Skip to content

“USP’s sad VC Saga and Missing Documents” (30 October 2019)”


USP’s sad VC saga and missing documents (30/10/2019):

(This post is for the record, and by presenting documentation that USP’s BDO Inquiry may not have seen, hopefully be of some assistance to current USP staff who are bravely battling on).


It is a tragedy and a massive challenge for higher education in the Pacific that its allegedly premier University of the South Pacific (USP) is mired in turmoil at its highest levels, with a USP Council inquiry into the current Vice Chancellor’s allegations against the previous Vice Chancellor hamstrung by missing documentation.

The controversy began with a paper to USP Council by the newly appointed Vice Chancellor (Professor Pal Ahluwalia), outlining a range of allegations of management malpractice against the former Vice Chancellor (Professor Rajesh Chandra) (Island Business May 10 2019).

While the current Chairman of USP Council (Winston Thompson) surprisingly called for the sacking of Ahluwalia, USP Council appointed an independent review by NZ firm BDO Auckland  whose publicly available summary of findings and recommendations are substantial enough to vindicate some of Ahluwalia’s allegations (Island Business Sep. 11 2019).

Then Professor Rajesh Chandra put out an Opinion piece claiming “Report Vindicates Me” (Fiji Sun 16 Sep. 2019) in an attempt to rebut Ahluwalia’s allegations, but poured even more fuel on the fire, with challengeable claims about his alleged outstanding record as vice chancellor.

Chandra’s case was further weakened when a number of USP staff (including Dr. Morgan Tuimalealiifano and Dr. Sunil Kumar in the lead) not only supported the current Vice Chancellor but called for a wider inquiry by USP Council, suggesting that there is more to the mess than came out in the summary of the BDO Report..

The BDO Report apparently also stated that further investigation is required since its own inquiry was hindered because “the level and/or quality of the documentation retained by USP…was either inadequate or unavailable” (Island Business, Sep. 11 2019).

The taxpayers of the region can surely ask why the premier university supposedly teaching sound management practice to students does not itself maintain adequate records or make available the records that it should have to the BDO Review.

While I do not wish to comment on the specific allegations by Professor Ahluwalia (although I have a good idea of what were behind them), I can comment on some dubious claims made by Professor Rajesh Chanda in his Fiji Sun Opinion piece, having myself been a victim of his irregular management practice in 2010, when he tried to deny me my normal renewal of contract (overturned by an Appeal Committee of USP Council), and yet again in 2011 when he succeeded in pressuring my resignation after alleging financial pressure from the Bainimarama Government.

Of direct relevance to the BDO Inquiry and the subsequent Commission chaired by Hon Mata’afa, I had specifically requested that my letters of complaint to USP between 2009 and 2011 be placed on the personal files of a number of senior USP executives including Chair of Council (Dame Fiame Mata’afa), Deputy Chair of Council (Ikbal Janif), USP HR Officers (Greg Arrowsmith and Agnes Kotoisuva), Dean of FBE (Professor Biman Prasad), President of AUSPS (Rohit Kishore), and of course USP VC (Rajesh Chandra) himself..

BDO and USP Council should  therefore investigate whether my official complaints (most of which I annex below) are still on USP files or whether they have been “disappeared”, which may partly explain why BDO has stated that they have not been able to find the documentation relevant to the Ahluwalia allegations.

If the latter is correct, it might also explain the lack of documentation of other HR malpractices at the highest levels of USP, as many good senior staff, regional and expatriate, have been got rid of by VC Chandra and his SMT.

While the current turmoil at USP appears to be between the current Vice Chancellor and the former Vice Chancellor, my disputes which I elaborate below clearly indicate that the former VC’s select Senior Management Team and other senior administrative staff including those in the HR Secretariat, must also bear collective responsibility for the former Vice Chancellor’s dubious decisions, which have slowly corrupted USP’s once transparent and accountable decision-making processes throughout.

