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“My USP Golden Years 2006 to 2012: constructive engagement with Government”


My USP Golden Years 2006 to 2012: constructive engagement with Government

Despite the Bainimarama coup in 2006, for me the period from 2005 to 2012 were wonderful years of collaboration between USP academics at the Faculty of Business and Economics, several Fiji Government Departments (especially Fiji Bureau of Statistics, Ministries of Planning and Labour), socially active NGOs like ECREA, and donors like AusAID.
We launched monographs and reports, organized a huge regional population conference (with UNFPA), and, with the active support of senior FBE academics and professors (like Professors Biman Prasad, David Harrison, Jim McMaster, Pathak, and Dr Sunil Kumar, and the many junior academics), we  initiated USP’s Development Dialogues around the Pacific (Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga). We were solidly backed up by dedicated and hardworking logistics support staff like Economics Department Secretary Bhavna Ram.
In all these academic activities, The University of the South Pacific (USP) unhesitatingly played the “good university” critical thinking role it had played for decades, in not just providing the academics, but also a platform for progressive development agents in Fiji, like ECREA and Father Kevin Barr, Statesmen like Vice President Joni Madraiwiwi, and a stream of active Australian diplomatic and AusAID staff.
This wonderfully free and active academic period throws into sharp contrast the repressive  institution that USP became after 2011, when its management “appeared” to do a U-turn in order to serve the political agenda of the Bainimarama Government, and pushed out or actively discouraged senior professors.   I say “appeared” because when USP management refused to host the 2012 launching of one of my Reports for the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and AusAID,  the pro-Bainimarama Fiji National University (and Dr Mahendra Reddy) readily stepped into the breach, and jointly organized national workshops for government and NGO stakeholders, in Suva, Labasa and Nadi.
Fortunately, most of the launchings and keynote speeches were recorded as videos, from which some edited clips are presented in these posts. They throw an interesting perspective on individuals and their interactions: Professor Biman Prasad (Head of Economics, then Dean of FBE and currently Member of the Fiji Parliament), Dr Mahendra Reddy (then Head of Economics at USP, Dean at FNU, and currently MP), Professor Rajesh Chandra (VC at USP), Government Statistician (the late Timoci Bainimarama) and Australian High Commissioners and AusAID officials who later became persona non grata with the Bainimarama Government, despite being one of the largest and readiest funders of USP.
Always, the elephant in the room has been the Bainimarama Government, whose changing attitudes  towards academic freedom in this period may be gathered from the changing roles of key individuals in these events.
For the benefit of future generations of students and academics at all universities in Fiji (USP, FNU and FU) I provide  the historical records of some events which illustrate what good universities and academics can achieve with critical studies and interactions with government departments, NGOs and donors:

(1) Just Wages in Fiji (for ECREA and Father Kevin Barr), launched by Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi, Vice President of Fiji

(2) Gender Issues in Employment and Unemployment (for AusAID and Fiji Bureau of Statistics), launched by Dr Esther Williams, Acting Vice Chancellor of USP); and

(3) the Quantitative Analysis of Poverty in Fiji (for AusAID and Fiji Bureau of Statistics), launched by Professor Rajesh Chandra (finally appointed as Vice Chancellor of USP).

(4) Organizing the Development Dialogues in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga

(5) Organizing the Regional Symposium on Population and Development with UNFPA.

(6) Organizing national workshops on poverty in Fiji (with FBS, Ministry of Planning, FNU and AusAID)

(7)  Attracting the $30 million PICPA Project from AusAID

(8) contributing to Bainimarama Government organized conferences and Workshops (PSC, Food Security, Rural Development, Education).

The next few posts are on the above events.


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