Heads to roll in tech agency rejig

Technology Innovation Agency employees are up in arms over a move to retrench nearly a third of the state-funded organisation’s staff. This is the latest blow to the beleaguered agency, which was initially hailed as a solution that could promote innovation and economic competitiveness in South Africa.

Established in 2008 to close the gap between innovation and marketable product, the TIA receives in the region of R400-million a year. Earlier this year, the agency’s former chief executive, Simphiwe Duma, and the chief financial officer, Barbara Kortjass, were fired for gross misconduct, and board chairperson Khungeka Njobe was seeking a Hawks probe into predecessor Dr Mamphela Ramphele for her conduct during her tenure as chair.

Interim chief executive Dr Rivka Kfir, who was appointed in May, sent a memo to staff members on September 5 informing them of the plans to restructure, which would cut staff numbers from 193 to either 118 or 130.

“The system needs a functional TIA,” said one employee, who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity. “We were hoping that a new broom would fix things … People thought Simphiwe [Duma] was bad, but they didn’t understand how difficult life could be.”

Another employee, who also did not want to be named, said: “[These retrenchments] focus on short-term cost-cutting. We can’t cut in the short term. We need our investment allocation to increase, then how many new people will be needed?”


Administration costs
The government’s most recent medium-term expenditure framework reduced the TIA’s funding by R130?million to R381?million. In Kfir’s memo, she said that administration costs accounted for almost half of the allocated medium-term expenditure.

“The reason for the restructuring is not cost-cutting,” she told the M&G. “This is a funding organisation … money should be given out [and not spent on the organisation]. If it costs you a rand [to run the organisation] for every rand [you disburse], you are not being very efficient,” she said.

Asked why the TIA is so bloated, she said that it is part of the previous management’s legacy: “We need to reduce the levels of management.”

Efficiency has been a consistent problem for the agency. In June this year an aviation company funded by the TIA went into liquidation, with the director, Richard Schultz, laying part of the blame on the agency: “In retrospect, the internal problems with TIA – operational issues on their side – impacted so heavily on our operations, I would not have gone that route [if I had known].”

The M&G‘s first source agreed: “Everyone in the organisation is tired of our inefficiencies. We want a proper structure.”

Suggested changes ignored
Both the M&G‘s sources say that employees’ suggested changes have been ignored. They do not believe that the two restructured models mooted for the agency – one with 118 employees and the other with 130 – are what the TIA needs, arguing that the structures are designed to protect senior executives.

Kfir refuted the allegations that she is protecting top brass. “We engaged consultants and, based on the ministerial review [into the science, technology and innovation landscape, which Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor instigated in 2010], we suggested models … Three suggested models went to the board, and two of those went to staff.”

She said the restructuring will offer employees the ability to move into senior positions.

Asked why they wanted to stay in an organisation fraught with problems, one of the sources said: “I could go anywhere. When I joined TIA, I thought I could make a difference. The country needs TIA, and that’s why I’m prepared to fight for a TIA that works. Otherwise, South Africa will not see the fruits of TIA and the money [spent on it].”

Kfir acknowledged that restructuring is always an “unpleasant” process. But she said the organisation has no firm time scales and can therefore be “flexible” and help retrenched employees to find new jobs.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

How to assess our schools’ eReadiness

An easy-to-download app has been developed to assess and evaluate the information and communications technology (ICT) or e-readiness of all government schools in South Africa.

New boss wants a ‘leaner, meaner’ technology agency

Technology Innovation Agency chief executive Barlow Manilal has a plan to fix the beleaguered science and technology department organisation.

Tech agency ‘crashed’ aviation firm

Adept Airmotive says it is being stripped for parts by the same state agency that left it high and dry.

TIA chair seeks Hawks probe into Ramphele’s trust

A trust founded by Agang SA head Mamphela Ramphele is at the centre of an investigation into corruption at the Technology Innovation Agency.

Why we should care about the TIA

Many people have never heard of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), they see it as an acronym in a science system beset with lettered shorthand.

Probe puts Mamphela Ramphele on back foot

The Agang leader has denied benefiting from a cattle project led by a technology agency she chaired.
Advertising

Subscribers only

The shame of 40 000 missing education certificates

Graduates are being left in the lurch by a higher education department that is simply unable to deliver the crucial certificates proving their qualifications - in some cases dating back to 1992

The living nightmare of environmental activists who protest mine expansion

Last week Fikile Ntshangase was gunned down as activists fight mining company Tendele’s expansions. Community members tell the M&G about the ‘kill lists’ and the dread they live with every day

More top stories

Joe Biden’s debate guests run the only Zimbabwean restaurant in...

A Zimbabwean restaurant feeding people in need formed an unlikely addition to Joe Biden’s election campaign

The high road is in harm reduction

While the restriction of movement curtailed the health services for people who use drugs in some parts of the world, it propelled other countries into finding innovative ways to continue services, a new report reveals

Khaya Sithole: Tsakani Maluleke’s example – and challenge

Shattering the glass ceiling is not enough, the new auditor general must make ‘live’ audits the norm here in SA

State’s wage freeze sparks apoplexy

Public sector unions have cried foul over the government’s plan to freeze wages for three years and have vowed to fight back.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday