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“Missing in Action: Fiji’s intellectual academics” (edited version in Fiji Times, 11 June 2016).

11/06/2016

Missing in Action:  Fiji’s intellectual academics

A few days ago, some friends and family in Fiji, gleefully and mischievously, sent me links to a FT article (6 June 2016) quoting Dr Mahendra Reddy at an international meeting in Nadi alleging  “there is a lack of intellectuals in universities in the country.. who are able to use their research to make a difference in policy making.”

A journalist from the most popular newspaper in Fiji, asked me to comment, probably thinking that  as a professor, I should.

I declined, as I had better things to do with my time, and advised the journalist to seek comments from Fiji’s three university vice chancellors (who apparently have remained tight-lipped very craftily, out of respect for their tenure as vice chancellors).

But then, the next day, another article appeared (FT June 07, 2016) with Dr Reddy haranguing USP itself, at USP:

“academics in Fiji should use the research they produce to influence policy-making in the country… location-specific research so that we fine tune our policies…  (not those)  lifted out from other countries”.

Dr Mahendra Reddy, no doubt from his twenty years of academic experience, sagely advised university academics “They should do a research paper and get it published in rank [sic] journals and from that, tease out a four page article — no one can question you. … but if an economist writes about political science, then we get worried about it.”

(Any students reading this, do find out what putting [sic] in a quote means).

Reddy accused academics of writing about areas in which they had no expertise, tainted by their “political affiliation” (I can hear Dr Neelesh Gounder gnashing his teeth).

How extraordinary that an economist like Dr Reddy, who spent two decades teaching in a faculty (SSED or FBE) at a university which prides itself on multi-disciplinary teaching and holistic learning, should be “worried” that an economist writes about political science.

Does he even remember that the greatest economists like Adam Smith, Ricardo and even Keynes, were “political economists” in a great tradition, that has lasted to the current era.

Even Dr Reddy himself, by going into parliament, is practising the political economy that he decries in Dr Neelesh Gounder.

Any reader of the Fiji Times (and there are hundreds of thousands of them not just in Fiji but all over the world), if they did not know Dr Reddy,  would be justified in thinking the following:

“Wow. Fiji has such a progressive Minister for Education, an intellectual “Doctor” himself, who is rightly worried about the lack of intellectuals in Fiji, worried that university academics are not providing government with hard research based policy recommendations, and concerned that they are not even undertaking critical analysis of government policies.’

Dr Mahendra Reddy, my colleague for more than two decades, knows that I have been analyzing  hard household surveys of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, and writing reports focused on policy recommendations for Government and NGOs.

Indeed, Dr Mahendra Reddy himself, when he was a Dean at Fiji National University, helped me and the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, to disseminate the findings and policy recommendations through national workshops in Suva, Labasa and Nadi, held jointly between FBS and FNU, mounting a serious challenge to USP.

So the public should ask:

Can the Minister of Education (Dr Reddy) explain to the media why the Bainimarama Government has stopped the publication of a 2013 Fiji Bureau of Statistics Report, based on a solid household survey, including numerous policy recommendations for Government, NGOs and the private sector for the last three years?.

At the end of this article readers can answer if the quoted public statements by the Minister for Education are genuine expressions of concern, or merely intellectual posturing, hypocrisy and propaganda by a Minister in a Government which “does not walk the talk”?

Reddy and FNU once helped

Read what is in this July 2012 public advertisement with Fiji Government, FBS and FNU logos, in an era when the Bainimarama Government still allowed the placing of ads with Fiji Times:

FT advert 2012

The workshops, co-hosted by FNU, were opened in Suva by the Australian High Commissioner (AusAID had funded the research, analysis and publication of the Report), and also Labasa and Nadi, with Dr Reddy himself speaking at all of them.

These policy oriented workshops were well attended by senior civil servants, donors and NGOs, and of course, UP and FNU academics.

Dr Reddy (and FNU Vice Chancellor then, Dr Ganesh Chand) can be given credit for stepping into the breach when USP Management refused to allow the USP Economics Department to co-host these workshops with the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.

Of course, Dr Reddy in 2012 recognized the importance of civil servants, NGOs and other stakeholders discussing the policy recommendations arising from the Fiji Bureau of Statistics Report on the 2008-09 Household Income and Expenditure Survey.

So why stop another FBS Report?

So the great puzzle is:  why has the Bainimarama Government stopped the publication of another Fiji Bureau of Statistics Report, based another solid household survey, equally full of useful policy recommendations?

I refer to another AusAID funded work which I did four years ago, analyzing the 2010-11 Employment and Unemployment Survey by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, with the Report (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leizure) ready for publication in late 2013.

This valuable national household survey, costing FBS some $3 millions to implement, recorded how much time each person in households throughout Fiji worked, paid and unpaid, in what occupations and industries, ow much they were paid or earned; and also, for the first time in Fiji, how much time each person devoted to sports, religious activities, kava drinking, watching TV and videos.

