Members of the Extended Public Committee met in the Old Assembly Chamber at 09:04.
House Chairperson Mr K O Bapela, as Chairperson, took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment of silence for prayers or meditation.
ANNOUNCEMENTS, TABLINGS AND COMMITTEE REPORTS –see col 000.
APPROPRIATION BILL Debate on Vote No 31 – Science and Technology:
The MINISTER OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Chairperson, hon members, some years ago, in his address to a major science and technology forum in California, United States Congressman George Brown made an important point:
While we are justified in our celebration of scientific and technological advance that moves the boundaries of human understanding further out, what do we do about the people left behind by those advances? In a rapidly changing world, we may strand those who are left standing still, those without access to the benefits of our technological advance. We cannot ignore these people. We cannot become a nation of technological haves and have-nots.
In the same vein, we cannot allow South Africa to become a nation of technological haves and have-nots.
We are all united around the idea that the modernisation of the South African economy will only succeed if it is carried out in a socially inclusive manner. And whatever our successes, we must constantly ask ourselves whether what we have done has managed to embrace all who share South Africa's destiny.
Our clear purpose is to build a knowledge-based economy that is readily accessible to all our people; in which the production and dissemination of knowledge lead to economic benefits and enrich all fields of human endeavour. Most decidedly, we cannot allow developments in South Africa to "... strand those ... without access to the benefits of our technological advance".
The 2008 budget provides us with an opportunity to once again reflect on whether adequate steps are being taken to construct a knowledge-based economy, and to address the many challenges our country confronts. It is clear that modernisation of the economy is as urgent as ever, and that new science and technology-based approaches to energy and food production, and to education and health, for example, are required to achieve this objective.
Apart from the spending on the programmes falling under our mandate, my department is also concerned about total spend by the South African economy on research and development.
South Africa is richly endowed with mineral deposits. To maximise our competitive advantage, we need to ensure that we stay at the cutting edge of techniques involved in the extraction and processing of these minerals. South Africa also has an abundance of agricultural assets, and has established an enviable reputation as an exporter of high-quality farm produce. To remain competitive, we need to be constantly researching how to enhance the quality and quantity of what we produce.
In every area of scientific endeavour, and in all newly developing fields - from the development and testing of Aids vaccines, to the production of motor vehicles - both government and private enterprises need to put money aside for research and development. But, most important of all, we need to ensure that the benefits of science and technology are felt by all citizens.
Attractive research and development tax incentives are now in place, and my department is supporting communication efforts designed to ensure that these and other incentives are more frequently and compellingly brought to the attention of those likely to benefit from them, particularly smaller enterprises, which must also benefit from developments in science and technology.
When the Department of Science and Technology was established by President Thabo Mbeki five years ago, it was assigned a leading role in modernising our economy. This was a clear indication of the role that science and technology was expected to play in an economy which was then attempting to achieve an ambitious 6% to 7% growth rate.
I believe this is an appropriate time to examine what has been achieved in this respect, what remains to be done in the medium term, and to consider novel ways of advancing towards our goal of science, technology and innovation for all. We all have the responsibility to close the scientific and technological divide to avoid becoming a nation of technological haves and have-nots.
The need to attract and retain more talented recruits to the sciences stimulated a number of human capital programmes, such as the Centres of Excellence and the SA Research Chairs Initiative. In the past two years, we have established 72 research chairs at our higher education institutions, 16 of which are in new disciplines. Our target is to establish 210 research chairs by 2010 to contribute to the growth of high-level research capital and production capacity in the academic and industrial sectors. Although what we have achieved is not yet enough to meet our needs, we are very proud of the people who are engaged in this critical programme.
On Monday, 26 May, the National Research Foundation held its first Ph D Fair. It was uplifting to see so many of our young people enthusiastically committing to study for a doctorate and using their acquired skills to contribute to the modernisation and competitiveness of our economy.
These initiatives are having a positive effect, but our major challenge is at school level. The number of school-leavers with good passes in mathematics and science remains low. And it is clear that unless we spark our children's interest in science, engineering and technology from an early age, we are likely to lose these minds to the scientific disciplines forever. This is clearly something we cannot allow to happen, and we are working with the Department of Education to implement the “Youth into Science” strategy, which was approved by Cabinet in March 2007. Failure to ensure the attainment of the set targets in the strategy will mean we will be leaving behind many of our brightest and best, who are critical to our future progress as a nation.
