Pandor prioritises telco funding

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Public investment in the telecommunications industry is a priority for the Department of Science and Technology (DST), as the network industry promises to provide the backbone of all the country's economic, industrial and innovative advances.

This is according to science and technology minister, Naledi Pandor, speaking today at the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference, being hosted at the Spier Wine Estate, in the Western Cape.

However, Pandor argued that partnerships between the public and private sector are still inadequate.

She pointed to the SA innovation survey of 2005, which revealed the proportion of local companies engaging in innovative technologies compared favourably with the EU. Therefore, SA is a very innovative country, stated Pandor. However, the report indicated that not much of the research going into innovation is publicly funded.

Private companies do not always seek out public funding for innovation research, because the innovation is based on competition rather than a development imperative, she explained.

Government's role

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey suggests current public funding for programmes in innovation must be intensified in SA.

“We should publicise our achievement and we should do more at establishing trusting relationships between funders and performers of innovation,” offered Pandor.

“I have just received a report around investment in technology innovation in SA, which suggests that we could accelerate our innovative ability if we had better partnerships between the Department of Science and Technology and the private sector.”

She argued that government plays a key role in funding the building blocks of innovation, basic research in universities' further training, and provides necessary infrastructure for laboratories and cyber networks.

“Government is also responsible for creating the best regulatory environment for the private sector - we must have a regulatory environment to invest and maintain a competitive market and nurture entrepreneurs,” maintains Pandor.

She stated that government funding must be a catalyst for innovative breakthroughs in national priorities, as these priorities cannot just be left to the market.

Funding targets

Pandor reiterated that public funding for innovation in the ICT sector would be integral.

“We have developed a plan to encourage greater interest in public funding,” she said, pointing to the DST's 10-year innovation plan, developed in 2008.

“One target was to raise the share of research and development spending to 2% of GDP by 2018. Another target is to expand the number of science and engineering graduates to 450 by 2018.

“Innovation and investment in new knowledge have been a strong foundation for economic growth and social change in all countries. The affluence of high interest countries is largely the outcome of ICT technologies.”

Pandor urged leaders in the ICT sector to work closer with the DST in driving ICT and innovation in the country. “I urge the industry's accomplished leaders to use your collective wisdom to come with innovative solutions to ensure that Africa is a continent of the future,” she concluded.

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