Citizens of South Africa,
With a budget of R37.5 million the Department Social Development is mandated to serve the poorest citizens of this country through its support of non-profit organisations (NPO).
It is still very evident that the Department does not have a clear plan on how they can best assist our most vulnerable communities.
We have established that the Department does not have an adequate NPO database yet, and the one currently in use is managed manually which is very difficult to monitor.
If the Department can move fast on implementing this, it could off load the burden on NPO’s as it will assist them in identifying, by a click of a button, how many NPO’s are funded and on what basis.
The absence of a proper management mechanism for NPO databases have dire consequences as many
NPO’s continue to struggle financially, and have already had to close down.
One such example is The Saving Grace situated in Lekwa Local Municipality in Mpumalanga. It is run by Mrs. Bongiwe Immaculate Sibeko, and it used to house around 18 children with ages ranging between 2 and 18 years.
Most of these children are orphaned and The Saving Grace was their only home, but today they are ALL homeless. We cannot continue to fail our children in this manner.
Women and Child Protection
We condemn the killing of women in our country in the strongest terms possible. Perpetrators of these killings should be given the maximum life sentences possible.
I wish to welcome Judge Peet Johnson’s heavy sentencing of one such case where on the 3rd May 2018. He sentenced Sandile Mantsoe to 32 years in jail for killing Karabo Mokoena.
Unfortunately there are many such unreported cases like one Ms. Fikile Ngwenya from Lekwa who resided in Rooikoppen was found dead in her house on the 10th April 2018.
She was allegedly strangled to death by her boyfriend.
I also need to mention Fikile Nengovhela, who was reportedly shot and killed by her husband together with her 6 month old baby in Evander, Govan Mbeki Municipality on the 3rd of May 2018.
It is critical to note these are only reported cases.
The DA is also concerned about the alleged serial women abuser, ANC MP, Mduduzi Manana who allegedly violently abused his domestic worker. We call on law enforcement agencies especially the NPA to prosecute Manana without fear or favour and to ensure that he faces the full might of the law.
There is a growing need for government to implement programmes that will raise awareness on how best to manage their anger and channel their energy in a constructive manner, and to prevent women and children from becoming victims of domestic violence.
People with disabilities
It is alarming to learn that the Welfare Services Policy Development and Implementation Support budget for people who are living with disabilities have been decreased by 2%, on the back of the 1% increment on VAT.
This decrease will have a severe impact on the much needed research to be done to find lasting and effective solutions to assist people living with disabilities.
We challenge the ANC government to start taking our people seriously by investing more money in this section of Social Development Programme.
This budget is proof that the ANC does not care about the needs of vulnerable communities within our society. The DA is the only party that can build a South Africa
Honourable Speaker, Honourable Minister, guests in the gallery.
I think everyone in South Africa is relieved to have a new Minister in the Social Development portfolio who seems collaborative and willing to address problems in this Department. However, my genuine concern is that the Minister will be kept so busy with sorting out administrative problems that core policy issues will remain unaddressed and this is where the real problem lies.
The entire model of the Department is outdated.
It dates from the industrial age which assumes that the majority of people will be in permanent wage employment while only a small number of people will be on welfare for a short period of time.
A reality which does not exist in South Africa.
As a result entire families have to survive on an old age grant, a disability grant and most concerning a child grant.
I emphasise the latter because it constitutes almost 70% of all grants being distributed.
Peter Drucker once said: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”.
When it comes to this budget and the announcement that grants will be increased what wasn’t said was that the purchasing power of grant beneficiaries will in all likelihood be less because of the impact of inflation, the vat increase, the fuel levy and on top of that an additional bank charge of R10 to some grant beneficiaries due to the CPS contract debacle. Meaning, mothers will actually have even less money in their pockets, not more.
This is the key difference between the child grant now and in 1998 when it was introduced. In 1998, the financial value of a child grant was derived from the Household Subsistence Level for food and clothing for children. In other words it was link to an objective measure of what it costs to look after a child.
In a Parliamentary question last year, the Department admitted they no longer follow this approach.
As a result of this policy deviation and this budget, one of the most profound and direct consequences will be an increase in the number of children losing their lives every day due to sever acute malnutrition and stunted growth.
