08/06/2014. Newly appointed Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor speaking to the Pretoria News at her offices at CSIR, Pretoria. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - Minister Naledi Pandor has big plans for her second stint as Minister of Science and Technology.

These include an ambitious plan to increase money spent on research and development, and ensuring there are more women in the field of science.

“We have to get science into the centre of our thinking. Innovation is at the heart of society and we have to persuade the nation that development without science is not development,” she said.

And to do so, she believes the education system has to start investing early in science education – and to make sure aspiring female scientists are favourably considered.

“We need to get some sense of how we can reach more young girls and women. Once young women are in university, how do we support them and ensure they succeed?

“We are seeing from statistics and reports that many young women who enter science don’t remain in it. We should find out why. Is it because they do not get good financial support or mentoring? What should we do to improve the situation?”

The department was studying a report on some of the challenges that women scientists face.

Linked to this, Pandor has also announced plans to increase spend to at least 1.5 percent of gross domestic product on research and development.

At the moment, pressing matters include ensuring the stability of the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) after its chief executive Simphiwe Duma and chief financial officer Barbara Kortjass were fired earlier this year. In May last year, the agency’s board had levelled several allegations against Duma and five other agency officials.

Deloitte was appointed to investigate the allegations of nepotism, intimidation of external auditors, irregular investment transactions, Duma’s expenses and the procurement of goods and services.

This led to the dismissal of Duma and Kortjass.

“We will work closely with the board. We have a very good chairperson. We will work with her to look at what the board believes needs to be done to ensure that we are able to fairly speedily advertise a vacancy for chief executive and identify an appropriate person.

“As the Department of Science and Technology we must give the board a much clearer brief on what we would want to see the TIA doing to support us and create a seamless innovation system in the country.

“We have already begun working at it (with the board). The board has made certain recommendations to us on some changes,” Pandor said.

One of the biggest projects that the Department of Science and Technology is working on is the Square Kilometre Array telescope. Pandor admitted that she was worried that the MeerKAT deadline had been pushed back. She said the government had committed to having the 64-dish MeerKAT by 2016.

“Now I see 2017 and 2018. It may be that these different dates are about operationalising but that must be clarified. But we remain on track and I am very pleased at the progress we have made and the work that has been done.”

The MeerKAT is part of phase one of the SA telescope, an international enterprise to build the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the world. The MeerKAT is located in the Northern Cape.

On her former portfolio – the Ministry of Home Affairs – Pandor said there are things she wishes she had completed, but she is confident that new minister Malusi Gigaba would do an excellent job.

“Things unfinished will be finished by minister Gigaba. I am happy we implemented the smart card ID successfully. I hope that the department expands in that regard. One of the things I would have loved to do is work more with foreign nationals who live in South Africa as refugees.”

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