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“Better 25 years late than never” (The Fiji Times, 6 March 2016)


Better 25 year late, than never (The Fiji Times, 6 March 2016)

The management of Fiji’s three universities frequently exhort their academics to always aim for “academic excellence by international standards” in teaching, research and publications.

Generally, if the academic is dedicated enough, international quality teaching is equally achievable at any university, rich or poor.

But international quality research and publications is no easy task for small poorly resourced universities like The University of the South Pacific (USP), Fiji National University (FNU) or Fiji University.

Moreover, Fiji academics always face the horrible trade-off between satisfying international standards set by well-endowed developed country universities, and focusing on research and publications more useful for our local communities.

Even Australian academics recently had to struggle to convince their university managements, that Australian research and publication interests would suffer if there was an excessive focus on publishing in international journals and with international publishers.

But 28 years ago, a Fiji academic completed his doctorate thesis at Sussex University in Britain that satisfied both international and local standards.

It is miraculous indeed that an 1988 PhD thesis by a USP academic is this month being published as a book by  international publishers Palgrave Macmillan, and recognized by international academics as an important contribution to world literature on the subject.

This story, like those of a few other international former USP academics like Professor Paresh Narayan, ought to convince our local university academics that it is possible to satisfy our own local community needs, yet still achieve international standards in our research and publications, areas of global interest.

This Palgrave Macmillan book

If you google with the words “British Imperialism Wadan Narsey”, you will get dozens of web pages, including this one by international book merchants, Amazon Books:


The book to be released by Palgrave Macmillan on 16 March 2016) is  “British Imperialism and the making of Colonial Currency Systems” by Wadan Narsey.

Book Description

The book’s jacket description reads:

“Based on archival research covering more than two centuries and most former British colonies (West Indies, India, Singapore, Malaya, West Africa and East Africa), this book is a revisionist history of the British imperial manipulations of colonial currency systems to facilitate the rise of sterling to world supremacy via the gold standard, and to slow its eventual decline after World War II.

 Britain forcibly replaced international currencies, including gold and sterling itself, by new localised silver currencies, backed by gold and sterling reserves in London, under the total control of the British Treasury and the powerful influence of the Bank of England. 

Ignoring colonial needs, imperial decision-makers continuously over-ruled colonial governments, commercial interest in colonies (British and local), Colonial Office and the Crown Agents, to support liquidity in the London Money Market, convertibility of sterling, export of British capital, and cheap readily available finance for the British Government. Academia, including Keynes and institutions like the London School of Economics, are shown to have played supporting roles.

This book is valuable reading for academics and students interested in theories of imperialism, colonial underdevelopment, money (national and international) and related topics such as currency areas and exchange rates. Its comprehensive index links monetary concepts to actual events in the British Empire, with pointers to new research areas.

This account of the rise and fall of sterling as a world currency may have lessons for the future trajectories of the US dollar, Euro, Chinese renminbi and the Indian rupee.”

The Palgrave Reviewers

Palgrave Macmillan provides endorsements of the book by international reputable academic experts in the field.

By Professor Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, Kings College:

‘Narsey offers us an original and pioneering investigation of how the British state regulated gold, silver and paper as media of exchange, debt, and savings in colonies, from simple management of coinage to the emergence of the currency board, to become a critical part and the heart of the British Empire. Appearing in the fascinating story are privateers in the eighteenth-century West Indies with gold standards based on the slave economy and contraband from the Spanish main, Keynes’s work on the currency of the Raj, and twentieth-century debates about the colonial money supply and economic development. The common theme is that the economic interests of metropolitan Britain were almost always given primacy in the administration of colonial money. The book is a valuable addition to the economic history of both the British empire and of globalization.’

 By Professor Larry Neal, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  (who also wrote the Foreword)

‘Based on extensive archival research, Professor Narsey shows that imperial priorities took precedence over native desires for economic development in dependent colonies throughout the history of the British Empire. This was an undesirable, but fully intended, consequence of imperial financial innovations in the British colonies, including the currency boards of Hong Kong and Singapore whose later success came only when British political control was lifted.”

