HISTORY OF NASTEC
JOURNEY FROM A SCIENCE COUNCIL TO A SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMISION
In 1968, UNESCO published in three volumes of the World Directory of National Science Policy Making Bodies, in which the historical process in the formation of science planning and management organizations in a global context have been recorded. According to this Directory, it has been shown that the initial thrust had been the creation of an appropriate research council for planning and coordination of scientific activities. Such organizations when newly created invariably passed through a period of intense activity during which time they evolved, transformed, or even re-created their form and structure, until a stable state was reached.
However, it has been claimed that even in this state, research councils functioned purely as advisory bodies, or at most, operated at a lower functional level in national science planning. Realization of this problem invariably led to the creation of a cabinet ranking organization which was either a Ministry for Science itself, or a Science Planning Commission. In some countries, the creation of a research council preceded the formation of the high level science planning commission or ministry, while in others it has been the reverse.
It has thus been a common global feature in the development history of science planning that at least two bodies should be created at different functional levels, one of which assumes a cabinet ranking. It has also to be noted that in some instances a science planning commission tends to have over-arching powers over a ministry, which in most cases have limited influence on other ministries, and hence less effective in overall national country-wide planning of scientific activities.
It is indeed noteworthy that in Sri Lanka, despite the lower socio-political ranking and consideration for science and technology planning and development, a parallel trend in the evolution of an institutional framework for science and technology planning and management had taken place over the last several decades leading to the bifurcation of functions, and the establishment of a National Science Foundation (NSF) and a National Science and Technology Commission(NASTEC). Significantly, as will be seen from the mandate, the functions and activities of the National Science and Technology Commission has an over-arching influence on all scientific disciplines and research organizations, and consequently may extend beyond the purview of subject portfolio of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research.
1.0 Reminiscence of a Journey Down Memory Lane
In a historical context, it has to be recognized that the National Science Council, (the earliest predecessor of the National Science and Technology Commission), was not offered on a platter to the scientific community of Sri Lanka, which had to await in a state of anxious expectation for a 20 year period of agonizing agitation, during which fortunes fluctuated between hope and despair.
Unlike other scientific organizations in Sri Lanka, the National Science and Technology Commission has an exceptionally rich and unparallel evolutionary backdrop, as the apex organization assigned with the task of science planning and policy development, which can be traced back to 1948. This historical record can be conceptually considered to constitute of two distinct phases. The first phase, which may be conceived as the Fore-runner, began in January 1948, and ended on 27th of May 1968 with the formal creation of the National Science Council, the founding parent organization. The second phase consequently began on the 28th of May 1968, progressing sequentially through several structural and functional transformations over a period of 50 years, finally re-moulding itself into two distinct organizations, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science and Technology Commission (NASTEC). The sequence of historical events that took place during the “Fore-runner Phase” and throughout the “pre-natal” stages (of the National Science Council), to its “birth” and final upbringing to “adolescence” are described in a number of publications1,2 and in a recent manuscript titled, “A Historical Review of Science Planning and Research in Sri Lanka : 1812 – 2000”, which has been planned to be published by the National Science Foundation shortly. Hence what is presented here is the historical evolution of the National Science and Technology Commission from its founding forefather the National Science Council.
2.0 Birth and Early History of the National Science Council
As a prelude towards the establishment of the necessary administrative machinery to coordinate and plan scientific activities in post-colonial Sri Lanka, the national government created for the first time, a Ministry for Scientific Research and Housing in January 1968. It is on record that this move, in retrospect, was the result of a long drawn out agitation of the scientific community through its representative body, the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science (CAAS), for the creation of an independent autonomous National Research Council for Sri Lanka.
Historical records show that the CAAS was never in favour of a Ministry for Scientific Research, as an alternative to a National Research Council. Nevertheless, subsequently in mid 1968, in deference to the needs of the scientific community of the country, the Government created the National Science Council of Sri Lanka (NSC) by the NSC Act No.9 of 1968, as a statutory body within the Ministry of Scientific Research and Housing. This organization which began functioning in May 1968, however, fell far short of the expectations of the scientific community which had hoped for an autonomous scientific body, shorn off of the usual administrative and financial bottlenecks. Nevertheless, the creation of these two institutions have been considered epoch making events in the organization of science planning in Sri Lanka.