To give effect to the provisions of the Youth into Science strategy, we have developed a plan to establish a network of science centres across the country. Other initiatives supporting this strategy include the National Science Week, mathematics and science camps for learners, support programmes for educators, increased support for existing science centres, and the mobilisation of the corporate sector in support of science awareness campaigns. The number of science centres has increased from nine to 17 in the past three years, and our long-term goal is to have a science centre in every district.
What is at stake here is the wellbeing of our society. If we continue to lose the best of our young minds, our National System of Innovation will be rendered ineffectual, and our infrastructure, environment and economy will suffer - so will our goal of science and technology for all.
As Africa's largest economy, one which other African countries often look to for guidance, South Africa continues to play an important role in the development, integration and unification of our continent, principally through our participation in the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Science and technology are critical elements in this initiative. South Africa served as chair of the African Ministers' Council for Science and Technology for the first two years after that organisation came into existence. This gave us a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the disciplines of human endeavour that contribute substantially to the improvement of the quality of the lives of the human race. We are agreed that we cannot allow scientific advances to leave our people behind.
The field of astronomy has been a particular success for us in our quest to create a knowledge-based economy. This is not just because of our geographic position, though that has had a lot to do with it. As you know, the Southern African Large Telescope, Salt, was launched by the President in November 2005. Assisted by other initiatives such as our membership of the Group on Earth Observation, this brought us a step closer towards the objective of creating a hub of astronomy research in Southern Africa.
Our leadership role in this progressive multilateral body has ensured that our satellite ground stations at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research become central to the download and processing of China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellites imagery and its distribution, cost-free, throughout Africa. The data produced assists in agricultural planning and improved resource management. At a time of sharply escalating global food prices, the value of such planning cannot be underestimated.
As many of you know, we are seeking to increase our activities in astronomy by co-ordinating an international bid that includes many African partners to host the extraordinary new Square Kilometre Array, SKA, radio telescope. South Africa and Australia are the only remaining bidders to host this sensational device.
The SKA is not only a set of dishes in the Karoo; it is also a project that combines fundamental developments in radio frequency technology, information and communication technology, and high-performance computing. The telescope will need the fastest data transport networks and most powerful computing facilities possible. As a result, the project has the potential to seed various new industries in the information and communication technology, ICT, sector. Data would have to be moved very quickly, so there will be an impact on data transport and signal processing for one, and therefore technologies will have to be introduced to carry information at about a terabit a second. This is faster than the IBM Blue Gene, currently the fastest supercomputer in the world.
The Square Kilometre Array will give us the unique advantage of researching the mysteries surrounding the origins of the universe and humankind from a single vantage point. We are not simply hoping that this wonderful project will land in our laps; our hardworking team is now in the second of three stages in the construction of our smaller-scale demo model, the Karoo Array Telescope, and the MeerKAT. The MeerKAT will showcase novel production technologies, and will be an important instrument for exploring the evolution of galaxies and the nature of transient radio sources.
I am pleased by the recent installation of the super-fast broadband connectivity at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, HartRAO, which means that the South African radio telescope can now, for the first time, participate in major global astronomical experiments in real time.
The first such experiment involving HartRAO took place in the first week of this month, and it also marked the start of the connection between the SA National Research and Education Network, SANReN, and Europe's Geant2 which is the world's largest computer network devoted to research and education. The South African radio telescope was linked to the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry, VLBI, radio telescope network.
Much of this work would not have been possible without a significant increase in the Department of Science and Technology's budget allocation. National Treasury gave the Department an extra R1,2 billon over the 2007 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework for a wide range of programmes. Last year, Treasury gave Science and Technology an additional amount of R405 million over the three-year period, bringing the total budget to R3,7 billion for 2008-09, rising to R4,2 billion in 2009-10 and R4,5 billion in 2010-11.
The budget sets aside R195 million for strengthening the scientific capacity of higher education institutions in the light of the number of research chairs, which will increase by at least 30% over the next three years, to provide mentorship to postgraduate students.
While the Department's efforts have generally met with approval, we have not been without our critics. The public wants to see ongoing evidence of socioeconomic benefits flowing directly from scientific and technological investment, and this is not always easy to provide.
