DA did not call for SALT inquiry

Marian Shinn denies wanting probe into mismanagement of telescope project

Southern African Large Telescope: DA did not call for inquiry

The Democratic Alliance (DA) distances itself from the release issued on Friday by the chairperson of the Science and Technology portfolio committee, Dr Nqaba Ngcobo, in which he stated that I had called for an inquiry into the possible mismanagement of funds and conflict of interest at the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT).

Neither have I called for any such an inquiry nor am I aware of any mis-mangement at SALT of the nature he alluded to in the press release. I am unaware of any National Research Foundation (NRF) report on SALT's mismanagement and none has been delivered to my parliamentary office during the current recess.

I can only assume that yesterday's statement is an attempt by individuals within the NRF executive management and their ANC proxies within the committee to continue their vendetta against Prof Phil Charles, Director of the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO).

Prof Charles was cleared in March of unspecified charges brought by the National Research Foundation that oversees the management of national research facilities, of which the South African Astronomical Observatory is one.

Since mid-February my correspondence with Dr Ngcobo and Minister for Science and Technology, Ms Naledi Pandor, focused on the need for the Minister and the NRF to come before the committee to explain the circumstances around Prof Charles' suspension and disciplinary hearing, the impact this had on South African science programmes with its international partners, and what steps were being taken within the NRF to ensure such a debacle did not recur and cause further damage to our international scientific relationships.

On June 17 I received a letter from Ms Pandor, in response to my expressed frustration at the lack of transparency and progress on this issue, that she would seek a meeting with the committee in August. I welcome this, but would now like her to explain the latest accusation by the NRF against Prof Charles and SAAO.

It seems that my persistence on transparent public oversight into the management of the NRF has exposed the refusal of the body to accept that an independent inquiry into Prof Charles' conduct went against the express wishes of elements within the NRF executive.

I am deeply suspicious of the motives behind the chairperson's sudden rush to action on this new SAAO issue when, for five months he has stonewalled my requests for an inquiry into the NRF. I believe he has not properly exercised his role in pursuing independent and transparent oversight of the entities under the Department of Science and Technology's mandate.

Statement issued by Marian Shinn, MP, Democratic Alliance shadow minister of science and technology, June 27 2010

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