- 1 De Silva, M.A.T. (1984). Historical Landmarks in the Orientation of Science Planning in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences, 7 (1 and 2), p 77 – 96.
- 2Amaradasa, R.M.W. and De Silva, M.A.T. (2001) The Evolution and Structures of Science and Technology in Sri Lanka, Science, Technology and Society, 6 : 1, Sage Publications, New Delhi, p 179 – 201.
The inaugural function for the establishment of the National Science Council took place on 28th May 1968, with the Head of State (Hon Prime Minister) as the Chief Guest. Among the other distinguished personalities present were the Minister of Scientific Research and Housing, Minister of Agriculture and Food, Minister of Industries and Fisheries, Minister of Lands and Land Development, Minister of Education, a number of Members of Parliament and the Diplomatic Corp. This meeting presided over by Sir Nicholas Attygalle, the first Chairman of the Council, was addressed by all the Cabinet Ministers present on the occasion.
It is remarkable that apart from issues concerning scientific research, all the guest speakers drew the attention of the new Council, of the need to formulate a National Science and Technology Policy for the country. It is significant that Mr. D.P.R. Gunawardena, Honourable Minister of Industries and Fisheries, in his discourse, not only drew attention to the scientific and technological strides made by India after Independence, he went on to elaborate the “Scientific Policy Resolution” placed before the Indian Parliament, ten years earlier on March 4 1958, by Shri Jawaharalal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India.
Obviously inspired by these sentiments, the newly appointed Council at its very first meeting held on May 29, 1968, established a sub-committee to prepare a draft statement on Science Policy, which was to be the basis for the first seminar to be organized by the National Science Council.
3.0 The Functional and Structural Orientation of the Organization – 1968 – 1982
The Act of Incorporation of the National Science Council described the functions of the Council in the following terms:
(1) To advise the Minister on –
(a) the application of science and scientific research to problems of national importance for the general benefit of the community;
(b) the co-ordination of research in the various fields of scientific work with a view to directing scientific work into channels vital for national development;
(c) the steps that should be taken to maintain an adequate supply of scientific and technical personnel, having regard to the country’s needs from time to time, for such personnel; and
(d) matters of scientific policy including the allocation of funds for scientific research and any other such matters as the Minister may refer to the Council for its advice;
(2) to initiate, promote and intensify fundamental and applied research with a view to developing the economic resources of the country and promoting the welfare of the people;
(3) to collect and disseminate information relating to scientific and technical matters, and to publish reports, periodicals and papers on matters scientific and technical;
(4) to establish and maintain liaison with scientific institutions and scientific workers in other countries in matters relating to science and scientific research; and
(5) to do such other things as may be necessary for the advancement of science and scientific research in Ceylon.
The clauses 6 and 7 of this Act lay down the composition of the Council, as well as the appointments to the posts of chairman and vice chairman of the Council as follows:-
(1) The Council shall consist of twenty-one members all of whom shall be appointed by the Minister from among persons
(a) who possess recognized scientific qualifications; or
(b) who, in the opinion of the Minister, have rendered distinguished service to science or have made contributions to scientific knowledge
(2) In making the appointments under sub-section (1), the Minister shall ensure that at least one person engaged in or closely associated with each of the following categories of research is appointed as a member of the Council:-
(a) Physical Science Research
(b) Biological Science Research
(c) Agricultural Research
(d) Industrial Research
(e) Medical Research
(f) Social Science Research
(1)The Minister shall appoint one of the members of the Council to be the Chairman of the Council
(2)The members of the Council shall from amongst their number elect the Vice-Chairman of the Council
It is clear from the above that the Council consisted of 21 members appointed by the Minister one of whom was named as the Chairman of the Council. It is however, significant to note that with reference to the Chief executive of the Council, the Clause 18 of the Act stipulates that,
“The members of the Council shall in consultation with the Minister, elect from amongst their number, a Secretary General, who shall be the Chief Executive of the Council, and who shall be a whole-time officer of the Council”.
