ATC100414: Report Budget Vote 33: Science and Technology, and Corporate Strategy 2010-2013
Report of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology on Budget Vote 33: Science and Technology, and Corporate Strategy 2010-2013, dated 14 April 2010:
The Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, having considered and concluded its deliberations on Budget Vote 33: Science and Technology, and the Corporate Strategy 2010 – 2013, reports as follows:
On 10 March 2010, the Committee was briefed on the strategic plan and budget by the Department of Science and Technology’s Acting Director –General at the time, Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde and assisted by Deputy Minister, Mr Derek Hanekom.
The presentation by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) included a focus on their strategic context, overview and key policy developments, principal goals, outputs, achievements and challenges, medium-term priorities and initiatives, selected medium-term output targets, monitoring and evaluation, gross expenditure on research and development and the financial resources of the Department.
The Corporate Strategy was informed by Government’s Medium-Term Strategic Framework, the Ten-Year Innovation Plan and the National Research and Development Strategy.
DST’s principal goals are to enhance SA’s knowledge-generation capacity, develop innovation capacity and the necessary science and technology innovation (STI) human capital to meet the needs of society. The idea is to build a world-class STI infrastructure to extend the frontiers of knowledge, train the next generation of researchers and enable technology development and transfer. Thereby positioning SA as a strategic international research development and innovation (RDI) partner and making the exchange of knowledge, capacity and resources between SA and its regional and international partners possible.
Outputs, past achievements and challenges
Some of the achievements highlighted to the Committee were:
· the launch of the SumbandilaSat (a micro earth observation satellite);
· the completion of the construction of 7 dishes of the KAT-7 (MEERKAT precursor);
· the launch of the SA HIV and AIDS research and innovation platforms;
· 82 research chairs that were awarded;
· an increased number of people participating in the National Science Week Programme;
· the launch of a R100 million Platinum Development Fund to promote commercialization of platinum group metal technologies in South Africa;
· SA’s election as Vice-President of the Non-Aligned Movement Science and Technology Bureau for the next four years;
· R178 million leveraged by DST through official donor assistance;
· the finalization of the 10-year Global Change research plan;
· the roll-out of rural broadband connectivity using a wireless mesh network, that reached 150 schools in Nkangala District Municipality in Mpumalanga and part of the Sekhukhune District in Limpopo; and
· the establishment of a Titanium Centre of Competence was at an advanced stage.
The challenges in implementing some key performance areas included the economic recession, which resulted in substantial reprioritization, lack of intergovernmental co-ordination; the disparity of the financial and academic year calendars, which impacted on the disbursement of funds; and the strain on resources with the establishment of new entities.
The Committee was presented with an overview of medium-term priorities, deliverables and medium-term initiatives. The Committee was further briefed referring to a table which listed the major objectives, measurement indicators and output targets of the Department.
Monitoring and evaluation
One of the specific requests to the Department had been to to elaborate on the existing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess their programmes and projects. The Department summarized their monitoring and evaluation mechanisms as follows:
· monitoring and evaluation would be informed by the Presidency’s Outcomes framework, published in January 2010;
· strong focus on outcomes and indicators in the corporate strategy;
· a dedicated monitoring and evaluation unit within the Department;
· business plan very closely aligned with corporate strategy;
· quarterly reports with indicators;
· development of an internal Performance Information Management System;
· shareholder compact a key instrument used to link public entities’ targets to DST targets; and
· project funding to entities will be informed by programme objectives to assess the potential long-term impact of the interventions.
Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD)
Under Gross Expenditure on Research and Development it was reported that the 2007/8 Research and Development (R&D) survey showed spending on R&D amounted to R18.6 billion, that is 0.93 per cent of GDP. Spending decreased from 0.95% (2006/7) to 0.93% (2007/8). Private sector spending on R&D amounted to 57.7%.
Medium-term expenditure estimates
The estimated expenditure for the 2010/11 financial year amounted to R4.6 billion, increasing to R4.9 billion in 2011/12 and decreasing to R4.5 billion in 2012/13. 92.1% of the funds allocated go to public entities with the remainder to goods and services, compensation and payments for capital assets. Programmes such as Research, Development and Innovation are allocated 28%, Human Capital and Knowledge Systems is allocated 38%, Socio-Economic Partnerships receives 27%, International Co-operation and Resources amounts to 3%. The historical spending trends (2005-2009) of the Department reflect that over the years the Department spent the allocated to it.
Summary of Committee deliberations
1. Members wanted to know how effective expenditure on R&D was and whether it was measurable. The Department’s response was that they were only in a position to measure their outputs and that it was difficult to control the outcomes and socio-economic impact of projects after implementation.
2. Members enquired about the decrease in the amount allocated by Treasury in 2013 and what informed the cut? The response was that with less funding, National Treasury requested all government departments to review their budgets. The Department had to reprioritize programmes in such a manner that it did not necessarily stop programmes.
3. Reference was made to energy as one of the Grand Challenges identified by DST, but information was limited regarding DST’s role in alternative energy solutions and the amount spent on that. In response, the Committee was assured that though much of DST’s involvement in the field of energy was at a research level, a considerable amount of work was being done on the energy front, especially in the field of hydro-energy and that a number of projects were under way. The Department’s entity for energy research is the South African National Energy Research Institute (SANERI).