Again, while deploring the relative superficiality of such tangible evidence, well-meaning critics have also accused the department of having set goals that are too broad and therefore difficult to measure. Others feel the department is one-dimensional, that is, its efforts have been confined to science rather than the full spectrum of innovation; and that because of this inclination, it has failed to capture the full value chain of investment for the economy. We have also been challenged to approach the innovation chain from more than one direction.
To meet these challenges, we are taking a number of bold steps. One of these is the creation of a Technology Innovation Agency, a new public entity which we hope to establish before the end of the year. It is designed to provide financial assistance to individuals or parties to enable them to develop and commercialise their technological innovations and inventions. The agency will also draw together and integrate the management of disparate technological innovation initiatives that are still at an early development stage.
The agency will also become a custodian of the Centres of Competence. These centres arise from the need to actively promote greater collaboration between and among the academia, industry, research councils, entrepreneurs or technopreneurs, international research organisations, companies and individual inventors and innovators, so that this collaborative effort produces socioeconomic benefits for the country. The Centres of Competence complement the Centres of Excellence which we launched in 2004, which are focused primarily on basic research, knowledge production and publications.
The TIA concept is closely aligned with another initiative: government's policy on intellectual property derived from publicly financed research and development. This has been a grey area for far too long. Bitter experience has revealed the importance of establishing clarity of purpose on the issue. With the support of Cabinet, we have developed a policy framework and draft legislation, which we will soon be introducing to Parliament.
The policy framework provides for the development of definite and clear obligations related to the ownership of such intellectual property. It articulates well-defined benefits for researchers who disclose their inventions to the institutions for which they are working, and provides for access to skills and funding for the commercialisation of such inventions.
The draft legislation provides for an enabling environment for intellectual property creation, protection, management and commercialisation. It also gives greater clarity on the ownership of intellectual property generated from publicly financed research. All these interventions will be supported and guided by a National Intellectual Property Management Office to be established by the same legislation.
These initiatives are all part of a larger plan, the Ten-Year Innovation Plan for South Africa, which charts the course to enhanced innovation over the next decade. The plan has enormous potential to contribute to sustained economic growth and entrenchment of a knowledge-based economy. Key development focus areas have been identified in the plan as the "grand challenges". These include the challenge of developing our bioeconomy. We have the good fortune to live in a country with the world's third largest biodiversity resource base, and a solid foundation of expertise. The need here is to manage the product value chain systematically in order to exploit these advantages for the establishment of a globally competitive nutraceutical and pharmaceutical industry.
In terms of the challenge of space science and technology, one of the ways we are responding to this challenge is through the establishment of a South African National Space Agency, which will assist us to grow and manage, in a co-ordinated fashion, our satellite industry and a range of innovations in space sciences, earth observation, communications and navigation.
With regard to the challenge to provide energy security, working closely with industry, we are exploring opportunities in clean coal technologies, nuclear energy, renewable energy and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, as well as other promising possibilities.
When it comes to the challenge of global change, South Africa's geographic position, biodiversity and the large pool of expertise enable us to play a leading role in climate change science. Given our proximity to Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, and the confluence of the Agulhas and Benguela currents, we are ideally positioned to serve as a unique laboratory.
These dynamics are at the core of nearly every major challenge facing South Africa - from climate change and the recent or present negrophobic violence to creating a competitive and innovative workforce.
We plan to direct the focus of the National System of Innovation to address these challenges. We have confidence in our ability to progress, despite the fact that there are many more than these five grand challenges, and that new challenges will emerge.
Our country’s standing in various multilateral organisations such as Unesco and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides further opportunities. For example, we secured the African component of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, located here in Cape Town, which was opened by the President in September last year. And speaking of international co-operation, let us not forget our partnership with the European Commission through which South African and European scientists are collaborating in addressing a wide range of problems, including tuberculosis, malaria and research into HIV.
I must add that in all these engagements more South African scientists and technologists are increasingly empowered to hold their own among their peers. Under the EU’s previous science and technology research programme, or the Sixth Framework Programme, South African researchers participated in 117 international projects, winning funding of €13,8 million. South Africa ranked fourth - after the US, China and Russia - regarding successful FP6 participation by non-EU countries.