Although these provisions were there in the first NSC Act that was enacted on 28 February 1968, an amending clause was introduced subsequently by NSC Amendment Act No.44 of 1968, to repeal clause 18, and substitute it with the following clause:-
“The Council shall in consultation with the Minister, appoint a person to be the Secretary General, who shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the Council, and also shall be a whole-time officer of the Council. The Secretary General shall be employed on such terms and conditions as shall be determined by the Minister in consultation with the Minister of Finance”.
In brief therefore, it is clear that from the very inception it was realized that the procedure for appointing the Chief Executive of the new organization was inappropriate and impracticable, and hence needed an immediate amendment.
In fact it is recorded that at the first meeting of the Council, a request by the Chairman for volunteers for the post had a negative response. Subsequently on a formal proposal, Mr B.J.P. Alles was elected as Acting Secretary General. This was essentially an interim measure, since during the very same meeting, the Council resolved that an amending Act should be instituted to provide for a full time Secretary General whose emoluments….” Should not be less than the highest grade of chief executive officer in the Public Sector”. This meant that the post should be on par with the Permanent Secretary of a Ministry.
Accordingly Mr B.J.P. Alles held office on a part time basis until first September 1969, when Dr C.R. Panabokke took over office as the first full time chief executive of NSC after the Amendments to the Act were approved by Parliament. Dr Panabokke was succeeded by late Dr G.C.N.Jayasuriya in March 1971, who held the post of Secretary General for 7 years. The first Council appointed by the Minister of Scientific Research and Housing comprised the following:
- Sir Nicholas Attygalle – chairman
- Dr G. Ponnamperuma
- Mr A.N.S. Kulasinghe
- Mr L.J.D. Fernando
- Dr P.P.G.L. Siriwardene
- Prof. S.W. Bibile
- Dr Charles St. George
- Dr S. Gnanalingam
- Prof. E.O.E. Perera
- Mr B.J.P. Alles
- Dr J.W.L. Peries
- Dr V.Appapillai
- Dr R.P. Jayewardene
- Prof. B.A. Abeywickrema
- Prof. H. Crusz
- Mr D.B. Rampala
- Prof. A.S. Dissanayake
- Dr E.F.L. Abeyratne
- Mr W.D.V. Mahatantile (Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Scientific Research & Housing)
- Dr Gamini Corea (Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs)
- Mr B. Mahadeva (Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Agriculture & Food
Sir Nicholas Attygalle held office for 18 months and was succeeded by Mr A.N.S. Kulasinghe. Although the NSC Act stipulated a membership of 21 for the Council, so as to provide a comprehensive coverage of scientific disciplines, due to frequent resignations, most of the time there was a lesser number in office.
In the absence of a professional staff in the Secretariat, the Council largely operated through ad hoc Committees, the first of which was the sub-committee of the Council to draft a Science Policy statement for the country. Subsequently in October 1968, the Council making use of certain provisions of the Act, appointed a sub-committee for ‘Establishment’ matters, comprising the Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary General and the Ministry Representative. In April 1969, in response to an application received from Prof F.S.C.P. Kalpage for a research grant, the Council set-up another committee called the Research Grants Committee, to evaluate and make recommendations on such research proposals. The following Terms of Reference were drawn up for this Committee.
“(1) As far as possible identify those competent and interested in Scientific research
(2) Prepare a budget for research grants and pursue action to secure funds
(3) In the context of funds obtained, determine priorities and make recommendations to the National Science Council, and
(4) Award research Grants and establish procedures for the follow-up including financial follow up of research grants”
In November 1969, in response to a communication from the Ministry of Scientific Research and Housing, the Council nominated a team of Council members to what was called the Research Board. The main functions of the Research Board were to evaluate and recommend applicants for studentships and fellowships offered by foreign sponsoring agencies.
Unlike the sub-committee appointed for drafting a Science Policy statement, the Establishment Committee, the Research Grants Committee and the Research Board functioned more or less on a permanent basis.
In 1972, following the re-constitution of the Council, the Cabinet of Ministers made the following observations:-
“The Cabinet agreed that the Council had not been able to carry out its major functions effectively, primarily due to the fact that the Council as a whole had no direct links with the Ministries under which the major scientific activities in the country were carried out. The National Science Council had therefore tended to work in isolation.
