“Continuing USP unaccountability on staffing” (Letter to Editor Fiji Times and Fiji Sun, MIDA Chairman, sent 30 Nov. 2014)
“Continuing lack of USP accountability” Letter to Editor (The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Ashwin Raj) (sent 30 November 2014)
(revised Fiji time, 10.30 pm 30 Nov 2014: in red)
An applicant for a position in the Law School informed me that while the Head of the Law School had been willing to offer her a half-time teaching position in the school, she was told that she could not be appointed because USP allegedly had a commitment “to steer clear of any shadow of involvement with politics”.
What was her “involvement in politics” that USP found unacceptable? This well qualified lawyer, who has held very senior positions in the Fiji Government and worked in the region, had been accepted as a candidate for the National Federation Party, but had been disqualified from standing, because of residential requirements by a last minute decree of the Bainimarama Government.
On my advice, she then lodged (on 23 September 2014) a formal complaint with the Chairman of USP Council (Mr Ikbal Janif) asking very specific questions: did such restrictions apply to all Fiji nationals and to all regional applicants; did it apply to all political candidates or only to those with affiliations to certain political parties; how long did candidates have to wait before such restrictions were removed; and was the use of “involvement in politics” to deny her appointment, an infringement of her basic human right to be involved in political activity while being employed at USP.
The Chairman of USP Council (Ikbal Janif) did not reply to her extremely serious complaint and her specific questions (although after one month he told the complainant that he was seeking a response from the Vice Chancellor) but someone evidently passed the buck to the Executive Director Human Resources whose weak obfuscating reply did not address the very specific queries the applicant had raised with the Chairman of Council. The letter moreover implied that the Dean of the Faculty (Dr Kedrayate) had made the “final assessment” and the decision not to offer the appointment to the applicant.
This particular lawyer applicant could have also pointed out to the Chairman of Council that she was an indigenous Fijian, female and clearly satisfying the academic requirements for the part-time teaching post at a university already lacking indigenous Fijian academics, male or female. She could also have pointed out that another USP staff member (an Indo-Fijian) had stood for the elections, not won, but was allowed to return to his employment by USP.
There have been at least two other such incidents where “political tests” have been applied to qualified staff and potential staff of the USP Law School, both indigenous Fijian.
One involved a most respected and capable senior lawyer and senior citizen of Fiji, also indigenous Fijian, who was denied an appointment in the Law School by USP management, on similar political grounds.
Another was a bright young female lawyer, who was forced to resign from USP because she was standing as a candidate for a political party, while others could stand for elections and return if they were not elected.
Our institutions of higher learning are supposed to take the lead in encouraging good responsible knowledgeable citizens, and especially women, to offer their services to voters for election to parliament, without being penalized for so doing, as the University is doing.
One would have thought that where the applicants are extremely well-qualified for the positions and not in the least requiring “affirmative action”, it would be important for USP management (and USP Council) to ensure that every opportunity is taken to improve ethnic and gender balances at USP, already considerably skewed.
This letter not only informs the tax payers of the region about the questionable decisions by USP management and the apparent apathy of the Council Chairman, but requests the new elected Minister of Education (Dr Mahendra Reddy) and accountable to tax payers, to initiate an independent inquiry into these three incidents where qualified Fiji citizens have been unfairly denied appointments at the USP Law School.
While at it, the Independent Review may look at a number of other staffing “incidents” over the last five years, over which USP management and USP Council have been equally unaccountable, non-transparent, and willing to push their “dirt under the carpet” or make it “go away”.
Professor Wadan Narsey