We know what our problems are, and we have a vision of how to overcome them. The overarching objective is to end poverty and improve the quality of life of all our people. In the case of the department I have the honour to lead, we must ensure that all South Africans have an opportunity to contribute their solutions to the gigantic puzzle that represents our country’s scientific and technological progress.
There is no progress for any of us without science. And science and technology for all is not just a vision for one government department, but a national imperative. In advancing South Africa to a knowledge economy, we cannot afford to leave any of our fellow citizens behind.
I think that with the support of the excellent team we have, of officials in the Department of Science and Technology, we will succeed. We have noticed, though, that those officials love the Deputy Minister and me less and less. In the past, whenever we came to such occasions, they would decorate and beautify us with flowers, but this time no attempt was made to spruce us up. [Laughter.] And you can see what we look like. You would agree that the Deputy Minister in particular needs quite a lot of attention, making him more and more “un-lookable”. [Laughter.] But, nevertheless, we thank the officials, led by our director-general, Dr Phil Mjwara, for their dedication and commendable work. Thank you, Chair. [Applause.]
The HOUSE CHAIRPERSON (Mr K O Bapela): Thank you very much. The speaker ... I haven’t called you, hon Oliphant. Wait for your name to be called. I know it’s your first Budget Vote speech as the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology. I wanted to acknowledge that; it is not your maiden speech, but your first Budget Vote speech as the chair. [Laughter.]
Mr G G OLIPHANT: Thank you very much, Chairperson. I was standing up for attention, actually. Minister and Deputy Minister, we will ensure that we instruct the department to give you their attention henceforth, so you don’t have to worry about that. We will attend to that as well.
The month of May 2008 has been a very eventful one in the sociopolitical landscape of our country. It started with highly successful May Day rallies across the length and breadth of South Africa, organised by the tripartite alliance. We salute the solidarity amongst the working class of the world and will continue to support the historic struggles for decent working conditions and a reduction in working hours towards an eight-hour day, 40-hour working week.
On 8 May 2008, the Minister of Science and Technology, the hon Mosibudi Mangena, launched the National Science Week with the theme “Tomorrow’s Science and Technology is in our Youth’s Hands.” We need to ensure, Minister, that we do not lose this momentum and that we continue to work closely with the Department of Education in order to improve the standard of science and mathematics at primary and high-school levels.
Members would also recall that we had a very successful alliance summit to better chart the future of this country in this very same month of May. Comrade Derek Hanekom here just reminds me that some of them made efforts to celebrate Mother’s Day also in this month. We thank you very much for giving that recognition to the mothers of the nation.
The date, 25 May, remains a very important date on the calendar of this continent. I wish to thank the Africa Institute of SA and the Department of Arts and Culture for having hosted the Africa Day celebrations and a symposium for this year at the National Cultural History Museum in Tshwane. This day is, in fact, a public holiday in many African states. I still wish to know why South Africa is still lagging behind.
Most importantly, the portfolio committee wishes to congratulate the National Research Foundation team, under the leadership of Professor Mangaliso, on a most successful launch of the ambitious Ph D Programme conference held from 25 May to 27 May 2008. We wish to assure the National Research Foundation and the department of our full support for this programme.
We also salute the positive spirit of activism that began to engulf our country in the recent past, but also regret the recent violent attacks on our brothers and sisters, children included, who are from neighbouring countries. These acts of xenophobic behaviour shall remain a shameful reminder of how things can go wrong right under our noses if we continue to remain complacent about our responsibilities towards the poor and marginalised communities.
The portfolio committee has also interacted with all the science councils, the Department of Science and Technology and related entities and institutions during the month of April and May 2008 to discuss their strategic plans and budget. We are satisfied that we have the finest scientists and engineers in our country, plus some of the best infrastructure and systems to enable us to conduct proper research and carry out the requisite scientific work. It is in this context that the ANC supports this Budget Vote.
The month of June 2008 is going to be a very busy one for the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology in relation to legislation before us. The South African National Space Agency Bill was published for public comment in the national print media and public hearings are scheduled to take place on 3 June and 4 June 2008 in Parliament. We would not want to pre-empt these hearings save to mention that we have received correspondence from the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Science and from the University of the Western Cape’s Political Science department indicating their strong support for this Bill.