To achieve greater co-ordination among the various sectors of research activity presently carried out in various departments, research institutes and Universities, it was suggested that the Ministries having related functions should be grouped in such a manner as to make possible the implementation of research and development activities pertinent to that group of Ministries.
It was proposed that a Standing Research Committee should be set up for each group of Ministries. The chairman of such a Committee appointed in consultation with the particular Minister concerned will be appointed as a member of the National Science Council by the Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs.
These members would thereby be in a position to transmit to the National Science Council, the scope and range of research activities in the different Ministries. This would assist the National Science Council to formulate an overall policy for scientific research”.
In consideration of these observations of the Cabinet, the Council proposed the following Standing Research Committees for which Chairmen were appointed in consultation with the Ministries concerned.
Group 1 - Ministry of Agriculture and Lands Ministry of Irrigation , Power and Highways (Irrigation Section)
Group 2 - Ministry of Fisheries
Group 3 - Ministry of Foreign and Internal Trade
Group 4 - Ministry of Plantation Industry
Group 5 - Ministry of Irrigation, Power and Highways (Power and Highways Section), Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications
Group 6 - Ministry of Housing and Construction
Group 7 - Ministry of Health
Group 8 - Ministry of Education
Group 9 - Ministry of Planning and Employment
Group 10 - Ministry of Finance
Group 11 - Ministry of Industries and Scientific Affairs
During 1972 the Council also, through the recommendations of a special sub-committee of the Council drafted and submitted a Bill to amend the NSC Act of 1968. This draft bill was discussed by the Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, and after considering the observations of the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science, Cabinet approval was obtained. During 1973 draft legislation was prepared, and in August 1975 the National State Assembly sanctioned its enactment as the National Science Council of Sri Lanka, Law No:36 of 1975. The Law however, became operative only on the first of January 1976, more than five years after the Council had initiated steps to rectify the defects in the first Act of Incorporation of the NSC.
The new Act widened the scope of work of the Council with emphasis on planning and policy development for science and technology. In particular the Act empowered the Council to study and report on:-
- the effective utilization of the available scientific and technical personnel in Sri Lanka;
- the future scientific and technical manpower requirements for the effective implementation of the science policy of Sri Lanka; and
- the steps to be taken to provide adequate training facilities to meet future scientific and technical manpower requirements.
The composition of the Council according to the new Act consisted of seven appointed members and six ex officio members, making in all a 13-member Council. It is significant to note that not only was the membership of the Council reduced from 21 to 13, but was also to comprise of two categories of members. The “appointed” members comprised hand-picked persons who have distinguished themselves in any field of science and technology and therefore were considered to represent the scientific community of the country. On the other hand, the ex officio members as would be seen from the following extract of the Act represented officials who would facilitate in “achieving greater co-ordination among the various sectors of research activity carried out in various departments, research institutes and universities”.
The following were the ex officio members of the Council:
- the Secretary-General of the Council
- The Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the Minister to whom the subject or function of Industries and Scientific Affairs has been assigned or a representative of the Ministry nominated by the Secretary.
- the Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the Minister to whom the subject or function of planning has been assigned or a representative of the Ministry nominated by the Secretary.
- the Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the Minister to whom the subjects or function of Finance has been assigned or a representative of the Ministry nominated by the Secretary.
- the Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the Minister to whom the subjects or function of Plantation Industries has been assigned or a representative of the Ministry nominated by the Secretary; and
- the Secretary to the Ministry in charge of the Minister to whom the subjects or function of Foreign and Internal Trade has been assigned or a representative of the Ministry nominated by the Secretary.
The Chairman of the new Council was appointed by the Minister from among the appointed category of members. The other new features of the Act were the powers vested in the Council to delegate specified authority that may be considered necessary for the effective transaction of its business, to the Secretary General, or to the Executive Committee comprising the Chairman of the Council, the Vice Chairman, the Secretary General, and the ex-officio member representing the Ministry of Industries and Scientific Affairs.
