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[BOGOTA] Colombia is preparing a reform of its 1991 Constitution that, if approved by Congress, would boost its science funding and increase its investment in research in less developed regions of the country.

Under the reform, ten per cent of the royalties from both government and private exploitation of oil, coal, gold, platinum and new minerals would be invested in research.

This would mean an influx of at least US$250 million a year — a huge amount for the country — according to Jaime Restrepo, recently appointed director of the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias), by the newly-elected president of Colombia, Juan M. Santos who took office earlier this month.

Restrepo told SciDev.Net that some of the funds will be used for training PhD students — the goal in the following four years will be one thousand per year, a 100 per cent increase from the current levels.

They will also help foster investment in science, technology and innovation in the less developed regions of the country. The plan is to create new regional research centres based on the potential strengths of the regions for specific research.

"Research provides solutions to the core problems of the country," Restrepo said. He added that he would also support the bioinformatics centre recently created in Caldas.

Colombia's proposed strategy is similar to Brazil's decentralisation of its science efforts over the last couple of decades. These have brought many benefits to the country including research relevant to the development of the regions in which it is conducted, according to a recent study by the Brazil-based Center for Strategic Studies and Management in Science, Technology and Innovation.

"The most important goal is the financial one," said Restrepo. "That is why the constitutional reform would be a priority," he added, pointing out that Colciencias lawyers have already started writing the proposal.

Changing the country's constitution takes time; constitutional reform goes through eight debates in the Congress. But Restrepo is confident that it will be approved next year, and come into force in 2012.

Restrepo, a medical doctor and a former congressman, was the legislator who pushed for approval of the last year's science law that promoted Colciencias to the level of a ministry.

Eduardo Posada, president of the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science, told SciDev.Net that "having parliamentary experience, Restrepo is the best candidate to move the proposal through Congress".