Unseen, will be the increased levels of stress and trauma experienced by families who are forced to make impossible choices. In some certain instances, mothers have to sacrifice their own bodies and fathers often feel they have no worth because they can’t provide.
This, Honourable Speaker, is the toxic mix which keeps our highly unequal society firmly intact.
The DA understands that malnutrition is among some of the most serious social and economic issues South Africa faces. The reason for this is that it causes children to struggle in and leave school; leads to illness; an inability to work and often fuels violence.
What is needed is total change on a policy level. The DA believes the first step in building such a new system is to align the child grant to an objective measure of what it costs to actually feed a child and closing the gaps in the social assistance scheme. This must be combined with robust economic growth and the creation of jobs.
A child grant, set below the food poverty line in a context of long term mass unemployment is simply unacceptable.
The DA will continue to fight to fight to see an increase in the child grant, as it is clear that the ANC government has no idea how the poor truly live in South Africa.
This Annual Performance Plan budget vote debate coincides with a change of Minister in the Department of Social Development, which has a direct impact on the state of the department and its entities.
We are at a very critical stage in the life of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), with what we hope to be the last portion of grants paid by CPS.
What does this mean for the implementation of the plans we are debating today? If the latest meetings we have had with the new Minister are anything to go by, South Africa, especially the 17 million beneficiaries of the grants may just have their dignity restored.
It has been refreshing to listen to a Minister who seems to be upfront, transparent and in touch with the real issues that affect the vulnerable and the poor. We are, therefore, cautiously excited to work with the new Minister.
What has the Minister walked into though?
A department with key and critical positions filled in an acting capacity, which includes the Department’s Director General.
The entity that is responsible for the disbursement of R151 billion per year does not have a permanent CEO or COO; 7 of out 9 Regional Executive Managers are acting and a Corporate Services Executive have been in an acting status since 2009.
Why then, would it be surprising, for this agency to be run by the Constitutional Court?
At a risk of sounding like a prophet of doom Chairperson, the other parts of the Department are also teetering on the verge of collapse.
The NGO’s, to whom the department refers to as “’the key partners for social development”, are paid late or not paid at all. The Department’s offices in especially rural provinces operate from caravans since the 1990s.
Workers’ pleas for better working conditions fall on deaf ears! This is the Department which is leading in ensuring that social workers are deployed to alleviate the high levels of vulnerability in our society – these social workers are unemployed and sitting at home or work at tills in supermarkets
while their demand it skyrocketing both in government and the NGO sector.
The Minister has her work cut out in this department and we stand ready to work with her to ensure oversight takes place.
During the previous Minister of Social Development’s tenure, the DA called for the intervention of Treasury; a full Parliamentary Inquiry into the relationship between CPS and SASSA, including the bizarre payment of R316 million to CPS without following proper procedures; the personal security for the previous Minister’s, her spokesperson and the previous CEO’s children’s security without valid threat analyses; and why these security contracts were entered into with SASSA and not the Department!
It is disconcerting how a Minister could get away with so much and how calls to hold her to account
could repeatedly go unheeded!
The Democratic Alliance have made it clear, we will continue to explore every possible Parliamentary avenue to fight for the constitutional rights of the poor and vulnerable.
We will, through the available Parliamentary oversight mechanisms, hold the Executive to account at every turn. This is because as the DA we believe that we need to create one South Africa for all, and that this can only be done by ensuring freedom, fairness and equal opportunities – especially for most vulnerable citizens in our society.
The DA will ensure that all the poor and vulnerable South Africans, deserving of the Department of Social Development’s services, have access to those services.
Thank you Chairperson
Statistics, it has been said, are ordinarily used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
Chairperson, the conviction rates again quoted here today by the Minister as so-called proof of the good performance of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the criminal justice system, must be put in perspective.
If we, for a moment, assess real numbers rather than percentages, the following figures illuminate the regression in performance by the NPA under the political leadership of this Minister.
Consider this: Since 2015/16 the NPA has been allowed to lower the target they set themselves in respect of cases finalised with a verdict in our lower courts for 2018/19 from 337 403 to 298 706 in 2018/19.