Figure 1 Portrait of the Late Professor G.C.N. Jayasuriya, the First Full Time Secretary General of the National Science Council, who held Office from March 1971 to September 1978
The Act also permitted the Minister on the recommendation of the Council to appoint Working Committees, deemed necessary to assist the Council in the performance of its duties. Thus there were several major changes in the structural and organizational framework of the Council. The drastic reduction in the number of Council members was obviously linked to two major constraints – (a) the rapid turnover of members and the difficulty of finding substitutes. (b) the difficulty in planning and steering a programme of work, with an unenviable diversity of interests and views.
The idea of an Executive Committee had both merits and defects. The usefulness of the Executive Committee was that it could meet more frequently and oversee the implementation of programmes more conveniently. It also facilitated the process of decision-making.
On the other hand it was found that there was considerable over-lap in the duties and function of the Exco and the Council, with the latter’s main role being to endorse the actions of the Exco. In the actual operation of the system, it became clear, therefore that an Executive Committee was superfluous, when a competent professional staff was manning the Secretariat.
In November 1979, a further amendment was introduced to the NSC Act No.36 of 1975, whereby the clause dealing with the appointment of Council members was repealed and a new clause submitted. The legal effect of this amendment was to provide for the appointment of eight members by the Minister, and to limit the number of ex-officio members to three comprising of the Secretary General, a representative from the Ministry of Industries and Scientific Affairs and a representation from the Ministry of Finance.
The reasons of this change was obviously the ineffectiveness of the earlier scheme, where it was contended that representation from all Ministries concerned with Science and Technology would facilitate co-operation for coordinated action. It was clear that as long as NSC remained as a corporate body within a ministry, inter-ministerial co-operation at corporate or formal level would only be a theoretical concept. Thus just within a decade of its existence, the NSC had to go through a number of changes, most of which were in the organizational framework. What is significant was that from a Council comprising 21 members, at the commencement of the NSC the membership dropped to 13 in 1976 and to 11 in 1979.
The final outcome of these reforms was a reasonably good institutional setup, with operational flexibility as well as with meaningful provisions for co-ordination and co-operation in scientific and technological work. However, the Government’s concern for appropriate action in the fields of natural resources, and energy, necessitated further expansion and exploitation of the scientific skills of the country. Hence it was conceived that the National Science Council, which had now matured into a productive and popular enterprise, should be appropriately restructured to push forward the new policy objectives of the Government.
4.0 Creation of an Authority for Natural Resources, Energy and Science in 1982
In 1980, the then Executive Head of State realizing the need to widen the scope of activities of the National Science Council, conceived of a revolutionary transformation of the organization by empowering it with the additional task of overseeing the scientific and technological development of the environmental and energy sectors. This issue no doubt was the subject of intense discussion and debate amongst various groups of scientists and engineers, most of whom were not convinced with this proposal. Nevertheless in June 1982, the NSC Act was repealed, and in its place the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority (NARESA) was created by the Act No: 78 of 1981. At the same time the hierarchical position of NARESA in the Government’s organizational structure was changed by placing it under the Presidential Office. The new Authority which had a broader field of operation was also in a unique hierarchical position to carry out its duties and functions forcibly and effectively. Like the previous National Science Council, the new Authority had 11 members of whom one was a representative from the Ministry of Finance. The mandate of the Authority specifically included action on aspects of natural resources development, and investigations on energy-related issues. In practice however, the need to use the Presidential Authority for its mandated operations rarely rose, mainly because of the reputation and stature it had painstakingly established locally and internationally during the first quarter century of its existence, initially as the National Science Council and later as the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority of Sri Lanka.
Under the provisions of this Act, the six Statutory Working Committees and the six specialists panels of the former Council were replaced with ten Statutory Working Committees for the disciplines of Chemical Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, Social Sciences, Natural Resources, Energy, Science Education Research, and Scientific and Technical Information. In this reorganization process, the Research Grants Board and the Science Policy Research Committee were discontinued, since it was conceived that the functions of these bodies would be served by the new committees. However, in terms of planning and policy development in science and technology, this move was considered as an ill conceived and retrograde step. Nevertheless NARESA continued to carry out one of the main functions of the National Science Council, that is, advising the government on specific issues relating to science and technology policy. But its main thrust was to enhance the research capability of young scientists, and thereby building a viable scientific community. In pursuance of these objectives, it continued to support curiosity-oriented basic research in all fields of science including social sciences, giving preferences to programmes which had a postgraduate component. The success of NARESA’s efforts to enhance research capability of young scientists was evident from the output of postgraduates and publications. Between 1970 1nd 1874 this grant awarding scheme had produced 70 MSc’s and 6 PhD’s, and over 150 publications out of a total of 261 completed grants.