The tragedy is that while there have been many other senior staff who have been unfairly got rid of by the former VC, they have remained silent, thereby allowing the cancer to spread, and we all know, unchallenged power corrupts absolutely.

The Ahluwalia allegations

According to Island Business (Island Business, May 10 2019) a paper by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia titled “Issues, Concerns and Breaches of Past Management and Financial Decisions” was presented to USP Council, with allegations of

serious cases of mismanagement and abuse of process at the University of the South Pacific involving its former Vice Chancellor and President… allegedly speedy appointments and contract renewals for at least eleven senior members of the university staff, most of them Fiji nationals working at the main campus in Suva… questions about the payments of professional and development leave, as well as the deferment to this year, of back pay due to the former VC…. [and questioning] the appointments of at least two Deans of USP’s faculties … the post-retirement renewal of an institute director’s contract…. the promotion of a Fiji national whose salary allegedly “moved from F$28,174 to F$138,700 within a period of 6 years…. “unusual cases” of responsibility allowance payments…. [including] a staff member … paid more than $159,500 in various allowances, for doing work or managing projects in his own section…. [and his] re-appointment  [which] overruled the staff review committee’s decision not to renew the contract”.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, USP Council appointed accounting and auditing firm BDO Auckland to independently investigate.

The BDO findings and recommendations

While the full BDO Report has surprisingly not been released to the public (and the taxpayers who fund USP should ask why the full report is kept hidden), the BDO recommendations (summarized in an article in Island Business, Sep. 11 2019) are a damning indictment of VC Chandra’s management record.

The Report concluded that “oversight, governance and control of remuneration  is a key weakness across the university” and that four remuneration  mechanisms—inducement allowances, responsibility and acting allowances, bonuses and consultancy arrangements—“have collectively been exploited and have led to significant cash leakage across USP over a number of years.”

The Report noted that while the majority of the VC’s decisions were made within his powers “the rationale for many of the decisions taken is unclear”.

BDO stated that USP’s human resources function has been “without consistent leadership for many years” and “contributed to the weaknesses” across HR.

BDO stated that it was not able to trace all the allegations through documents because of the “level and/or quality of the documentation retained by USP…As a result BDO was not able to substantiate a number of the allegations.”

BDO also stated that similar concerns had been identified by the USP’s internal audit service provider over the past few years, but it appears “the recommendations [made by the auditors] had been only partially implemented, or in some cases, not at all.”

BDO made a number of far-reaching recommendations:

  1. A full review of USP’s approach to inducement allowances
  2. Development of a single, comprehensive policy for staff setting out its approach to responsibility and acting allowances
  3. A full review of bonus calculations and payments
  4. A forensic review of consultancy agreements that are currently active, or have been recently completed
  5. A comprehensive structural review of the USP’s human resources function
  6. A full review and amendment of the USP’s approach to the employment of people who have reached retirement age
  7. Expansion of the role of the Remuneration Committee to include succession planning for all key senior roles across the USP.

BDO noted that USP now has the “opportunity to reflect and take corrective action that will ultimately improve the culture and quality of education and research at USP”  but still recommended that “further investigation is required” into the allegations.

To implement the BDO recommendations, USP Council has set up a committee comprising  the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa  (Dame Fiame Naomi Mata’afa) as Chair with the other members being the Cook Islands Prime Minister  (Henry Puna) and Fiji’s Attorney General  (Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum).

While a cursory look at these very specific and broad ranging recommendations would imply that Rajesh Chandra’s  tenure as USP Vice Chancellor was severely lacking in good leadership, the very concrete examples I give below of my personal disputes with USP management, give more substance to the BDO Report conclusions and recommendations, contrary to the former vice chancellor’s claims that he was “vindicated” by the BDO Report and that he always followed USP Rules and Regulations.