In respect of convictions relating to sexual offences, the target for convictions expressed as real numbers have been adjusted downwards from 5 869 to 4 602, while the number of Thuthuzela Care Centres (once hailed as proof that this government is a caring one that empathises with the plight of victims of sexual crimes) aimed to be operational have also been adjusted downwards from 68 to only 55.
Juxtapose this with the information that over the same period murder increased by 1.8%, sexual assault by almost 1%, robbery with aggravating circumstances by almost 6% and carjackings by a massive 14.5%.
This clearly and sadly indicates how the system is already increasingly failing to deliver justice to victims who, by their very nature, are wholly dependent on this very system for safety and justice.
But Chair, this picture becomes even grimmer if we consider the manner in which the system keeps on failing us as South Africans in respect of the cardinal role it should play to fight the plague of corruption, state capture, fraud and theft that has so nearly robbed us of our constitutional integrity and freedom.
And yes, we have noted the massive increases in the targets set in respect of specifically the amounts to be recovered through corruption related prosecution and the concurrent freezing orders for this upcoming year.
But, given the inept and lackadaisical manner in which specifically the possible prosecution and arrests of the Guptas were handled earlier this year, when these crooks fled the country while apparently being under the constant surveillance of the Hawks, who acted under the guidance of the NPA, it would seem these targets are but a pipedream.
So, what must be done to turn this ship around?
Firstly Chair, the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions and the deputies stationed at the NPA headquarters should be filled by people who South Africans can trust to be not only competent but also committed to do this job without fear, favour or prejudice.
People like Shaun Abrahams, Nomgcobo Jiba and Lawrence Mrwebi have sucked out all public confidence in the leadership of the NPA through the manner in which they have undermined the rule of law through political manipulation of prosecutorial decisions.
Minister, while you are very eager to proclaim that you only have an overarching responsibility for the NPA, we know from the judgment in the Freedom Under Law case that you were prepared to dirty your hands and place your signature on an unlawful agreement with Mr Nxasana to get him to leave office – a move solely motivated by your zeal to serve your former political master, Jacob Zuma.
Now, President Ramaphosa, deliverer of New Dawns, Protector of our Constitution and King of the Walkers has asked for volunteers, people who are willing to be sent.
Here is a thought Minister: You can at least partially redeem yourself and for once do something of significance founded in sound, lawful reasoning. Just ask President Ramaphosa to send you with a note to Abrahams, Jiba and Mrwebi informing them that they should pack and leave – immediately.
Secondly chair, our justice and criminal justice systems are also under threat from budget cuts which now constitutes underfunding.
Are we to react to this apparent new normal of an ever shrinking budget with acceptance and a mild plea to National Treasury to look into assisting the NPA and Legal Aid, while also suggesting cost cutting measures to the role players in the justice system we oversee?
All of this while specifically Legal Aid has been operating without any of the trimmings and trappings so often associated with governmental indulgence long before the word austerity was first uttered post the 2009 recession.
No, what should happen is that the Department of Justice should embark on a critical evaluation of every position within its staff establishment in order to streamline its organogram in order to ensure that only essential positions remain.
The current way of assessing whether positions are to be deemed critical when they become vacant and are only filled then only tells us one thing: There are still non-essential positions in the staff establishment. We must act now, before service delivery is fatally wounded.
The Democratic Alliance would like to thank the former Statistician General Dr Pali Lehohla for his 17 years of distinguished service to Statistics South Africa and the nation and welcome the new SG, Mr Risenga Maluleke. Mr Maluleke you, sir, have a very important, yet difficult task ahead of you and your shrinking team.
On that note chairperson, I am certain that much of today’s debate will centre on the continuous budget reductions applied to Statistics South Africa and the consequences thereof. This is entirely valid as it compromises both the aim and purpose of Stats SA.
The aim of Stats SA is to provide relevant and accurate statistics in line with internationally approved practice to inform users of the dynamics of the economy and society.
According to the Statistics Act, the purpose of official statistics is to assist organs of state, business, other organisations and the public in planning, decision-making, and monitoring or assessment of policies.
We are living in a global information society where the amount of information and its flow to society is increasing. Statistics play a major role in shaping and providing scientific information that is useful in almost every aspect of human life.
