Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

The state entity that provides support to commercialise local technological innovation conceded on Wednesday that the slow pace at which it assesses funding applications is a source of “great unhappiness” among its stakeholders. 

The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which is overseen by the department of science and innovation, told parliament it recently discovered applications that had been stuck in the pipeline for more than two years.

It has never met its target for turning applications around within four months, TIA’s acting CEO Fuzlin Levy-Hassen said. “We did a recent clean-up. The saddest thing is we had deals sitting in our pipeline from 2016/2017,” she said, assuring MPs that the TIA is taking steps to improve its processes.

TIA retabled its 2018/2019 annual report in parliament on Wednesday, after rectifying issues previously raised by parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology.

In October, MPs instructed the TIA to amend its annual report to reflect the board’s dismissal of former CEO Barlow Manilal, and include missing annexures. The committee also expressed unhappiness about the absence of TIA’s interim chair Steve Lennon, who lives in Australia.

Lennon appeared with the TIA’s delegation on Wednesday and explained to MPs that he had been appointed interim chair by higher education, science and technology minister Blade Nzimande in July, with full disclosure of his personal circumstances. Lennon has been a member of the TIA board since 2013.

He told MPs that the TIA board had decided on May 30 to terminate Manilal’s contract, after concerns were raised about his performance. Attempts to secure an amicable settlement failed, and the matter was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

After the board’s decision to end Manilal’s contract, he had leveled allegations of fraud, corruption and maladministration against board members and had laid complaints with the public protector, the auditor-general, and the minister, said Lennon.

He said the TIA had been weakened by its large number of vacant senior positions, but the process for appointing a new CEO should be completed by the end of the year.

EFF MP Mogamad Paulsen expressed unhappiness with the TIA’s governance and proposed that the committee call for a ministerial inquiry into it, but found no support from fellow lawmakers.

kahnt@busineslive.co.za