Prof. Derrick Swartz, outgoing Chairperson of the NACI Board; 

Dr Shadrack Moephuli, NACI council member and CEO of the Agricultural Research Council;

Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, NACI Council Member and CEO of the Water Research Commission;

Prof. Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa;

Advocate Pieter Holl, CEO of the Innovation Hub;

Dr Audrey Verhaeghe; Chairperson of the SA Innovation Summit;

Prof. Daniel Mashao, Executive Dean in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Johannesburg;

Prof. Michael Kahn, of Stellenbosch University's Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology;  

Dr Mlungisi Cele, Acting CEO of NACI;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

Opening remarks

 

Thank you for the invitation to come and speak to you at the launch of the 2019 Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report.

 

Policy leadership

 

This launch takes place against the backdrop of a number of interesting changes. One is that we are now the Department of Science and Innovation.  The other is our new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation, adopted by Cabinet in March this year.  What does this mean for us as a system?

 

It is important to understand the impact of these policy and structural shifts on the institutional mandates of the Department and its entities in the context of the broader policy direction government is taking.  This is a discussion for another day, once we have engaged with the Presidency on the extended mandate.

 

The new White Paper was developed to fulfil this role, and was informed by the need for policy coherence and by the National Development Plan, which identifies science, technology and innovation as critical for the creation of a competitive and sustainable economy that helps address urgent social challenges such as education and health.

 

One of the ways mentioned in the White Paper is public sector innovation.

 

In line with the philosophy of the new White Paper, we will be placing increasing emphasis on the notion of public sector innovation for societal benefit.  To this end, we are looking at working with other government departments to drive public sector innovation.  To crystalise our thinking in this respect, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about some of the innovation-related work that the Department has been doing, which is aimed at enabling effective and efficient service delivery, especially at local government level.

 

I would like to start by sharing with you something that I experienced recently.  While I was visiting Europe, the notion of public sector innovation became even more urgent to me.  On an official trip to Germany, I watched how European Union citizens took about 45 minutes to go through an unmanned passport control system.

 

The biometric system automatically loads and processes passenger information.  With a similar system to process personal information I believe South Africa could significantly reduce the time spent by the public in queues for driver's licences, for example.  Why can't we have a similar system here, for example, starting off with diplomats and public servants?

 

Another example involves the readiness of municipalities to take up public sector innovations.

 

We have developed a tool called the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index, or MIMI. This is a decision-support tool intended to assess the level of maturity of municipalities and public sector institutions in implementing technology-based solutions for service delivery.  It zooms into the learning capabilities of officials and institutions to adopt efficient and innovative approaches to delivering basic public services, especially to marginalised communities, by employing a variety of water, sanitation and energy technologies.  The tool uses new thinking, evidence, concepts and tools specifically to strengthen the delivery capacity of municipalities.

 

The MIMI was tested in a number of district municipalities who participated in the Department's Innovation Partnerships for Rural Development Programme – Ilembe, Amathole, Chris Hani, Gert Sibande, uMzinyathi and Capricorn District Municipalities.

 

Equally pleasing is the fact that the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Human Settlements approached us for support in piloting and demonstrating how the use of airborne sensors and drones could be applied to monitor and manage informal settlements and the illegal occupation of vacant land.  The results of the project may also assist with formal human settlements projects.

 

This is not just an indication of the growing realisation of the importance of the role of the Department of Science and Innovation, but also an indication of the growing willingness to embrace technology at all levels of government.  This was also clearly illustrated in the recent Budget Vote speech of the Minister of Human Settlements, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, who said:

 

"The Fourth Industrial Revolution will assist us to overcome some of the problems we have.  We will for instance embrace this to ensure that through satellite technology we can monitor the growth of informal settlements, invasion of land and provide us with on-time inspections of our construction sites … I am therefore establishing a fully fledged, skilled and capacitated ICT Management Unit with the required innovative software and technology to monitor projects.  This will enhance our delivery and cut down on time to ensure that our structures are solidly built.  In this unit all the vital delivery information will be gathered on a real-time basis that would improve the focus, productivity, prioritise initiatives, forecast delivery trends for effective coordinated planning, track identified risks with their mitigation plans, and guide our decision making to fast-track the delivery for houses, water and sanitation to our people."

