ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wadan Lal Narsey
Early life and family
I was born and grew up in Toorak (yes, another of the notorious “Toorak Boys”).
My parents (Narseybhai and Maniben) (photo) ran a small laundry (B.Narsey Laundry No.8) opposite the Dudley Church. It was their early sacrifices that saw me and my siblings go through school (albeit, in return for several hours of unpaid daily labour in their laundry, after school). [A book of related short stories is in the pipeline]. Toorak was the “Wild West” of Suva in those years, unlike the Toorak of Melbourne.
I went to St Columbas and St Felix (influenced by Brother Bertrand), and Marist Brothers’ High School (influenced by Brother Anthony, Ahmed Ali, Francis Hong Tiy and Yadhu Nand Singh).
I loved my school days, not for the “schooling”, but the sports: soccer, cricket, rugby, athletics (Fiji 1500 meters champ), and all the multiracial friends that came with sports (photos). I played soccer for the MBHS Old Boys Team as well as for the Toorak League Team.
My most valued achievement at Marist was the Sportsman of the Year Trophy (not bad for a Gujerati boy), which my father casually tossed aside (“it won’t feed your stomach, son”) while he hung all our scholastic certificates in the sitting room. Vijay Singh and Lote Tuqiri were not around then.
I eventually made it to Otago University, University of West Indies (Jamaica) and Sussex (UK).
Sadly, nearly all of my senior Marist cohort have emigrated.
I started work at the Fiji Bureau of Statistics in 1972 and starting friendships that have lasted for forty years (Kishor Chetty) as well as a solid working relationship with the FBS.
But my work at the University of the South Pacific has been my real labour of love, starting in 1973 (when our offices were little huts in cow paddocks). It was a perpetual struggle to get higher level training and promotions, but great comrades in arms then were Ahmed Ali, Yadhu Nand Singh, Ropate Qalo, Rajesh Chandra and Vijay Naidu (that is not to say that we did not have our disagreements).
That long association with USP (with two small breaks in it) ended sadly in 2011 when the University asked me to stop criticizing the Military Regime or to resign. The USP management said they were under serious financial pressure from the Fiji Government (who promptly paid up soon after I resigned).
I have had four brushes with politics these last four decades With Simione Durutalo, I gave one of the two papers at the 1985 Biennial Congress of the Fiji Trade Union Congress, critiquing the Fiji Government’s draconian Wage Freeze, which led to the formation of the Fiji Labour Party of which I was a founding member. I was appointed Chairman of the Policy Committee but left in 1986 after procedural disagreements with the FLP management.
In 1996 I was invited by Mr Jai Ram Reddy of the National Federation Party (NFP) to stand for the Suva by-election to Parliament, which I entered uncontested by FLP, after resigning from USP. It was an interesting experience as I co-operated with people from all parties on issues, including the FLP and SVT, and contributed as a “neutral economist” and not as a “politician”. This was not approved by party stalwarts.
My three years as Shadow Finance Minister totally changed my orientation as an economist, away from irrelevant academic publications, towards the real “bread and butter” issues in Fiji. Under Mr Reddy’s leadership we gave birth to a historic partnership with Rabuka’s SVT Party and the 1997 Constitution, especially the little appreciated Multi-Party Government provisions. Our partnership was not appreciated by the voters and both National Federation Party and the SVT were soundly defeated. The NFP despite retaining reasonable support amongst the Indo-Fijian voters, was annihilated by the Alternative Vote system, going from 27 MPs to zero after the 1999 Election. I went back to teaching at USP.
After the 2000 coup, I attempted to bring together the leaders of the FLP and SVT towards a Government of National Unity (once at USP, and once at residence of the NZ High Commissioner). Both efforts failed because of the inability of the two leaders to see eye to eye, both metaphorically and physically. For my efforts, I was censored by the University management for having the meeting on USP premises, while other institutions (such as PIDP) receive praise internationally for doing similar things!
Soon after the December 2006 coup, I was invited to join the Military Council, which I declined, giving all the reasons I have amply written about since. In 2008, I was asked by Bainimarama to chair the Fiji National Provident Fund which I also declined for the same reasons. During 2008 and early 2009, I gave three alternative constructive proposals to Bainimarama (one on my own, once with Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and Ms Tupou Draunidalo, and once with Professor Biman Prasad) which were all unfortunately rejected.
In the last few years I have been working with household surveys, mostly of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (but also those of Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu), on poverty and labour market issues. I continue to do that work and attempt to be objective in all I write, without any bias against the Military Regime.
My priority this year (2012) is to revise and publish a book based on my PhD thesis- which is a radical interpretation of the evolution of British Colonial Currency Systems throughout the British Empire in the context of the rise and fall of sterling as world currency. My thesis/book is based on two hundred years of historical evidence from the archives of the Public Records Office in Kew (London). Covering the colonies of West Indies, East and West Africa, the Straits Settlements, and India, Africa, the Indian Ocean, as well as the goings-on in London between the Colonial Office, the British Treasury and the Bank of England, the topic could not be further from the trials and tribulations of a coup-plagued Fiji in the middle of the Pacific ocean. While the latter has pre-occupied me for more than two decades, I hope I can prioritize my academic book this year.
I am blessed by a family: wife Sin Joan Yee (University Librarian) (grand-daughter of Man Sue from Korovou) and three sons (Siddartha Weih Jen, Sugata Weih Mun, and Amitaabh Weih Len). My family enjoys the great support of the Yee and Narsey clans.
Hopefully I will soon be able to get back to my golf, and perhaps watch Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods on the PGA tour, before Vijay fades away.
I continue to cope with many former friends who have also forgotten that the goodness of the “cause” cannot justify illegal “methods”.