4. With regard to the Anglo Platinum Development Fund partnership and the initiatives in fuel cells and battery development, Members enquired to what extent there will be international collaboration given the amount of work done on battery development internationally or will the focus be on local manufacturing only. The Department indicated that it was in the process of reviewing the investment potential against the benefits.
5. The extent to which innovations in biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing, etc. linked with other or existing beneficiation programmes, was questioned. The Department indicated that there were a number of areas where the sole focus is on value-add. Four platforms were developed for the different types of metals such as precious metals, ferrous metals and light metals. The by-products of the metal industries allowed for advanced manufacturing in, for example, the area of chemicals. Other initiatives were in the agricultural sector. The Department undertook to do a full briefing with the Committee at a later stage on some of the socio-economic development projects.
6. A question was raised around the strategy for retaining scarce skills. An example was made of engineers finding themselves in other jobs outside engineering. The Department explained that this was a global phenomena and that retention strategies needed to be developed at institutional level instead of governmental level.
7. Reference was made to the DST’s target of 2% of GDP spend on R&D within a period of ten years and whether such a target was possible. In response, the Department clarified that the 2% target was merely a DST aspiration and that it was not a formal target.
8. Members enquired about the small-scale trout farming and abalone projects and whether it was limited to the Western Cape only. The response was that the aquaculture projects included trout and commercial abalone farms in the Western Cape as well as other marine fishery pilot projects in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces.
9. Clarity was required around the four new health initiatives mentioned in the presentation, its location and whether the initiatives were in response to a challenge identified. The Committee was informed that the choice of area for a project was informed by the needs of the region and community as well as the suitability of available technology. In some cases, proposals for pilot projects are referred to DST by other government departments.
10. Further examples of the rural quality of life improvement initiatives were required. The Department referred to pilot programmes launched in communities in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo with regard to alternative energy for use of television and stoves as well as for lighting purposes.
11. Members wanted to know how the Department plans to address the challenges they have in implementing some of its targets. The impact of the economic recession on certain programmes were noted and captured. The DST reported that the challenges of intergovernmental co-ordination on integrated projects were being addressed through fostering closer working relationships. Cabinet is also in the process of reviewing the cluster system in order to improve it.
12. One of the outputs identified was awarding 4900 students with bursaries during the period 2010-2013, members enquired to what extent was race, gender, disability and rural entrants were being considered when awarding those bursaries. The DST assured the Committee of their commitment in ensuring that bursaries are awarded in accordance with the equitable distribution of the general population and that the Department and its entities were mindful of the need to address the issues concerning gender, race, impoverished backgrounds and persons with disability.
13. Members enquired:
· why the target for the Technological Innovation Agency (TIA) to be fully operational has shifted from 2010 to 2013.
· what the potential problems were of amalgamating entities under TIA,
· the reasons why the CEO of TIA was in an acting position,
· the reason for the change of the target date for the appointment of a CEO from 30 March 2010 to 30 November 2010; and
· the reason for the lengthy delay in the appointment of the CEO.
The Department explained that at the time the TIA Board was appointed, the Agency could not yet be considered as fully operational. The establishment of the Agency took more time than anticipated. The different entities being merged into TIA had their own employment policies and contracts and it was necessary to consult with all personnel involved. The Department was involved in managing the process of aligning policies and introducing new processes such as access to funding. The Department undertook to revert back to the Committee around the appointment of the CEO.
1. The Committee noted that some of the targets set for strategic priorities have changed and would therefore require more details from the Department regarding factors necessitating these changes.
2. The Committee would engage the Department on the question of the awarding of Research Chairs, which they felt was not well-co-ordinated. The Committee encouraged a co-operative relationship between the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Higher Education to discuss issues in this regard and that the Committee should be kept abreast around developments of these discussions.
3. The Committee undertook to closely monitor the amalgamation of several entities into TIA amid insecurities raised by some of the entities’ management regarding their positioning within TIA.
4. The Committee noted that the target for the SA National Space Agency (SANSA) to come into operation seemed to have shifted to March 2013, the Committee required clarity on this as they were under the impression that SANSA was already in operation.
5. The Committee noted the important role that agencies such as the Technology Innovation Agency, National Space Agency and the National Intellectual Property Management Office have played in facilitating the development of cutting-edge science and technology capabilities in the country. For this reason, the Committee was disappointed to learn that these agencies were not yet fully operational or that the initial target dates for operationalisation have been shifted to later dates.
6. Members noted that very little was reported about progress being made since the Sumbandila satellite was launched and will be requiring an update from the Department on the matter.
7. The Department will be required to provide detailed presentations on the role of science and technology in energy security, the development of alternative energy-generation technology and energy as one of the Department’s grand challenges.
8. The Committee would require the Department’s participation and input when they receive a presentation from the University of the Western Cape on Indigenous Knowledge Systems in the following term.
9. The Committee was satisfied with the Department’s track –record of unqualified reports by the Auditor-General.
10. The Committee was satisfied with the Department’s historical spending trend of actual expenditure in relation to the amount voted for.
The Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, having considered and concluded its deliberations on Budget Vote 33: Science and Technology, and the Corporate Strategy 2010 – 2013, recommend that Budget Vote 33, be approved by the House.
Report to be considered
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