 

She also promised that, "Within the next year we will ensure that we have digitised our entire platform of projects for persons to access the relevant information. We will ensure that we place the details of beneficiaries in the public domain, in a similar way in which matric results were announced in the past, so that the process is transparent and it removes any possibility of corrupt allocations of houses.  The lists will be available for scrutiny from any public office designated for this purpose.  We would be able to cut down on our turnaround time by 50% if we increase the use of technology."

 

Another illustration is support for evidence-based policy making by municipalities.

 

Another tool related to human settlements is the Spatial Temporal Evidence for Planning in South Africa tool, or stepSA.  Developed by one of our entities, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, this decision-support tool is aimed at providing an overview of regional scale settlement patterns, and enables, among other things, the profiling of specific settlements and the analysis of demographic and economic trends of a set of settlements of a similar scale and type.  The evidence the tool provides supports planning for effective service delivery and the prioritisation of long-term, high-impact public investment in cities, towns and rural settlements.

 

StepSA has become a game changer by using cutting-edge technology to provide the latest information on spatial trends impacting development in cities, towns and settlements.

 

Yet another example is working with the private sector, because this is essential for our goals and to drive innovation.

 

Sector Innovation Funds

 

Then there are the Sector Innovation Funds.  This portfolio, designed to incentivise the private sector to invest more in research, development and innovation, is a co-funding partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation for research programmes designed by the supported industry associations to address challenges in the sector and improve their competitiveness.  Seven industry associations are currently supported through the SIF portfolio – horticulture, post-harvest innovation, viticulture, forestry, agroprocessing, minerals processing, and paper manufacturing.

 

The pilot phase for the Sector Innovation Funds started in 2014/15, and, for many, ended in 2018/19.  The pilots supported 200 postgraduate students, 18 (or 9%) of which have already found employment in their respective fields, contributing to the development of the high-end skills pool of these sectors.

 

In addition, 94 interns and postdoctoral positions were supported, and 25% of these found employment during the pilot phase. The Department of Science and Innovation invested R122 984 539 during the pilot phase and leveraged R43 116 361 from industry as co-funding.  A second phase of SIFs has started with the same seven industry associations.

 

Another example of cooperation with the private sector is our work to help secure the future of South Africa's mining industry.  The South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation Strategy, SAMERDI, received a funding allocation of R63 million from National Treasury for the 2018/19 financial year, and the Minerals Council of South Africa contributed an amount equalling 50% of these funds, enabling substantial research, development and innovation programmes to be taken forward.

 

The Department of Science and Innovation's partnership with the Minerals Council was showcased at the launch of the Mandela Mining Precinct by the Minister of Science and Technology in September last year.  The primary aim of the Precinct is to help re-establish and expand mining and mining equipment RDI, which is essential to ensuring the future sustainability of this important industry.

 

The SAMERDI programme has research under way in six defined themes. One of the most exciting outputs was the completion of phase 1 of the three-phase Isidingo Drill Challenge, which is intended to encourage the design and prototyping of a new and innovative rock-drill concept to be used in deep-level mining.  It is hoped that a substantially improved innovation will speed up the mining process, increasing production, reducing energy waste and enhancing worker safety.

 

Support for hi-tech start-ups

 

We also have an innovation partnership on lithium-ion battery technology development with the company Maxwell and Spark.  Lithium-ion batteries are currently leading the battery market.

 

Maxwell Spark is a company that designs and manufactures high-performance, reliable, safe and low-cost lithium-ion battery packs for stationary and mobile energy storage applications.  Their systems have the benefit of saving users large sums of money, reducing carbon emissions and operating at lower noise levels than conventional energy systems.

 

We are also exploring the possibility of battery technology to convert diesel-powered taxis to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the transport sector.

 

STI Indicators Report

 

I also think it is important to state that we consider the annual Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report a useful tool for helping us measure the impact and success of the projects undertaken in the national system of innovation.

 

However, the question is whether the indicators cover all innovation activities within the national system of innovation?  So, in our next indicators report, should we include a measure to track how much innovation is happening in the public sector, for example, including indicators provided through the Municipal Innovation Maturity Index, etc.?

 

Concluding remarks

 

All these projects seek to achieve the core long-term objectives of the new White Paper, which seeks to ensure that we use science, technology and innovation to create a more prosperous and inclusive society.  To achieve this, policy clarity and coherence is critical.  The findings of the 2019 STI Indicators Report, with other reviews and evidence, will inform the decadal plan we are developing to implement the White Paper and contribute to the achievement of the National Development Plan's objectives.  I am confident that NACI will help us to realise our vision.

 

Thank you.