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Ronaldo Sardenberg: Strategic route to growth

Minister invests in the integration of the Science and Technology system withinthe country and in international cooperation

eduardo cesarAmbassador Ronaldo Sardenberg took over the Ministry of Science and Technology in July of 1999 with at least two obsessions: to increase the budget and to lead Brazilian research towards the frontiers of knowledge. Less than three years afterwards, the resources of S&T have jumped from R$ 900 million to R$ 1.5 billion, swollen by resources from several Sectorial Funds approved during the same period; the number of doctors has reached the case of 36,300 and national science is beginning to gain a position among countries who wager on cutting edge technology. Today the main challenge is to decentralize the actions of the Ministry, to integrate the diverse regions and to articulate a policy of international cooperation that will multiply the efforts and the actions of developing countries.

However, he confesses: his greatest “pretension” is to magnetize public opinion and the policy making institutions to take on board the idea that science and technology play a strategic role in development in such a manner that investments in the sector stop being “bureaucratic construction” and become a society demand. Here are the main excerpts an interview given to Pesquisa FAPESP .

During the National Conference on Science and Technology, in September of last year, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) presented the bill for the Innovation Law. Has the project been sent to Congress?
The Project was put out for public consultation. We received a very large number of contributions and now it is being redrafted. We should finish this task in three weeks and then send the project on to Congress.

Will it be possible to vote on it before July, when the election campaigns will be starting?
I don’t know. The important thing is to drive in a stake. We’re dealing with a law that doesn’t have written values, but represents a revolution in the field of research and development in Brazil.

Did the suggestions sent in through public consultation modified the original project?
We received many ideas, but the central elements of the projected law were maintained. Our proposal is to change the labor law in such a way as to allow that researchers in the public area be able to work for some time in private companies – and even form their own private companies – and, at the same time, allow that those who are working in private enterprise be able to carry out studies in the universities. The new law proposes more autonomy for the research institutes and greater capacity for commissioning research and technological development directly from companies.

Further, the project covers aspects relative to bids and intellectual property, such as the division of the results of patents between the researcher and the public institution. In the suggestions sent in during public consultation, there was a concern with details, which is natural, with the changes of established regulations. We will have to decide if we’re going to maintain a higher or lower degree of generality.

What will be the proper channels for the Innovation Law?
The bill could be attached to the bill being presented by senator Roberto Freire (PPS-PE – The Popular Socialist Party – center of left). However, it’s more in-depth. That of senator Freire is closer to France’s Innovation Law, which has its own merits. Our proposal for an Innovation Law took on a wider aspect and is a revolutionary proposal regarding research and development in Brazil and is going to create conditions for a change of attitude and mentality in the country.

To what changes are you referring to?
For example, the dimension of the scientific community in the country is increasing quickly. Last year we formed 6,300 doctors and we now have 36,300 doctors in Brazil. This growth trend must continue and this demands the creation of new forms of institutions in order to absorb this new number of doctors. As well as this, there is also the specific relationship of companies with science and technology. We’re creating means that allow us to bring research closer to technological development.

The MCT is preparing a White Book on S&T, set out on the basis of the debates that took place at the National Conference. When will it be ready?
Besides the Green Book, made out before the Conference with the help of four hundred researchers and the MCT, we also promised to draft a White Book, which would be a sort of distilled version of the Green and of what happened at the Conference. It so happens that this is a complex task, considering that the Conference was a success. It will not be a futuristic route, but a group f possible guidelines for the next few years. In Brazil there are close to 200,000 people involved with science and technology, considering students. This represents a percentage of 0.13% of the population. In the United States they have 0.9% of the population in this area. If we’re to work in such a way as to make science and technology stronger in Brazil, we need to work to increase these dimensions. When it’s mentioned that Brazil has 36,300 doctors, people’s reaction is to believe that we have more than enough.

This is not true. The guidelines that we’re formulating in the Green Book take this into consideration. Where do we want to get to in eight or ten years in terms of quality? We have to aim at investment similar to the developed countries, in proportional terms. Instead of having the participation of 1.4% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we must look to increasing this percentage to 2.3% or 2.4% at the minimum. We’ll never be, on a horizon of a ten-year period, competing with Japan or with Sweden who spend more than 3%. However, we can long for a stronger situation. Brazil represents half of the Latin-American effort in S&T in volume of resources and rate of growth. We can afford to look more to the future.

