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“DPD 4 The BCN Project at USP: out of my depth”


DPD 4     The BCN Project at USP: out of my depth

 This post here may be of interest to the current generation of USP marine science researchers who, like many Third World scientists and local communities, are having to negotiate with powerful multinational corporations with their armies of legal advisers and corporate partners, on a fair distribution of benefits from local scientific research, intellectual property rights, and royalties.

In the brief period that I was the Director of Planning and Development, I had to advise the Vice Chancellor on the Bio Conservation Network Project (BCN Project).  The project involved USP and USP’s scientific staff assisting multinational drug and pharmaceutical companies like Smith Kline Becham (SKB) to prospect in Fiji’s marine areas. USP staff were also utilizing their strong links with local communities to assist in the project.

The project had so many legal issues, on which the DPD’s Office had no expertise whatsoever while the MNCs came with their army of lawyers and corporate hangers on.  I requested the advice of USP Law School staff, Mere Pulea and Peter Fulcher, who kindly obliged, without charging USP for their services.

Nevertheless, I was uneasy enough about the project to write a Memo to the Vice Chancellor (30 November 1995) explaining my concerns.  The Memo began:

“The Planning and Development Office three weeks ago sat in on a series of meetings between SmithKline Beecham (SB), Government of Fiji and Fijian Affairs Board representatives, Rainforest Alliance, World Wildlife Fund’s South Pacific Programme, SPACHEE, local community representatives and USP (the reports by Ala Hollingsworth are attached). The meetings were intended to reach towards formal legal agreements which could be signed between the interested parties”.

The Memo concluded thus:

While local community representatives have been involved in the discussions, there continue to be expressions of concern in the local media (it is unclear with what authority) at USP’s involvement in the bioprospecting project involving international drug companies. Activist groups such as PCRC have also made public (unjustified) statements about USP signing away local community rights over intellectual property, etc.

11. It seems clear that the local communities view this as a “USP” project, and any adverse fallout from the project would probably be targeted at USP. It would seem to be important, therefore, that any agreement signed by USP, must also have the full participation (as co-signatories) of Government authorities and the “rightful” representatives (how defined? designated by Government?) of the local communities, with their benefits and obligations in the Projects explicitly spelt out.

12. It is important therefore, that the University seek expert legal advice on whatever draft legal agreements are sent down by SB. The University also needs to clarify whether the two agreements with SB need to be considered alongside the BCN Agreement before any agreement is signed. It certainly is not clear to me that the BCN Agreement can be signed before the other two agreements with SB are agreed upon and signed.

13. Since there seem to be extremely important broad issues at stake for the University (academic research agendas, property rights, relations with the local communities, etc.) I wish to recommend that the University refers this project to the University Senate Sub-Committee (I believe chaired by Pro-VC Naidu) charged with the responsibility for broad policies in this area, for further advice to you, if necessary following further legal opinion. We have a little bit of time before the draft agreements are sent down by SB, but it is important that the interests of all (including the Project itself) are not jeopardised by a failure to consider all the options.

14. Apparently, there are other “projects” currently going on (such as involving the USP Herbarium) where the full implications of USP’s involvement have not been taken into account. It would seem to be important that the Senate Sub-Committee set down guidelines for any further agreements of the sort being discussed here and that past mistakes are not repeated.

Dr Wadan Narsey
Director of Planning and Development

Read on:

Narsey Memo to VC on BCN Project

My notes on the whole project may also be of interest

Narsey notes on BCN Project:

Some post-graduate science student might be interested enough by these notes here to write up a study on what eventually came of this project and the lessons to be learnt.

Dr Bill Albersberg who is still employed at USP, would be a rich source of information, as he was closest to all the international actors.

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