Amendment Bill set to curtail powers of sci-tech committee

The Bill aims to increase ministerial oversight over entities. (Flickr)

The Bill aims to increase ministerial oversight over entities. (Flickr)

Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom on Tuesday said the Science and Technology Laws Amendment Bill was necessary to preserve the separation of powers between the government and Parliament.

The Bill aims to increase the ministerial oversight over entities such as the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the TIA, allowing the minister to appoint board members and dissolve boards at the entities. At the moment, this power is vested with the Parliamentary portfolio committee for science and technology.

"The objective is to harmonise the processes for the appointment of chairpersons [and] board members, fill vacancies, the appointments of chief executives," Hanekom said. "They [the NRF, TIA, HSRC] are all governed by different laws."

He said: "It's unusual for a portfolio committee to have so much influence."

By vesting the power in the minister, as was done in the Geosciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council, the Bill was bringing the governing of these entities in line with the rest of government, Hanekom said.

Also, "if Parliament has influence as to who sits on a board, it diminished their ability to hold people they have appointed to account", Hanekom said.

Separation of powers
At the portfolio committee meeting last month, members of the committee queried whether Parliament's role in appointing board members and chief executives did in fact breach the separation of powers between government and Parliament.

According to the parliamentary minutes, Inkatha Freedom Party's Peter Smith said that it was not an option for the minister to report to the committee after he had already made an appointment.
The committee should beinvolved "whether it suited the department or not".

The ANC's Mwelo Nonkonyana, on the other hand, concurred with the department, noting that the committee's oversight role outweighed the powers given to the minister by the Bill.

Hanekom also said that board appointments were delayed – "sometimes for months" – as they had to go through Parliament, which was not necessarily sitting when a board member left. "There have been difficulties over the past few years," he said.

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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