Modern decision making, whether done by a national government, potential investors or an international agency, is increasingly using statistical methods to improve the quality of information and decision making.
Increasing appreciation of the role, power and importance of statistics should lead to a higher priority attached to statistical capacity development.
Yet the budget before us stands at R2.22 billion for the 2018/2019 financial year. This is a significant reduction compared to the R2.49 billion budgeted in the 2016/2017 financial year.
These budget cuts have particularly compromised the ability of Stats SA to fill, attract and retain necessary skills. Its staff complement has been reduced with a significant decrease of funded posts in the current financial year.
At a time when Stats SA should have access to the best skills in the market to embody a modern, cutting edge utility, vacancies stopped being filled in October 2016, 170 staff have since left, and the vacancy rate has increased to 13%.
The consequence is that current staff are overstretched and more prone to errors, and the decline of the skills base continues unabated while Stats SA remains unable to fill critical vacancies. This puts basic statistics at risk of a declining quality over time.
Some of the key indicators at risk include:
– Gross Domestic Product;
– Poverty and service delivery;
– Consumer Price Index;
– Fertility and Mortality;
– Employment; and
– Population estimates
The risks to the population estimates alone will have significant consequences to the Division of Revenue Amendment Bill.
Hon. Chairperson, it thus becomes incumbent on us to ask why the untenable situation at this important institution has been allowed to persist given its importance to the nation and the work of government.
Last year in this very debate, I spoke of the need for government to make use of evidence-based policymaking in realising the goals set out in the National Development Plan.
In simple terms, evidence-based policy-making is a means by which policies and programmes intended to improve lives are based on clearly defined, time-bound, and measurable milestones.
This allows timely modification, consolidation or change of policy as the case may require, thus ensuring urgent responses to challenges.
It is in this context that statistics become part and parcel of ‘evidence-based’ policy-making, statistics understood here to mean more than a routine collection and storage of numbers, but rather as credible and scientifically derived evidence intended to evaluate the impact of policy-making.
Our statistics will remain meaningless and of little value to policymakers unless and until they are embedded in the key priorities of government and become part of the planning tools used by the three spheres of government in directing resources and informing the policy and practices implemented in order to achieve the goals set by the NDP in the manner prescribed by the NDP.
The lives of our people will also not improve when faced with a government that does not recognise the value and import of accurate statistics it can rely on in its every day work.
Honourabl eChairperson, a DA government would staff and equip this institution, utilising the valuable information produced to bring about total change for all the people of South African.
We will use it to combat inequality, to make our communities safer, to skill our youth, to attract investment and to create jobs, to combat illegal immigration, to confront apartheid spatial planning and improve the health services of government. Clearly this is not happening under our current government.
The Democratic Alliance would like to applaud the former Statistician-General, Dr Pali Lehohla, for the praiseworthy job he has done over the years at Statistics South Africa.
We also wish him the best in his new endeavours.
Furthermore, we would like to welcome Mr Risenga Maluleke, the new Statistician-General, and wish him success in his high posting to this very important institution.
Stats SA has worked incredibly hard over many years to earn local and international respect and recognition as a reputable institution. This reputation must be jealously guarded by all of us.
As such, Stats SA must always be free from any political interference in the production and dissemination of official statistics.
While we welcome the commitment of Mr Maluleke and his team to collective leadership responsibility to enhance high quality performance of the institution, we would like to caution that this should not stand in the way of individual accountability where this is necessary.
The department has a budget of R2.2 billion for 2018/19, increasing to R3.3 billion by 2020/21. While this may appear to be significant, the department has some serious budget constraints that have serious negative consequences on staffing and staff morale.
During the 2017/18 financial year, more than 104 staff members left Stats SA, to make a total of 170 vacancies in the department – a vacancy rate of 13.8%.
The department had a staff complement of 1 352 in 2017/18 compared to 1 408 staff members in 2016/17, a significant decrease in funded posts.
At the same time, what the institution has tagged as abuse of sick-leave continues to plague the department. This has a serious negative impact on performance. The committee noted with deep concern that 13 423 days were lost to sick-leave at a cost of R35.7 million during the 2016/17 financial year. The matter is being investigated to establish the real causes and deal with them expeditiously.