How can we guarantee, with eventual changes in the direction of the government, the continuity of this process of consolidation of the system of S&T in the country?
My intention is that public opinion and the political system recognize in a very clear and firm way that S&T in Brazil has strategic value, not only in terms of the creation of value, but in terms of the creation of well being, in such a way that with this we can create an alliance in the country in favor of science and technology that doesn’t need to be directed by the government. In this way we’ll be ensuring the continuity of the process. And this is going to happen as we manage to come out of the ministry offices and laboratories and magnetize public opinion with the same obsession that there is in the country’s scientific community.

We intend to establish firmly the national systems of S&T and the work of the Administration and Strategic Studies Center as a meeting point between the Conference sessions. Let’s say that in three years time we have another National Conference. This should be a demand of the community, of all those interested, of companies, of the press, with an effort to review all that has been done so far. If this exercise is to be serious, it will stop being an exercise and will be solved between four walls. It must no longer be a bureaucratic construction.

The formulation itself of the budget and the research fields to be selected, need to be the object of more debate. We have to have a series of workshops and seminars to help in the determination of necessary projects. We’re carrying out prospecting exercises. It’s a collective vision, but one which can still be expanded beyond the walls of the Ministry and of the academic world and should be more present in public debate. When I see FAPESP’s decision to put the magazine Pesquisa FAPESP on sale to the general public, I perceived that there is a movement in this direction.

What have been, from your point of view, the main changes in this sector over the last few years?
When I arrived at the MST in July of 1999, there was a high level of dissatisfaction in the less developed regions who felt themselves to have been relegated. We made a pledge to improve relations, firstly with the National Forum of State Secretaries of Science and Technology and afterwards with the states themselves. The idea is that, in order to operate on a national logic, one needs to mobilize the whole country. However, this is complex and expensive work. When we create a national sequencing network, bringing together twenty five laboratories from fifteen different states, we have to equip the laboratories and to train their personnel. Once this stage was completed, we began to worry about obtaining concrete results. In the middle of 2000, the Sectorial Funds began to be approved and we initiated a process of consultation to see what we could do.

The methodology adopted to select the priority projects was that of a technology platform: a table at which one could find all of the relevant players who had an interest in technological development – states, MST organs and other partners. In a process of negotiation and consultation, specific areas were chosen. For example, in Rio de Janeiro ornamental stones and information technology were identified; In the state of Goiás, the choice fell upon the sector of leather and shoes, as well as medicines; in Pernambuco, gypsum, goat raising, fruit growing and information technology. In each case, a research project was thought up as a pre-investment. let’s look at the case of gypsum.

In the town of Araripina, on the border of Pernambuco and Ceará States, there is a gypsum mine that could supply the needs of Brazil as well as exporting. Research was needed to develop products, to lower costs, to think about the logistics of distribution and of certifying the product. To export such a fragile perishable product such as gypsum one needs to give guarantees to the buyer, via a certificate. This process was interesting. For the first time the MST left Brasilia, decentralizing its action. However, a de-concentration process needs to be accompanied by national integration. It’s necessary that this form a system in the country as a whole. I want to underline that we’re speaking about research not about investments. The integration is being done via a network. The first experience was in the part of the genome project. Since the result was extraordinary, it will be extended to other sectors, including that of international cooperation.

You have mentioned the policy of decentralization, but among the Research Support Foundations (FAPs), the sensation lingers on that the decisions always come from the federal plan.
Never did we think in transforming the action of the Ministry into a myriad of localized projects. We’re carrying out systemic projects. We’re worried aboutde-concentration itself as well as the integration of actions. These reviews are recent, they have been no more than six months in existence. The FAPs have a traditional relationship with the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and must even increase this collaboration. Our objective in directing ourselves towards the States was in the sense of stimulating them to put more resources into S&T.

Are there States that could put more of their resources into science and technology than they’re currently putting?
Without a doubt. The richest States of the federation have the conditions to put more in, in cooperation with the Federal Government. This is not the case with São Paulo. One needs to perceive that the resources of the Federal Government are limited. We cannot base the advance of S&T exclusively on Federal resources, as the traditional practice was. We have to think that new sources of resources must be generated and one of these source is in our state governments. In one way or another the States are reacting. Before, science and technology didn’t have any appeal…

What has been missing was a certain sensibility on the part of the states?
Yes, but also one must be aware that whoever is in a very precarious situation has difficulty formulating long term plans. Why bring together a group of guidelines on science and technology until the year 2010? S&T isn’t news on a day to day basis, since the results only begin to show in medium time, from three to five years. The resources of the Sectorial Funds have helped to change this situation. Today we’re spending in the poorer states more than double what had previously been spent. Before the poorer states came to the richer regions of Brazil in search of resources. Now this is not quite the case.