VC Chandra’s Dubious Fiji Sun Claims

In his Opinion piece (Fiji Sun, 16 Sep.2019), the former VC Chandra makes Dubious Claim 1  that the summary of the BDO Report “makes it clear that the Report did not nd any fraud, corruption or abuse of oce against me personally… because I had led and managed USP for 10 and half years as Vice Chancellor always within the Statute governing the delegations of the Vice Chancellor, the Sta Ordinance, and other relevant Ordinances and policies…. The basis of all my decisions were the policies and procedures of the University”.

 I show below that in my case at least (and probably many others who have never gone public), Professor Chandra did not follow the Staff Ordinance and university rules.

 Professor Chandra makes Dubious Claim 2 “All my decisions were taken during the lawful exercise of my duty and authority as the Vice-Chancellor under the direction and supervision of Council, its Committees and the Pro Chancellor.  I am therefore entitled to Council’s duty of care to me, fairness and natural justice”.

It would be patently clear to all who know how USP operates that neither USP Council nor its Chair ever supervise the Vice Chancellor in his everyday functions, and I show below that the Vice Chancellor himself did not administer “fairness and natural justice” to one of his most senior staff (and friend for thirty years) and trusted adviser  to him during his first two years as vice chancellor, until he became a liability to Chandra’s ambitions.

Professor Chandra states (Correct Claim 3) “I wish to point out that there was no negative feedback about my decisions from either the Pro Chancellors who were my supervisors… I was entitled to know of this feedback. Instead, every one of my performance assessments was positive with bonuses….. I was not given a copy of the allegations by the University so I could respond to them. This is such a basic requirement and the law in Fiji.”.

This claim is correct in general, but Professor Chandra himself refused to apply these same correct standards to senior staff under him, while blatantly going counter to the recommendations of the appropriate supervising officers.

Chandra in his Opinion piece makes Dubious Claim 4 that “Recruitment and retention of excellent people has always been a problem at USP. Turnover is a problem. This requires us to act swiftly to prevent the loss of key members of sta. It is for this reason that the VCP is given the authority in the Sta Ordinance to adjust the terms and conditions of sta when it is in the interest of the university to do so.”

I show below that far from making an attempt to retain excellent senior academics, Professor Chandra actively discouraged them, not just those who were out of favor with the Fiji Government (like this critical economist) but anyone who he feared as possible future appointees to the vice chancellorship. For instance, he discouraged Professor Biman Prasad at every opportunity, even complaining to one Deputy Chairman of Council that Biman “wanted his job”. Eventually Professor Prasad was discouraged enough to unwisely resign his deanship of FBE (against my advice) and enter the even more fickle world of politics.

Chandra also appointed Deputies who he thought would be no threat to him, including a certain Professor Susan Kelly whose eventual departure from USP was at great cost to USP and the region’s taxpayers and for unknown reasons. Was Kelly’s departure ever investigated by USP Council or the BDO Team? Did they ever investigate the departure of expatriate and former Deputy VC Dilawar Grewal, exposed dramatically by Fijileaks as “USPGate”?

Note that the BDO Report’s recommendation that USP should plan for succession at the higher management levels, applies equally to the VC’s position.

But  having been himself appointed to the VC position passionately arguing that USP should have a regional VC, VC Chandra made sure that there was no regional person in his SMT who could legitimately succeed him, probably hoping to strengthen his own desperate and eventually failed attempt to be renewed beyond his second contract.

In the end, yet another expatriate vice chancellor (Ahluwalia) was appointed by USP Council, but with unforeseen consequences for Chandra’s reputation and Winston Thompson’s post retirement piece of mind.

One phenomenon that may be investigated is the frequency with which there were  Acting Heads of Departments appointed, usually from other departments, because VC Chandra was unable to fill vacancies in time.

In his Opinion piece, former VC Chandra states (Arrogant Claim 5) “I observe that there is little progress with the implementation of either the Strategic Plan 2019-24 or Annual Plan 2019”.

