15.04.2008 Feature Article

Search For Chief Scientific Adviser Of Government: Why The Struggle?

Search For Chief Scientific Adviser Of Government: Why The Struggle?
15.04.2008 LISTEN

I wonder why the search for a Director-General (D-G) for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) should go for a second round of advertisement.

If the speculation that nobody applied for the first round of advertisement is true, then it deserves to be discussed. Is it because the qualifications for a D-G are too high that one cannot find a suitable candidate or the position is so unattractive that nobody wants to occupy it?

I have my doubt about the scarcity of qualified Ghanaians to occupy the position. The CSIR itself can boast many eminent scientists, some of who have risen to Chief Research Scientist (a rank equivalent to a full university professor).
Therefore, to observe that no application was received for such a high position as the D-G, who is also expected to be the chief government scientific advisor, is worrying and demands that we ask ourselves some questions.

This is especially problematic given that the vision of the country is to reach a middle-income-nation status by 2015 and that there is no way we can reach there without some advancement in the development of science and technology.

Two important functions of the CSIR is to pursue the implementation of government policies on science and technology and to advise the government on scientific and technological advances likely to be of importance to national development (Act 521 of 1996).

Given the number of highly qualified Ghanaian scholars and scientists around the world, I can only suspect that the problem is more about the attractiveness of the position than scarcity of qualified people.

First, the CSIR as a body corporate is currently in distress mainly because of worsening conditions of service and the lack of funds for carrying out its core activity of scientific research and technology development and transfer.

One could observe that for the past few years, there has been a series of agitation by research staff of the CSIR regarding their conditions of service and availability of public funds to support research.
Part of the confusion has been that the government does not seem to know where to place the CSIR and what to do with it, in spite of the numerous recommendations by several commissioned studies (e.g. Price Waterhouse, Gyampoh Commission reports) that have established its relevance to national development.

In fact, the government's own white paper on these reports has accepted the level at which the CSIR must be placed. So, today, the CSIR is at quaternary level, tomorrow it is agreed it must be at par with the public universities, and the next day, government is not comfortable with parity.
 So one wonders whether there is a deliberate effort to frustrate the CSIR, collapse scientific research or what?  Whatever the reasons are, it is important that we do not make a mistake to kill the zeal for scientific research and technology development in this country.
No, we dare not make that mistake! The consequences have been high attrition rate, low staff morale and low productivity. Obviously, anybody heading an organisation that the government is not definite about how to treat it will not be comfortable.
This is because occupying the chief executive seat will be like sitting on a chair that can explode at any time; either through the disenchantment of your own staff or by government itself. Unfortunately, the government, which is supposed to be the first client of the CSIR, has not been able to handle things well.
 I think that the government must come open on how and where it wants the CSIR to stand and streamline the conditions of service in order to make research career attractive in this country.

Even though there have been some criticisms about the CSIR, there is the need for a public debate on how to structure scientific research development in this country as a whole.
Following the discourse on how to organise scientific research and technology development in Ghana, especially with reference to the CSIR, three models seem to have dominated.

The first is to maintain the corporate drive of the CSIR under Act 521 but rationalise its top and secretariat to reduce its size and to concentrate its budget mainly on scientific research. In this model, the CSIR should maintain its original recommended quaternary level.

The second is to collapse the corporate agenda, affiliate each research institution to the relevant Ministry and have a small co-ordinating secretariat.
This, it has been argued, will better ensure a more effective science-policy-practice linkage and will make scientific research results more tangible and applicable. However, the model has been criticised because it may create more confusion when it comes to conditions of service and may even collapse research career.

The third model, which requires a radical policy to implement, is to integrate scientific research, technology development and advance learning together.
This will require an expanded mandate of the public universities to make them have a parallel system of teaching and research. In this model, research institutions can be affiliated to universities with senior members entering as lecturers (70 per cent teaching, 30 per cent research) or research fellows (70 per cent research, 30 per cent teaching).

Some have argued that the third model will resolve the seemingly unnecessary competition between the universities and research institutions, foster greater collaboration for teaching and research, reduce duplication of research efforts to save the taxpayer, improve uptake of results for training, reduce administrative cost and provide a permanent solution to the rivalry on conditions of service.

Whichever model is good for Ghana, considering the optimisation of human and infrastructural resources, needs critical debate and analysis.
Thus, the earlier the government settles the appropriate institutional arrangement it wants to use to govern science and technology development in Ghana and determine attractive packages for researchers, the better for the country.

The second most crucial issue, aside the headache of how to provide competitive remuneration, is that of funding for scientific research. Even though Ghana Government, as per the Lagos Plan of Action of the African Union, has theoretically committed herself to using one per cent of GDP to support science and technology, Ghana still spends less than 0.05 per cent of GDP on science and technology.

With the cumulative effects of poor conditions of service, uncertainties about where to place the CSIR in the scheme of national life, inadequate funding for research and increasing staff attrition rate and dissatisfaction and dwindling morale, it is not surprising to me that the CSIR seems to be struggling to find a chief executive to succeed the present one. But who can help the situation?
I guess the government and the governing council have a crucial role to play. A clear commitment of government, not the usual rhetoric, towards developing the science and technology sector can be helpful.

If the government pays more serious attention to science and technology like is done in developed countries and emerging middle-level economies in south-east Asia, I believe qualified Ghanaians will step out.
Moreover, the preparedness of the Governing Council to ensure a clean selection process devoid of victimisation and nepotism may also help to encourage qualified scientists, especially from within the CSIR itself, to come out to take responsibility for providing leadership at this difficult period.

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