New broom sweeps TIA clean

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom. (DST)

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom. (DST)

The newly appointed board of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) – which has only one member from the previous board – is conducting a forensic investigation into the agency and the chief executive, Simphiwe Duma, has elected to take "special leave" for the duration of the investigation.

The agency, which falls under in the department of science and technology, was allocated R482-million this financial year.

The agency has been the focus of recent scrutiny, following an external review of its operations by independent experts.

The review found that the agency – which the government hoped would be a silver bullet to fix South Africa's difficulty in getting innovations to the marketplace – said there was confusion about its mandate, "toxic relationships" with the department of science and technology and fighting for influence within the organisation.

The agency has been involved with funding a range of innovations, including technology for the artificial insemination of Nguni cattle  and electric car infrastructure.

This year, a new board has been appointed, with only one member of the old board remaining, and former chairperson Dr Mamphela Ramphele has been replaced with Khungeka Njobe, who was a member of the review.

A staff memo, dated July 17, said: "The newly appointed TIA board has received allegations concerning procedural and governance matters" and Duma had "voluntarily decided to take special leave until the investigation is concluded".

Although the memo does not indicate what these "procedural and governance matters" are, the head of legal services, Nkangweni Ndou, would now co-sign projects above certain levels of authority "given the nature of the allegations".

It said that the department and Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom supported the forensic investigation and the decision of the board.

When the Mail & Guardian asked Hanekom whether he and his department would act on the recommendations of the agency review, he said: "We are doing nothing; it's now in the hands of the board …

"The board gets its opinion from government, but we don't micromanage the board. We appoint who we believe to be good people to the board, and they must get on with fulfilling their mandate."

Njobe would not comment on the nature of the allegations "until the forensic investigation is completed". She said the investigation was expected to take about two months, and that the investigators would be appointed by the end of next week.
Repeated attempts to contact Duma were unsuccessful.

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa's Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards. Read more from Sarah Wild

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