While one might could reasonably expect that a university should have some continuity of policy between one VC and the next through the annual plan, how arrogant of the former VC, knowing full well that his own tenure was ending in 2018, to put out a “Strategic Plan 2019-2024” and expect the new VC to merely implement it for the first five years of his tenure. Did anyone in USP Council ever question this?

While Professor Chandra makes much of being the longest serving USP Vice Chancellor with the highest of achievements and reputation, other long serving dedicated staff will recollect the genuinely excellent previous vice chancellors like the late Savenaca Siwatibau (a good governance and ethical beacon for the region), the late James Maraj (a genuinely powerful advocate of regionalization at USP) and Esekia Solofa (a decent vice chancellor who managed by consensus). None of them ever improperly feathered their own nest or blew their own trumpets in USP publications, month in month out.

To do a full critique of the former vice chancellor and his Senior Management Team in one article would be too tedious for the reader, so I give a summary here, with separate posts for those USP stakeholders who should read the gory details to understand the systemic nature of the management problems at USP that must be dealt with, if current staff at USP are to get a fair go from USP management.

Stakeholders who need to go through my disputes in detail includes not only USP Council and its BDO recommended special Commission chaired by the Hon. Dame  Mata’afa, but far more importantly, the current staff and students at USP ought to closely examine what can happen if the university community and stakeholders are not vigilant in playing their part in holding senior management accountable to good governance standards.

In my opinion, the range of problems revealed by the BDO Report (and many not even mentioned) indicate the abject failure of USP stakeholders (USP Council, Member Governments, USP staff, students, and the general taxpayers who fund USP) to fulfil their own responsibilities in holding USP management accountable. We cannot just point our collective their fingers at the former Vice Chancellor Rajesh Chandra and his pliable and equally unethical Senior Management Team.

But to see the extent of the reversals in management practice brought in by the former USP VC, I take you back to his own words in 2008 when he was appointed VC.

Chandra’s approval of Narsey 2008 to 2010

When Professor Chandra was appointed Vice Chancellor in 2008 (on his third attempt), he had the critical support of the Fiji Minister of Education (the late Filipe Bole) who had been previously employed in his retirement, by VC Rajesh Chandra at University of Fiji, where Chandra had banished himself after losing to Tony Tarr as applicant for USP VC.

But Chandra then also had the full support of two Professors of Economics, Wadan Narsey and especially Professor Biman Prasad who personally fought tooth and nail at many levels to get their regional colleague Chandra appointed as VC. We sadly had no premonition then, of how power can corrupt, and corrupt absolutely.

Narsey had previously prepared the University Grants Committee Submission for Vice Chancellor Caston, conducted a massive six country study of higher education in the Pacific for World Bank (with WB Consultant Ian Morris) and also been USP’s Director of Planning and Development in which position he had analyzed virtually all of USP’s external and internal financing, quality of staff and students,  as well as academic assessment issues (which reports can all be accessed here on my personal website developed during the censorship era in Fiji:

So for two years, Professor Chandra sought Narsey’s professional opinion on most of the major policy areas that faced Chandra as VC including the formulation of USP’s Strategic Plan which needed total fixing up as well as virtually all the key problems facing USP in finance, teaching, research, consultancies and relationships with the member governments (see Annex A for the full record of my advice to VC Chandra, all still on my email records).

In 2008, VC Chandra had awarded me the “Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Research”.  Annex B is a video recording of USP Vice Chancellor Professor Rajesh Chandra co-launching my publication The Quantitative Analysis of Poverty with the Government Statistician  (the late Timoci Bainimarama) done for the Fiji Bureau of Statistics and funded by AusAID. Sadly, Timoci was also made redundant as Government Statistician when he refused to knuckle under to the demands of a certain powerful person in the Bainimarama Government.)

This video recording, full of glowing praise by VC Chandra, throws in terrible contrast, his total turnaround just two years later when he thought that Professor Narsey had become a political liability for his position as VC.