The deep concern for Stats-SA is that staff members who leave the department are mostly specialists and technically skilled people who should be retained. An adequate budget for Compensation of Employees should remedy this problem.
However, due to inadequate budget, the department has not been able to fill any vacancies since 2016.
In fact, the projected overspending on compensation of employees before virements is expected to be R146 million for 2018/19, R181 million in 2019/20 and R194million in 2020/21.
The DA recognises that economic times are tough and that there should be serious belt-tightening, but we would like to caution that the government should not be penny wise and pound foolish in the case of Stats SA.
A major risk to the department is that budget cuts can lead to a decline in the quality of performance due to staff shortages.
Another significant risk concerns Census 2021.
The Census 2021 Budget has been estimated at R3.3 billion. If this cannot be provided, the department will have to revert to costly old mode collection of statistics. This will impact the timelines for the release of the numbers. It furthermore cost the country R7 billion to get the task completed if the department was forced to revert to old statistic collection modes.
For this reason, the Portfolio Committee has recommended that National Treasury, working with the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation on the budget prioritisation framework, should ensure that Stats SA is provided with adequate funds to conduct the Census.
The results of the Management Performance Assessment Tool 2017, finalised in March 2017 provide but one justification to pay special attention to the funding of Stats SA
Stats SA scored highest in a comparison of three key departments: The Presidency, the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and Stats SA in the key performance areas of Strategic Management, Governance and Accountability, Human Resource Management and Financial Management.
Accurate, credible data enhances precise planning and costing, and reduces wastage of resources.
For this reason alone, it is crucial that we provide Stats SA with the resources it needs to continue to provide high quality services to our people.
Speaker, chairperson, officials from the Department of Science and Technology, colleagues and guests.
Mass unemployment is an unavoidable consequence of the conditions that have been created in South Africa by a combination of lack of skills, poor education, unavailability of on-the-job training and the aversion of employers to hiring unskilled, inexperienced, poorly educated, and otherwise disadvantaged individuals.
According to StatsSA approximately 16.1 million people are employed whilst roughly 9.2 million people in SA are either unemployed, discouraged about finding a job and are considered under-employed.
Technological innovation is taking place at an intense pace and is lauded as a game changer for humans. Technological innovation is disrupting almost every industry in the world, this is the 4th industrial revolution or industry 4.0.
Technological advancement means that humans through digital intelligence can simplify and achieve which was once complicated and impossible.
The biggest problem in South Africa is that our leaders are stuck in a protectionist mode.
Unions in South Africa is not engaging government and business on the issue of job security and skills development around industry 4.0 – loosing the opportunity to become major players with regard to technological advancements in their respective industries.
It is estimated that by 2030 at least 60% of occupations will be automated, meaning that globally almost 375 million people may need to change jobs or learn new skills.
The world economic report estimates that disruptive trends in the labour market could lead to a loss of 7.1million jobs, two thirds of which will be in administration. The saliency regarding the looming 4th industrial revolution which indicates that over one third of skills that are considered important will have changed in the near future, should be addressed.
The urgency to create a knowledge economy is clearly hampered by our education system.
- The ratio of maths literacy to maths candidates have changed from 0.9: 1 in 2008 to 1,5:1 in 2016;
- In the poorest quintile schools 1/100 matric candidates will receive a maths and science distinction;
- Just 1 in 3 schools have a library and 1 in 5 schools have a science laboratory; and
- The unemployment rate for tertiary qualified professionals have increase from 7.5%in 2008 to 13.2% today.
While maths and science education is poor across the board in South Africa, the quality is worse in the poorest quintile of schools, leaving no doubt that school education is replicating trends of poverty and inequality in our society
The purpose of this budget vote is to realise the potential of science and technology in social and economic development by developing human capacity resources, research and innovation.
The budget increase of R233.3 million in real terms mean a decrease of 2.3% when considering inflation and the 1% VAT increase. Funding allocations to the research, development and support programme and technology innovation programme is not adequate enough to reach the desired outcomes of generating a knowledge based society for inclusive economic development.
