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South Africa misses half-year science spending target


National science department vows to catch up in last two quarters

The Department of Science and Innovation had spent only three-quarters of its R5 billion target at the half-way mark of its financial year on 30 September, director-general Phil Mjwara told MPs on 17 November. 

The department presented its second quarter performance reports to parliament’s higher education, science and innovation portfolio committee. The underspend was reported in the department’s revised 2020/21 budget, which takes into account cuts made to finance the country’s coronavirus response

The difficulties cited by the DSI in spending its budget related largely to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some budget lines were unable to complete their strategic science missions in time, often because of administrative challenges, the DSI reported. 

The bulk of the DSI’s R1.22bn underspend, R890 million, occurred in its research, development and support programme. Of this amount, about half came in the Square Kilometre Array radio astronomy project (R420m), a quarter in the research infrastructure budget (R240m) and R110m in the strategic science platforms budget. Of the R33.5m allocated for science awareness projects, R30m was unspent.

The department also failed to achieve more than a third of its second quarter performance targets. A research chair could not be appointed because the two shortlisted candidates were unable to fly to South Africa for interviews. Bilateral meetings and public consultations were delayed, and only six industrially relevant innovations were added to the country’s portfolio—half the target of 11.

The DSI will try to catch up on its spending in the last two quarters of the financial year, said Robert Shaku from the department’s accounting unit. “We have requested catch-up plans from all our programmes. These plans have to be implemented by the end of this quarter, so that when we go into the last quarter of the financial year things are much better than now,” he said.