Chandra’s first attempt to sideline Narsey

Somewhere during 2010, Chandra may have realized that his Professor of Economics would not back away from his public critiques of the military Bainimarama Government’s policies, including that of the illegal reduction of FNPF pensions, the illegality of the Charter Charade and many other policies negative for Fiji taxpayers (all on my website NarseyOnFiji.

VC Chanda worried that he might soon be getting offside with the Bainimarama Government and decided that he had to get rid of USP’s  Professor of Economics, even though he had been his close friend for thirty years, supporter of his administrative ambitions in SSED (now FBE) for more than twenty years, and his close adviser for two years.

In 2010, Narsey submitted his Staff Review Form for renewal of contract, casually listing his teaching responsibilities, his research, publications and consultancies conducted for donors like AusAID, thinking that he had more than satisfied his KPIs (see Annex C:   Narsey Staff Review Form).

I would advise USP staff to go through Annex C  in the light of the critical comments I make below on USP management’s blatantly selective and unfair use of KPIs to suit their personal political agenda, a weakness that probably still prevails today.

The Acting Head of Economics (Dr. Sunil Kumar), probably seeing no particular need for a thorough assessment of his senior in the department and Professor of Economics, wrote little other than the usefulness of my publications  for government policies (in contrast read his later reference in Annex A7 when I was fighting for my normal contract renewal).

But the Dean of FBE took more care and wrote:

“Professor Narsey is an extremely valuable member of the School and the faculty. Professor is a highly respected economist in the region and produces excellent policy related research findings and publications. He is an excellent teacher. I highly recommend the renewal of his contract and a cash bonus for his all round excellent performance”.

There was not a single criticism of my performance on my Staff Review Form and so as required by USP regulations, I signed off on the form on 15 Nov. 2011.

To my utter shock then, I received a letter (3rd Dec. 2010) from the Director of Human Resources (Agnes Kotoisuva) that informed me that the Committee’s decision was to refuse my cash bonus and grant me a renewal of contract for one year only stating:

“While the Committee acknowledged your contribution to teaching and the economic debate in the region, there were serious concerns expressed about your lack of publications in international journals. Furthermore, your application did not indicate any record of supervision of postgraduate students and there was a lack of evidence of having contributed institutionally to the strengthening of the School of Economics”.

All my positive contributions in teaching, research, workshops, assistance to regional governments, and community education publications, were totally ignored.

More importantly, none of the criticisms made by the Staff Review Committee had been on my Staff Review form in the comments by my administrative superiors, the Acting Head of Economics and the Dean of FBE.

When this shell-shocked Professor of Economics asked the FBE Dean how on earth the Staff Review Committee had come to this decision, the equally disgusted Dean wrote down his recollection of the Staff Review Meeting (Annex D:   FBE Dean Recollection of SRC Meeting).

The Dean documented how totally extraneous (and totally false) accusations not even mentioned in the Staff Review Form were introduced by the two Deputy Vice Chancellors Susan Kelly and Esther Williams, and fully and equally unethically backed by Vice Chancellor Chandra, the Dean of FSTE (Anjeela Jokhan), and the Director of Planning (Michael Gregory).

[There is a funny story of how I earned the enmity of Deputy VC Kelly because the President of AUSPS (Rohit Kishore) and the Dean of FBE (Prasad) once came to my office (where I was peacefully working away), and pleaded with me to rebut Kelly’s proposals at an FBE meeting. Like a lamb to slaughter, I blithely went along and did so probably quite undiplomatically, which was duly used against me by Kelly in my Staff Review Committee meeting.]

The FBE Dean’s Memo to me also revealed that except for the FBE Dean recording his strong objection and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts Law and Education (Akinisi Kendrayate) abstaining, the rest of the SR Committee supported Vice Chancellor Chandra’s proposal to give Narsey only a one year contract renewal and denial of cash bonus.

USP Council and the BDO Committee must ask themselves: where was the academic integrity of the Senior Management Team of USP (Chandra, Kelly, Williams, Jokhan, and Gregory) that they could totally disregard the positive evidence on the Staff Review Form, allow extraneous matters to be introduced, and give a totally unfair decision (eventually countermanded by the Appeal Committee of Council).