The Reports document fascinating results, and differences by urban/rural, males/females, elderly and young, by districts, all of enormous potential use to government ministries such as Planning Labor, Women and Social Welfare, Youth, Health, as well as civil society organizations like FWRM, FCOSS, WCC, and organizations concerned about employment, unemployment and even NCDs.

This was the first time that any Fiji Government has ever interfered thus with the work of the FBS, not done even when the Government Statistician was the late Timoci Bainimarama.

The initial banning, may have been due to the few negative results in changes to employment and real incomes between 2005 and 2011, possibly harming the Bainimarama Government in the 2014 Elections.

But two years after the elections and three years after the Report was completed, it has still not been published, while the FBS is currently conducting another EUS.

I have raised this many times through letters to the editor, and as articles (FT 7 March 2015 “Statistics delayed is truth denied”) and (FT 23 January 2016 “Whose data is it anyway?”).

Most Government Ministers (including Mahendra Reddy, Jone Usamate, Rosy Akbar, Khaiyum and many others), whether intellectual or not, should have been interested in the policy recommendations in this Report and wanted it published and publicly discussed by government and private stakeholders.

None of them have ever responded publicly to my very public call.

Challenge to media journalists

Over and over, the journalists in the media are forced to listen to and regurgitate Dr Reddy’s frequent lectures to the public, on how university academics are not intellectuals and are not conducting solid policy oriented research.

I call on the journalists to have the courage to ask Dr Reddy whether he has ever raised the non-publication of the 2013 FBS Report, with the Bainimarama Cabinet, and the relevant Minister for Planning and Statistics, Mr Aiyaz Khaiyum.

Journalists can ask Dr Reddy if he ever spoke out against one premier university which has been censoring academic activities which would have scrutinized Bainimarama Government policies (such as the panel discussion organized by Dr Neelesh Gounder on Fiji’s overseas bonds, and more recently, his ANU/USP Update on Fiji.

Journalists can ask Dr Reddy if he ever took USP to task for pushing out one senior academic who critically analyzed Government policies for the last ten years?

Given that Dr Mahendra Reddy himself worked as an academic at USP for twenty years, journalists can set USP librarians the Herculean task of searching in Pacific Collection for even one of Dr Reddy’s articles, published in a “ranked” journal, out of which he has “teased out a four page article”.

[Of course, Dr Reddy told journalists that academics should publish in “rank” journals, not “ranked” journals.  I wonder if Dr Reddy, in a Freudian slip, really did mean “rank” journals?].

Reddy mimicking his Master

The beleaguered Media journalists should of course notice the not so remarkable coincidence that  Dr Reddy is merely following in the footsteps of his political Master, who not so long ago, equally harangued journalists that they were not being “analytical” and that there were merely practising “he says this and he says that” kind of mindless, “tape-recorder journalism”.

Analytical journalists could of course remind Dr Mahendra Reddy that it is not just university academics who should be using solid research to make solid policy recommendations to Government, but any other institution in the country whose research should result in policy recommendations.

Journalists should ask Dr Reddy if as an Executive Chairman of the Commerce Commission he stopped his “research” and desisted from any policy decision into the monopoly pricing by a particular mobile company, because of its closeness to his current Master. Was Dr Reddy told by his Master (in poetic Hindi you can all imagine) to find another posterior to interfere with.

The public will remember that the Commerce Commission then turned its beady eyes on hundreds of competitive pharmacists and a few hardware merchants accused of monopolistic behaviour, but even that subsided once a certain political party received substantial donations for the 2014 elections.

Journalists might even ask Dr Reddy, whose PhD was apparently based on research (solid or otherwise) on the sugar industry, whether he has been “teasing out” any “four page” policy recommendations for the sugar industry.

This industry, despite eight years of optimistic predictions and projections by the FSC CEO, continues in death throes and arguably and desperately needs the undivided attention of economists like Dr Mahendra Reddy, who has been allocated by his Master to an education ministry in which Dr Reddy genuinely has little expertise, beyond being a lecturer (expert or otherwise) to captive university student audiences.

Professors are not necessarily intellectuals

I suspect that the Fiji Times journalist asked me to comment on Dr Reddy’s complaint about “intellectual academics” missing in action (MIA) in Fiji, presuming that any old professor, who can “tease out four page articles”, as advised by Dr Reddy, must be an “intellectual.

But I sorrowfully reveal that even my “one page” and the occasional “two page” FT articles have led anonymous critics to scornfully call me “merely an ivory tower intellectual”  peddling “ book learning”.

Little do they know that even the occasional “two pages” are so grudgingly given by my friend Fred Wesley, besieged by thousands of readers demanding (and getting) “ten pages” of Bollywood and rugby sevens.

Even the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, probably advised by another Fiji Times Sunday Scribe, could give me an award titled only “People’s Professor”, which I confess however, was much to my delight.

Fiji Times readers can themselves answer if the Minister for Education (Dr Mahendra Reddy) is genuinely concerned about the lack of intellectual academics in Fiji universities, or if it is all intellectual posturing and hypocrisy, by a Minister in a Government which “does not walk the talk”.

 

 

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