Science Ministry, PMO fight over Nat'l. Council for R&D

Some in government, as well as the NCRD council, assert that it must become an independent body in the PMO.

By BY JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
February 11, 2010 05:02
3 minute read.
MK Meir Sheetrit

MK Meir Sheetrit 311 Ariel. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The National Council for Research and Development is being fought over as if it were the baby claimed by two mothers in the case decided by King Solomon. Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz insists that this body – the government’s official adviser for civilian R&D – remain under his ministry’s aegis, while others in the government, as well as the NCRD council itself, assert that it must become an independent body in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The issue, sparked by the NCRD’s decision a few weeks ago to stop functioning, was discussed in the Knesset Science and Technology Committee headed by MK Meir Sheetrit on Tuesday.

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At the meeting, Sheetrit said,  “We want to see the council serving as the government’s adviser on non-military R&D. If we want it to have authority, we must turn it into a statutory body so it will not be dependent on the Science Ministry and will not represent one ministry or another.”

But the Kadima MK stopped short of endorsing a move to the Prime Minister’s Office, which the NCRD demands.

In the end, Sheetrit told both the ministry and the NCRD to somehow reach a compromise, with the NCRD getting “the power and responsibility that will come with it being an independent statutory body within the Science & Technology Ministry.”

NCRD chairman Prof. Oded Abramsky, a veteran neurologist from Hadassah-University Medical Center, said that today, the NCRD did not have enough independence to make it look objective in its recommendations, and the ministries‚ chief scientists and others are not required to consult with it. Independence was “the most important thing,” he said.

“We have turned into a body within a body, the Science Ministry, and this was not done according to the spirit of the law that established [the NCRD],” said Abramsky, adding that when during Binyamin Netanyahu’s previous term as prime minister, he too had wanted it to be part of his office.

Herschkowitz countered that “there are a number of national councils, but they do not deal with questions of policies. When the NCRD Law was passed, the science minister then believed that his ministry was superfluous, so he did not see fit to put the NCRD in his ministry. There are those who think it should be in the Prime Minister’s Office; if so, what is the job of the Science Ministry? A ministry’s role is to set policy, and my ministry’s mandate is to set R&D policy and direct budgets for civilian R&D.”

Herschkowitz praised the NCRD, but said it was best placed inside his ministry.

But Edna Harel, a lawyer in the Justice Ministry who was legal adviser in the Science Ministry when the NCRD Law was passed, said: “The idea in establishing the NCRD was to set up a body to advise the government on how to allocate the budget among the three arms of Israel’s R&D – civilian, government and industrial. Thus it was defined as an autonomous body and not dependent on the Science Ministry. In the current situation, it should receive the tools it needs to be independent.”

Among the leading scientists and researchers who are members of the NCRD, Prof. Moshe Oron told the committee that the “quickening decline of Israeli science has brought the country to the edge. Over 70 percent of scientists are over the age of 50, and the training of young scientists is negligible. Professionally we are also in a catastrophic state, as many scientists are missing and we have to import them and engineers, even though three of our universities are among the 25 best in this field in the world.”

Oron, who is chairman of the NCRD’s academic/industrial committee, revealed that he had not been invited to talk with Herschkowitz even once in the past year.

“I can’t serve the minister if I don’t meet with him,” he said.


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