Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor on Tuesday lamented the small budget that has been allocated to her department, warning that it could hurt the economy.
The Department of Science and Technology was allocated a R7.4-billion budget for 2016/17, the same as for 2015/16.
“Our failure to address the funding of this sector is causing us to neglect several sectors that could offer South Africa talent, new products and real contributions to growth.
“South Africa is not investing enough in science, technology and innovation. If we do not change this trend, we will be overtaken by nations that have less capacity and knowledge resources than we have,” Pandor told the National Assembly during her department’s yearly budget vote.
She called on the private sector to boost investment in research and development.
“Evidence shows that countries that increase such investment during tough economic times will reap greater benefits when the economic cycle turns again.”
She said the department was making good progress in building a strong national innovation system but could do more.
“There are several areas of science in which we could do much more – create new industries, new products, new services – but all of these require additional financial resources.”
Pandor said her budget vote, with its unchanged budget allocation, was being presented against the background of Vision 2030 in the National Development Plan, which stated that South Africa needs to create 11-million jobs in the next 15 years and make use of innovation, science and technology to create new enterprises and increase the number of knowledge workers.
At an earlier press conference in Cape Town, she said government had set a target of raising gross expenditure on research and development to 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2019, from the current level of 0.73%.
“Urgent attention must be given to adequate funding for science, technology and innovation if we are to achieve our strategic national priorities.”
Pandor’s sentiments on the small budget allocated to her department were echoed across African National Congress and opposition benches in Parliament.
Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology chairperson Bevan Goqwana said the percentage of GDP allocated to science, technology and innovation was not globally competitive and “then we get surprised when we import more innovation than we export”.
The Democratic Alliance added that South Africa’s balance of payments for technology was heavily skewed towards importing technology. “Alarm bells should be ringing. This is not just a nice-to-have department.”