Minister unhappy with science and technology budget vote

April 22nd, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT, Articles: PositionIT


Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor :"South Africa is not investing enough in science, technology and innovation"

Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor

South Africa is not investing enough in science, technology and innovation. “If we do not change this trend, we will be overtaken by nations that have less capacity and knowledge resources than we have”, the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor told Parliament during her budget vote. “Failure to address the funding of this sector is causing the country to neglect several sectors that could offer South Africa talent, new products and real contributions to growth.”

“Despite this, the department is making good progress in building a strong National System of Innovation. However, there are several areas of science in which we could do much more – such as creating new industries, new products and new services – but all these require additional financial resources.”

The minister made no mention of the EO-Sat1 earth observation satellite or the funding of the project. The EO-Sat1 satellite has been in the planning stage for several years, to be part of the African Resource Management Constellation (ARMC) – a collaboration involving Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Algeria. Initially conceived around 2004, when it was named the African Resource and Environmental Management Satellite Constellation, the initiative was meant to develop a constellation of satellites to provide real time, unrestricted and affordable access to satellite data to support effective environmental and resource management in Africa. The space agreement on the ARMC, which is a Memorandum of Understanding between the partners, was signed by the governments of the four countries on 7 December 2009 during the Third African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development held in Algiers, Algeria.

On the question of progress and funding of EO-SAT-1 , EE Publishers approached SANSA for more information. SANSA CEO, Sandile Malinga responded that the R125-million made available to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in the DST budget announcement does not include funds for the development of EO-Sat1; it only relates to the core operations of SANSA. EO-Sat1 is funded separately through the Economic Competitiveness Support Package and this money is made available annually (including this financial year) by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to SANSA in line with projected project requirements and cash flows. “It is important to clarify that the project has progressed from the planning phase to the design and development phase and, in this regard, satisfactory progress has been made,” he said.

The minister said young people have been identified as those most in need of support through skills development and enterprise creation. “We intend to strengthen our efforts to reach the youth”, she said.

In this regard, the department plans to host an inaugural Youth Assembly on the knowledge economy. The assembly will provide a forum for young people to learn how to create businesses and social enterprises using advances in technology and knowledge.

In 2015/16, the DST supported 1 276 youth through the Technology Innovation Agency. This includes support for 52 youth-owned SMEs, 951 youth-owned SMEs that receive support from the Technology Stations Programme, and 273 individuals trained through the Youth Skills Development Programme, with 85 of them receiving international training.

The DST will pilot a grassroots innovation initiative in 2016/17 with a R2-million investment that will focus on supporting innovators and technology entrepreneurs in the informal sector and in marginalised communities.

The DST’s total budget for the 2016/17 financial year is R7,4-billion, of which R2,7-billion in Parliamentary grants is transferred to the entities reporting to the department, namely:

  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – R872-million.
  • National Research Foundation – R883-million.
  • Human Sciences Research Council – R290-million.
  • Technology Innovation Agency – R382-million.
  • South African National Space Agency – R125-million.
  • Academy of Science of South Africa – R23-million.

The budget made available for science and technology is the same as last year and has not increased. The relatively low spend in this area is of serious concern if South Africa really wishes to turn its economy into a knowledge economy.

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