With the widening of the scope of activities of NARESA, it was inevitable that the organization should play a more dynamic role in initiating and coordinating scientific research. This is well reflected in the number of multidisciplinary and inter-institutional research programmes developed and executed by the organization from 1982 onwards. These include the Inland Fishery Research Programme, Water Buffalo Research Programme, The Zoological Survey of Sri Lanka, the Potash Fertilizer Research Programme, the Water Weeds Survey Programme, The Mangrove Study Programme and the Coastal Ecology Research Programme.
Most of these programmes received substantial foreign funding, for which NARESA had the authority to negotiate directly with foreign funding agencies. Hence these research programmes were coordinated and monitored by Scientific Advisory Committees, outside NARESA’s long standing research grants scheme, which received assistance from the Government’s Consolidated Fund.
In order to strengthen and enhance the research capability factor, NARESA with the aid of outright foreign grants, also took the initiative to establish two specialized laboratory-scale glass-blowing units, a well equipped workshop for maintenance and repair of electronic equipment to serve all scientists, and a scheme to provide free of charge any spare parts required for the repair of electronic scientific instruments. It also established the Sri Lanka Scientific and Technical Information Centre linking a number of local and international information networks of Science and Technology, to back up the country’s scientific and technical information system. All these activities were undertaken with outright foreign grants, relieving the State of the consequent financial burden. Finally NARESA also instituted several awards for achievements in scientific work, of which the most prestigious was the Presidential Award for Scientific Excellence.
Left to Right Prof. F.S.C.P. Kalpage, Science Advisor to President J.R.Jayewardene, (who submitted the very first application for a Research Grant to NSC in 1969), Prof. E.O.E. Pereira former Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, and the Chairman of NSC (October 1977 to May 1982), Dr. R.P. Jayewardene, Secretary General (Sept 1987 to May 1982) of NSC, and Mr. M.A.T. De Silva, Assistant Secretary General of NSC
However, in 1989, with a change of government, NARESA was transferred from the Presidential Office to the Ministry of Industries, Science and Technology, and later installed in a Project Ministry for Science and Technology.
This unfortunate down-grading of the science and technology sector was indeed the feared premonition of the scientific community as well as of SLAAS, which in the early formative years, vociferously and ceaselessly objected to the creation of a Ministry for S & T in place of an autonomous National Research Council. This was because of the inevitable vulnerability of a Ministry to pressures of the political hierarchy.
Thus the appointment of the Project Minister, possibly influenced by political expediencies, caused unprecedented confusion, because this Minister was not allocated either office space or resources to establish and operate a Ministry for Science andTechnology. It is in the midst of this episode that the incumbent government, assuming that there was a slackness in science based activities decided to review all aspects of the sector, by appointing what was called a “Presidential Task Force on Science and Technology Development” (PTF) in 1991.
5.0 Structural and Functional Adjustments for Creation of the National Science Foundation and the National Science and Technology Commission
This Task Force consisted of nine senior scientists representing different disciplines. The terms of reference of the task force included a review of the current status of science and technology in the country, and formulation of strategies for the use of S & T in industry, in agricultural modernization and in poverty alleviation. The task force was also required to recommend legislative and institutional reforms necessary to make these strategies effective. The major issues considered at the discussions of the task force meetings included research collaboration; interaction among scientific organizations; avoiding duplication of efforts; application of research results; and coordination of S and T at the national level. The final report of the task force was submitted to the President in November 1991, in which a ten-point policy framework for the 1990s was recommended.