 “About the Author” (on the book jacket)

The author description on the book jacket puts The University of the South Pacific, James Cook University, Swinburne University, Fiji, and The Fiji Times on the global academic map.

“Wadan Narsey is a former Professor of Economics at The University of the South Pacific. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, and at Swinburne University, Australia.  He is a former Fiji parliamentarian, a commentator on the political economy of Fiji and the Pacific and a regular columnist for the Fiji Times.”

 The 25 year delay

The Preface explains why a doctorate completed in 1988 is being published in 2016.

 “This book is based on a DPhil I began in 1981 at the Institute of Development Studies (Sussex University) on Fiji’s colonial and post-colonial monetary and banking system.

 However, initial historical research at the Public Records Office (Kew, London) and unbridled curiosity turned up enough anomalies in existing historical and theoretical accounts to warrant a ‘leap in the dark’ to a topic covering the entire British colonial empire.  Returning to Fiji in 1984, it took another four years to complete the thesis, coping with Fijian development issues and distractions such as military coups.

 I regret that I wasted Palgrave Macmillan’s 1990 offer to publish the book because of my preoccupation with local development issues. It is a minor miracle that 25 years later this study has not been superseded by other works, while some have enhanced my book.”

Others whose help was crucial

The preface explains that most authors cannot complete such mammoth books without the support of many others.

The Preface acknowledges the following:

“I thank The University of the South Pacific for giving me study leave, and I thank Charles Harvey and David Evans, my original supervisors at IDS.

This last revision was begun while I was an adjunct professor at The Cairns Institute (James Cook University, Australia), an appointment assisted by Professor Hurriyet Babacan (Director of TCI) and Professor Robbie Robertson (Head of Social Science at JCU).  Based in Fiji, I have been extremely grateful for the online services of the JCU Library.

I owe a debt to USP Visiting Professor Salim Rashid, who was kind enough to put me in touch with Professor Larry Neal (Emeritus Professor of Economics, University of Illinois).  Professor Neal’s advice on restructuring the book,  recent new sources,  writing the Foreword, and generally facilitating this publication with Palgrave Macmillan, have been invaluable.

I appreciate today the many honest British imperial civil servants who opposed their superiors when imperial decisions were not in the interests of the colonized peoples, and left a ‘paper trail’ so useful to me in clarifying the true nature of imperial decision-making. It is a lesson for civil servants in today’s Third World, including Fiji.

I remember that three decades ago, my wife Sin Joan Yee and three sons (Siddhartha Weih-jen, Sugata Weih-men and Amitaabh Weih-len) took on more than their fair share of the burdens of a young family, while I was struggling in Fiji to complete the original thesis. I will always owe a debt to my parents, Maniben and Narsey Bhai Dullabh, who sacrificed much for their children’s education.

I remember my good Fijian friend, the late Nand Kisor Chetty, who used to vainly pester me to publish my book.

I thank Dr Kurt Schuler (Senior Fellow at the NY Centre for Financial Stability and a currency board scholar) for his recent encouragement to publish my thesis which he read twenty years ago.”


Authors have their own icons

In his Preface, the author acknowledges others who have inspired him over the years:

“I dedicate this book to five individuals:

* Poet Laureate John Masefield (“A University, Splendid, Beautiful and Enduring”);

* Poet Laureate Rabindranath Tagore (“Where the Mind Is without Fear”);

* Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Indian economist, but also one of the authors of the Indian constitution and a heroic leader of the ‘untouchables’ in India, where universities are named after him;

* Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Burmese freedom and democracy fighter (“one has no right to hope without endeavour” and “to bear witness”); and

* Sin Joan Yee, who for decades has stoically put up with all the social fall-out resulting from my free economic, political and social commentaries.”


Miracles are indeed possible in the academic world.




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