Did the recent announcement by the Federal Government of budgetary cuts not provoke discouragement in this partnership work?
We never sold the philosophy that this would be easy. In the construction of a new instrument there’s a complex political process. Even then, with all of the cuts, today’s forecast resources for the MST are identical to those of last year, which was the best year to date. We have a budget of a billion and more. However, the year hasn’t finished. We’ll continue to work to expand existing resources. I have no illusions as to the difficulties of the undertaking. We have a problem facing us: the last four Funds – health, agribusiness, biotechnology and aeronautics – were approved during the final days of December 2001, when the budgetary proposal had already been closed. These resources are not forecast in the coming budget. Consequently, we’re discussing how to apportion these resource funds.

So, the MST could have a budget greater than R$ 1.5 billion?
Everything leads us to believe the answer is – yes. My expectation is that we’ll reach the end of the year with more resources than we have now.

You’ve been intensifying the work to establish more consistent international cooperation. Where will this policy lead?
Only a few countries in the world have made any efforts in this direction, among them the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and to a certain extent Japan. Among the developing countries we have China, India, South Korea, Brazil and South Africa. In Brazil, at the same time that we’re making a national effort of decentralization, of integrating and investing in local situations, there’s still the dimension of international cooperation. And this is irrefutable because science, technology and innovation are today more and more international.

As well, this is creating a process of the concentration of knowledge in the more developed countries and the appearance of gaps, as for, in example, the formation of personnel. We, who are making a huge effort in the formation of human resources, are only just beginning to recover lost time. Brazil is forming doctors in the same numbers as Italy, Canada and Switzerland. A country such as ours has to do what is possible to follow, and if possible, participate in the frontiers of knowledge.

In this cooperation is the transfer of technology forecast?
I don’t believe in the transfer of technology, especially of high technology. If we need to bring in winds of change from abroad, the way is group development. And the way to do is by reinforcing ties with developed countries. Up until now, the policy of international cooperation was traditional, of the same type when I entered into foreign service with Itamaraty ( The Brazilian Foreign Service) in 1964: an exchange of specialists and visits, without any institutional character and extremely scattered. It’s clear that there’s logic in this as well. However, we’re being pressed by concrete problems, such as how to stay at the forefront of knowledge.

We’re a country of 170 million inhabitants, we have more than fifty years experience forged through the Coordination of Personnel Training at Tertiary Level (Capes) and with the CNPq and we cannot lose this capital of knowledge, leave it so that it becomes obsolete. We’re looking, in the negotiations with France and Germany, to select issues on which we can concentrate our attention, such as biotechnology, information technology, nanotechnology, among others. It’s interesting that, after the French and Germans understood what we were looking for, they began to demand on our part the presentation of more sophisticated projects. We’re not a minor partner.

There are other new partnerships such as those with Spain and Portugal. As well we have partnerships with Asian countries, principally China, with whom we have had a relationship from thirteen to fourteen years. We have a national satellite flying, this year the second will fly and we are going to announce the commitment to a third and fourth, under differentiated conditions: that we’ll have a more and more important role in the development of the launch. We’re restarting our very old cooperation South-South in high technology. This is where the difference lies in group development.

How are our understandings with India?
I’ve been to India and I’ve observed that there are possibilities of establishing a program in areas such as space activities. In India there are interesting advances in banking software and they have a direct interest in the banking and security software produced in Brazil. The South-South cooperation induces the cooperation between Southern countries and North-South cooperation. At this moment we’re making an effort to intensify our cooperation with the Argentine.

Won’t the economic difficulties of the Argentine upset this cooperation?
No, on the contrary, they stimulate it because there’s a process of the migration of Argentinean scientists. Our strategy is to maintain a permanent partnership with the Argentine. We have zero interest in the Argentinean troubles. We’re intensifying projects in the area of biotechnology, of space activities and in the more traditional aspects such as visits and scholarships.

Does this change in international relations have anything to do with Brazil’s greater competitiveness or is it only the policy itself?
Both things and as well there’s the aspect of credibility. The fact that we’re maintaining the level of our financial resources, even under a fiscal crisis, and even that we can have an increase in our budget for science and technology, gives outsiders an indication of something quite serious.