- To use S & T as an integral part of the effort to achieve rapid economic development, improved quality of life and poverty alleviation, and to involve scientists and technologists in the formulation of policy and in decision making at the highest levels;
- To foster scientific and technological activity in all its aspects and the widest possible scope to maintain a vigorous drive towards developing self-reliance in scientific and technological capability, and to allocate a reasonable proportion of the GNP for S & T activity;
- To support the development of indigenous technology wherever feasible while vigorously promoting the import, adaptation and assimilation of technology for rapid industrial development;
- To ensure that our institutions of higher education and research, and technical education produce scientists, technologists and technicians of the highest caliber and competence, and thereby build adequate numbers of them in Sri Lanka by providing incentives for retaining and attracting such persons;
- To produce equal and adequate opportunities for all to acquire a basic education in science and its practical applications;
- To cultivate among the people of Sri Lanka an appreciation of the value of science, scientific method and technology as an essential aspect of modern society;
- To disseminate the benefits of S & T activity as widely as possible within the country to all sections of people;
- To encourage and strengthen cooperation in S & T, both within Sri Lanka as well as with other countries, and to provide access to global scientific and technological knowledge and activity;
- To develop the capability to continuously plan, evaluate and review strategies, legislation, and institutional framework for S & T, and to support this with an information technology capability; and
- To identify priority areas of S & T likely to be of benefit to Sri Lanka and to specially focus and promote research and development in such areas.
These recommendations of the PTF Report, while in a way reiterated the earlier report on the National Science and Technology Policy for Sri Lanka issued in December 1986, sharpened the thrust and orientation towards national development. Significantly, the PTF Report also recommended several institutional reforms in respect to scientific institutions, which were in the Science and Technology Development Act. Although this Act was passed in parliament in April 1994, the impending parliamentary elections prevented its immediate implementation.
The new coalition government that came into power, fulfilling one of the election manifestos, gave due recognition to S & T by establishing for the first time a separate cabinet-level ministry for S & T. After the cabinet ministry was formed, the minister sought advice of leading local scientists and scientific organizations about the implementation of the task force recommendations. The unexpected resistance from the scientific community prompted the government to lay aside the implementation of this act. However by a strange quirk of fate, a new minister who succeeded the first cabinet minister on S & T, decided to implement the task force recommendations in April 1998, after a lapse of four years2.
The scientific community was undoubtedly taken by surprise, when a ministerial communication announced the immediate implementation of the S & T Development Act, which was passed in parliament in April 1994 by a government that was now in the opposition. The reason for this sudden change of attitude was not clear, but the minister’s observation was that, the act provided the logical institutional framework for S & T.
The institutional reforms recommended in the PTF Report however, led to the creation of two institutions designated as National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Science and Technology Commission (NASTEC) in place of the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority2.
Through the provisions of this new Act, some of the original functions of NARESA which included the award of grants for scientific research was delineated to the National Science Foundation, while the prime role of formulating science and technology policy was assigned to NASTEC, which also had been assigned the task of advising the government on policies and plans for the development of science and technology, and their application in facilitating economic growth, improvement of efficiency and competitiveness of industry, agriculture and services. NASTEC was also expected to advice and assist the government in formulating policies and plans for the development of the science and technology human resource base, allocation of funds for research and its proper management, and promotion of conditions necessary for the advancement of science and technology in the country. Other important functions assigned to this organization included prioritization of scientific issues of national significance, evaluation of performances of science and technology institutions, and organizing a biennial convention to review and assess the scientific and technological needs of the country. Thus it is clear that some of the key functions of NARESA, as well as strong over-arching powers over Ministries with portfolios impinging on scientific and technological research, were lodged in the functional portfolio of NASTEC.
Historically, the prime function of formulating a National Science and Technology Policy, which was vested with the founding organization the National Science Council, was indeed a birthmark of this organization. Nevertheless as pointed in an earlier section, the birth and up-bringing of the National Science Council as a nascent organization, though not turbulent, had its share of teething problems over a considerable period of time. However, there is no evidence that these issues had any adverse effect on the role that was expected to be played by the original founder organization. This function, which took precedence over all other activities, remained a key function of the National Science Council as well as its immediate successor, the Natural Resources, Energy and Science Authority (NARESA), until the structural and functional re-organization of NARESA took place in 1998, when this function was delineated to NASTEC.
Prepared by M. Asoka T. De Silva