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  • Funding apathy hits South-South collaboration

[ISLAMABAD] Lack of cooperation, internal and regional political crises and low science budgets are among roadblocks to collaboration among developing countries, an international meeting heard.

The Islamabad-based Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS) held its second commission meeting this month (16-17 April), after 15 years, to discuss challenges to scientific cooperation among its 21 members spread over Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The meeting also discussed ways to improve its finances. In the past 16 years, COMSATS could gather only US$ 616,208 from its member-countries, against the US$ 9,680,000 pledged, its executive director Imtinan Elahi Qureshi told SciDev.Net.

Sherry Ayittey, Ghana's minister for environment, science and technology, proposed approaching international donor aid agencies, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, as well as the corporate sector.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani proposed setting up a US$ 10 million endowment fund, with contributions from both COMSATS countries and international donors. He pledged US$ one million from Pakistan for the fund.

Chairperson of COMSATS coordinating council, Eduardo Posada Florez, said that member-countries devoted, on average, about 0.5 per cent of their national budgets to science, compared to 2.5 per cent by developed countries

The scientific and technical capacity  gap arose from "the depressing situation of poor budgetary allocations," Florez said. This situation was worsened by wastage of natural resources, economic stagnation and social instability in some countries, he added.

Athar Osama, chief executive officer of the UK-based Technomics International Limited and expert on science, technology and innovation policies in developing countries, observed that COMSATS was set up as an inter-governmental organisation in 1994, but had better success in building a federal university and an institute for information technology.

COMSATS' original objective was not to build a university, and hence it has "deviated from its original purpose," he told SciDev.Net.

"South-South cooperation is alive and flourishing," Osama said. "It is just not happening within multilateral institutions like COMSATS anymore." 

Osama said the fact that COMSATS was holding its second commission meeting after 15 years signifies the question that it now faces regarding its relevance to the South today. "This is COMSATS' moment of truth."

Qureshi, however, said that COMSATS was "proactive on both national and international fronts, as far as our goals are concerned."

Link  to Resolution of COMSATS Second Commission meeting 2012

See Letter to the editor: COMSATS is boosting South-South research cooperation

See Letter to the editor: In defence of COMSATS