The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is concerned about the level of its discretionary budget, allocated by the State.
“Our discretionary income from the public purse is now quite small, and in recent years has not grown much above inflation levels,” pointed out CSIR CEO Dr Sibusiso Sibisi to Engineering News Online. “It would be welcome if our discretionary component were to grow at a level above inflation.
“It allows us to do high-risk research, to maintain our existing capabilities and to develop new capabilities that will be required to address future challenges,” he explained.
“At the moment, we run the risk, as the discretionary budget declines, of becoming just a contract researcher, and not doing any proactive research that is required to address current and future challenges.
“We need the discretionary budget to continue to increase, so that we can continue to do the work that is not short term,” Sibisi stressed.
“The CSIR risks becoming a technology house focusing solely on service delivery. This [service delivery] is important, but the long term is also important. There is no other way to finance this [long-term research] except through the discretionary budget.”
Another concern is the need to be able to develop long-term budgets. “It’s not just how much money we have, but the predictability about it. Some things are long term, like the development of new drugs,” he highlighted. “We must be able to do ten-year planning, not three-year medium-term budgets.”
“While in South Africa we do have reasonable predictability, we need longer-term predictability, especially in the biosciences where the realisation of the potential cutting edge technologies requires committed long-term investment,” he elucidated. “We need to give ourselves at least ten years to develop a product and fund it for those ten years. We’d review it periodically, of course, and ask hard questions on how it was going. But we’re not quite there, yet.”