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[CARACAS] A Venezuelan law, which requires companies to contribute part of their annual income to science, technology and innovation programmes has increased investment in scientific research and development fivefold.

Héctor Navarro, Venezuela's Minister of Science and Technology, announced the news at a press conference this month (18 May).

Navarro said that 4,579 out of 6,649 eligible public and private companies — those with annual gross revenues above US$1.5 million — were forced by law to contribute 0.5–2 per cent of their annual gross income to the country's scientific development.

The funds were collected for the first time in January, based on profit calculations for 2005.

Navarro says the companies have contributed approximately US$2.5 billion, increasing the investment in research and development to 2.11 per cent — up from 0.45 per cent in 2005 — of gross domestic product.

The total investment greatly exceeded the expectations of Venezuelan science authorities, who had calculated the companies' contribution to be about US$860 million (see Venezuela's mandatory 'science spend' a success).

Oil and gas companies contributed the largest investment. They accounted for 54.5 per cent of the total collected.

The companies were allowed to invest in their own science development projects, finance scientific institutions and universities, or transfer their contribution to a government fund for the state to decide its destination.

The Ministry of Science plans to support a programme to form 4,000 PhDs with the funds collected.

Navarro also announced the creation of a supervisory group to guide companies on how to invest their resources, which the government hopes will lead to the development of new technologies.

The next round of funds will be collected in October from the profits that companies obtained in 2006.