The World Economic Forum identifies critical skills needed in 2020 such as; complex problem solving skills, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
We need to promote and advance initiatives that link education to real world application of skills and we need to enhance skills that will serve our youth in the future. This can be achieved by expanding the high-skilled talent pool through development of the future ready curricula, with a large portion of that focusing on STEM education.
The spending of research and development of 1% of GDP is needed for science and technology to fulfill a greater role in economic growth, to adequately transform the sector and to increase South Africa’s global competitiveness.
Government should have a relook at its STI funding model and incorporate flexible legislation to attract and encourage more private sector involvement to address advancements in innovation and technology.
Economic freedom is only realised once people have the necessary education and skills to access opportunities and decreasing the unequal gap in society.
Klaus Schwabs in his book the 4th industrial revolution states “we have to large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness. If we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable”.
It is clear that the ANC does not have the political will to address the challenges which come with the 4th industrial revolution.
Twenty four years into our democracy, the plight of the poor seems to be ignored. Honourable Chair, up to this day there are currently 8 million learners who attend dysfunctional schools.
So as I stand here one would ask: “what do learners, parents and South Africans expect from this basic education budget vote?”
Our attention must clearly be on sanitation, which has been highlighted by incidents like the drowning of Michael Komape, who fell into a pit toilet in 2014 in Limpopo and Lumka Mketwa, who also fell into a pit toilet that was supposed to be decommissioned in the Eastern Cape.
The death of Lumka Mketha teaches us that if you don’t learn from the past, history has a way of repeating itself. Michael Komape’s death should have been a wake-up call that such tragedies must not happen in our country again.
According to the latest statistics on sanitation from the Department of Basic Education:
- South Africa still has 3 533 school pit toilets to be decommissioned;
- 25 schools have no sanitation in the Eastern Cape;
- We have toilets without any water connection, even when water is available elsewhere on school premises as we saw at Isisusa Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal; and
- There are 30 000 outstanding Grade R toilet seats to that are needed for primary schools.
And that will cost about R7.8 billion – almost the same amount that the national Treasury has astoundingly cut the school infrastructure budget by.
The poor performance of the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) programme is not helping.
The Department of Basic Education was unable to meet a single target:
- Out of a targeted 59 schools, only 16 were built;
- Out of a targeted 265, a mere 10 were provided with sanitation;
- Out of a target of 280, just 10 were connected to water; and
- Out of a targeted 620, zero schools were connected to electricity.
And even with funding, the Eastern Cape mismanaged their building process – no doubt a justification for
the downsizing of the budget. This is not progress!
Provinces are also facing major budget cuts – with competing priorities making it hard to balance infrastructure needs with other serious difficulties our learners face, like those in Ukuthula, KwaZuluNatal, who have to walk 10km to school every day. This is why Treasury needs to allocate direct grants for items like school transport – to take the pressure off of our provincial budgets.
I am sorry to say, Chairperson, this budget falls short of our expectations. We seem to be making it harder and harder for South African children to get a proper education and improve their future.
As the Democratic Alliance, we will continue to highlight the plight of poor learners in this country. We will go to every corner of this country to raise the indignities of pit toilets and improper infrastructure.
Maladministration and budget cuts are a crime against our learners – it is time the ANC government stands up for the rights of learners, instead of lining the pockets of the wealthy.
I would first like to acknowledge that this is the first budget speech of the new Minister of Science and Technology, Honourable Kubayi.
Minister, I think you would have realised by now that this is a well-run department with excellent staff and that they and the entities reporting to the Department have been able to do wonders with the little they receive.
In preparing for this budget speech, I had a look at the previous four years’ speeches and the issues that were raised. It was very clear that a golden thread ran through all the speeches – this is a department with its entities that are totally underfunded.
This budget is unfortunately no different.
The Department’s budget allocation has increased by R233.3 million from R7.6 billion in the 2017/18 financial year to R7.8 billion in the 2018/19 financial year. However, when adjusted for inflation, there is, in fact, a real decrease of 2.3%. The Department’s budget allocation is projected to increase to R8.2 billion in 2019/20 and R8.7 billion in 2020/21. The reality is, that over the medium-term, Cabinet has approved budget reductions of R186.1 million, which will be effected on spending on goods and services, and on the baseline budgets of entities.
