on health, a great deal of research is being done and, again, we are working with the departments of Environment and Health to address these areas.
The Chairperson tells me my time is up.
The Southern Africa Vulnerability Initiative, Savi, continues to be funded by the Department of Health. If I had more than R5 billion, I probably would have funded it, but since I have very little money, I am afraid I can't fund everything. Thank you. [Applause.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Ms MN OLIPHANT): Thank you, hon Minister. I would like to remind members that there is going to be an EPC on Communications at 16.30 in E249, and another EPC, here in the Old Assembly Chamber, on Energy, starting at 16.30 as well.
The Extended Public Committee adjourned at 16:24
END OF TAKE
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