Colombia increases status of science and technology

Uribe: A country that does not research generates indifference in new generations Copyright: Presidencia de la República de Colombia

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[BOGOTÁ] Colombia has revamped its science legislation after almost two decades to increase the status of its science development agency — and bring science and technology (S&T) on a par with other sectors.

The new law was signed by the president Álvaro Uribe last month and presented by him this week (10 February).

Under the law, the Colombian Institute for the Development of Science and Technology (Colciencias) becomes the Administrative Department for Science, Technology and Innovation — putting it at the level of a ministry, but without legislative powers.

It will now be able to communicate directly with the president — rather than its previous position under the Department of Planning — and its director will join the Ministerial Council when S&T issues are on the agenda. It will also have more freedom in science spending.

Uribe said in his speech that congressmen and the scientific community convinced him of the need for S&T to be put on an equal footing with the other agencies of government. "A country that does not research generates indifference in new generations," he added.

Moisés Wasserman, principal of the National University of Colombia told SciDev.Net the key positive element of the new legislation is to "raise Colciencias to a level where big decisions are made and where its director may influence best budgets for science".

But the change — the first revision of S&T legislation since 1990 — has been criticised by scientists saying it doesn’t map out how Colombia will reach its goal of spending one per cent of GDP science, technology and innovation by 2010. Today the figure is 0.5 per cent.

Eduardo Posada, president of the Colombian Association for the Advancement of Science, told SciDev.Net that there is no indication of where the money for science and technology will come from.

And Wasserman says there is no specific information on the administrative or fiscal instruments that will support science activities, such as tax exemptions for companies supporting R&D.

Elízabeth Hoyos, director of the Interactive Center for Science and Technology agrees: "A science and technology law in the twenty first century without financial resources is nonsense."

But such issues can be resolved by Colciencias’ new status, Francisco Miranda, director of Colciencias, told SciDev.Net. He described the change in legislation as "a big step in the process to transform science in a development instrument".

Colciencias has until the end of 2009 to implement the legislation and establish itself as an administrative department. Researchers hope that instruments to enhance scientific activities — such as tax exemptions — will be established.