Although we are always in favour of budgets where fat and unnecessary expenses are cut, the problem is that due to the unique nature of the mandate of the Department of Science and Technology and the kinds of skills, knowledge and infrastructure needed to fulfil this mandate, a budgetary decrease in real terms will have and already has had severe negative implications.
The Government’s blanket approach to budget cuts cannot be applied to the Department of Science and Technology. This was underscored by the presentations by the Department and the different entities to the portfolio committee. Especially entities such as South African National Space Agency (SANSA), Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) are severely affected by budget constraints.
The Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) sector has to attract and retain highly-skilled individuals. There can be no growth, development or even just maintenance of current levels of STI without sufficient funding.
A further demand on the STI sector is that human capital development programmes have to grow to provide for the growing need for experts, scarce skills and knowledge.
The Department and the different entities spend a lot of time and resources to train and supervise students in an effort to provide the required capacity for the STI sector. However, the limited budget and the blanket budget cuts on salary expenses mean that they cannot employ these students. And we have to remember that these are senior researchers.
Critical to any country’s success in STI is the maintenance and acquisition of infrastructure. Unfortunately, this budget does not make this possible and the entities have to make to with ageing infrastructure which will have a negative impact on any progress and development in the country’s STI.
Another aspect that also has to be considered is that when STI initiatives are funded, the funding is required over the full lifetime of these initiatives. The nature of most STI initiatives is such that they often run over many years and there has to be security of funding for the completion of it.
I want to refer to one of the entities to highlight the effect of an underfunded budget on the Science and Technology sector. The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) cannot fully meet its mandate. This includes global navigation satellite services (GNSS) and satellite telecommunications solutions and applications, as well as support to the local space industry. To make it more practical they play an important role in space weather services, and they are busy with a pilot project where ships can be detected that are in our waters illegally.
However, funding for the further development of EO-Sat 1 has not yet been confirmed and this results in inadequate support to the South African space industry and an inability to develop the necessary human capacity. Due to constrained finances, SANSA cannot employ more researchers. It also cannot employ the students it trains. This leads to a loss of credibility, loss of income, and a downgrade in the services offered.
The tragic part of this is that SANSA is regarded globally, based on merit, as the preeminent space agency and strategic leader in space issues on the African continent. This is something that our country and the Science and Technology sector cannot lose.
The question then remains, why does government not ensure that Science, Technology and Innovation are properly funded? Why is it that we have to have the same speeches in the budget speeches for this Vote, year after year?
Science, technology and innovation have long been important drivers of economic growth and human development. This growth relies on research and development at both public and private levels, as well as on an international scale. It is critical that even during periods of economic slowdown, science, technology and innovation continue to receive sufficient funding.
As stated by the G7 Academies’ statement in 2017, growing levels of public and private investments in science and technology are needed to address the challenges of sustainable and inclusive growth. Governments should recognise the key role that expenditure for research, advancement of knowledge, higher education and innovation can play in supporting high-quality socio-economic growth and that these benefits outweigh many short-term concerns for balancing public finances.
One of the root causes of weak growth is the inability or unwillingness to see innovation as a key element in identifying new engines for growth and jobs in a country. In this regard, it became clear during the interactions with the different institutions that there was a recurring theme of a lack of science communication. The Department and the institutions are doing excellent work and are making a meaningful and important contribution to the country. But the problem is, very few know about it and I think this includes government.
Although the Department has a variety of programmes where there is engagement with the public, I think that this is an aspect that should be further explored. Although the Department has funded two chairs in Science Communication, more needs to be done. Not only do we need to encourage the youth to become involved in science and technology with the aim to attract them to the field, but the general public has to understand and appreciate the critical role STI plays in their daily lives. Many of the things we take for granted are due to investment in STI.
To quote Carl Sagan, “[w]e live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”
Perhaps if there is a concerted effort and more emphasis placed on science communication, we can look forward to the government understanding that the future growth of the country depends on optimal investment in STI.
As in my previous speech on this Vote, I want to conclude with the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who really has the ability to communicate science, “Innovations in science and technology are the engines of the 21st-century economy; if you care about the wealth and health of your nation tomorrow, then you’d better rethink how you allocate taxes to fund science.”