Read again Professor Rajesh Chandra’s own Claim 3 in his Fiji Sun Opinion Piece where he demands “I was entitled to know of this feedback. Instead, every one of my performance assessments was positive with bonuses….. I was not given a copy of the allegations by the University so I could respond to them. This is such a basic requirement and the law in Fiji.”.

But Chandra did not follow his own standard and Fiji laws with me and indeed broke USP regulations by allowing the Staff Review Committee to disregard its own Staff Regulations that no extraneous matter which the staff member had not been made aware of on his Staff Review Form, was to be introduced into the discussions (see below in my Appeal document.).

My appeal to USP Council

Totally dismayed by the USP management decision, I wasted (not a complete waste in hindsight) enormous time and emotional energy in putting in an Appeal through the normal USP channels, and writing to the Chairperson of Staff Review Appeals Committee, cc’d to Fiame Mata’afa (Pro Chancellor, USP), VC Chandra, Dean FBE (Prasad), Acting Head of Economics (Dr. Sunil Kumar), President AUSPS (Mr. Rohit Kishore).

My appeal (in Annex E) argued in great detail from USP’s own regulations and policy documents that:

(a)  The University did not abide by the legal contract signed with me.

(b) The University’s decision making process did not follow the University’s own regulations for the Staff Review Process;

(c) The University did not follow its own regulations on the criteria to be used by the Staff Review Committee for judging the performance of its academic staff: namely their contributions to “teaching, research, publications, consultancy and administrative performance, taking into account the opportunities available to the individual, and the workload assigned to him or her”.

(d) The University failed to consider my broader performance in relation to USP’s own stated objectives in its Vision, Mission and Strategic Plan, which explicitly require academics to be relevant to the needs of the USP Member Country governments, communities, and regional and international stakeholders.

(e) The University failed to abide by its own Strategic Plan’s Priority Area 5 (Human Resources) (Objective 15, p.20)  whereby it commits to “recruit and retain the best available staff” and “improve staff retention rates”.

Just the above five points above would indicate the utter failure of VC Professor Rajesh Chandra (and his chosen SMT) to be professional, objective and ethical in their role in the Staff Review Committee, and indeed also shows the former VC’s own hypocrisy in his Fiji Sun Opinion piece in demanding natural justice and fair process according to USP Regulations, that he denied to his subordinates.

I suggest that USP staff and their unions go through this Appeal document in detail as many of the issues I point out are still in place today, and ought to be addressed in detail by the Commission which has been set up to respond to the BDO recommendations.

These issues will of course be known to Dame Fiame Mataafa who was cc’d my appeal and who chairs the Commission to implement the BDO recommendations.

Attached to my appeal letter were a number of support documents which I post separately for USP staff to examine as a template to assess their own performance at USP:

Annex F  listed all  my academic activities between 2008 and 2010 in teaching, research, publications, conferences, workshops and public education.

Annex G lists a matrix of all my clients and country focus for all the USP Member Countries and demonstrates my service to the whole region.

Annex H lists all the references written for me by my professional peer group and impeccable leaders in Fiji and the Pacific, including:.

Professor Biman Prasad (Dean FBE)

Dr. Sunil Kumar (Acting Head of Economics) (finally took it seriously)

Professor Mick White (Head of Accounting)

Dr Annette Sachs Robertson (Director of UNFPA)

Judith Robinson (AusAID)

Peter Forau (Deputy Secretary General, Forum Secretariat)

Japanese Ambassador to Fiji

Father Kevin Barr (ECREA and Peoples Community Network Fiji)

Dare I say that the references from these hard-headed professionals would make any USP academic blush, if they were fortunate enough to receive them, as I was.

Appeal Committee Decision and Report

My Appeal Committee was appointed by the Chair of Council Fiame Mataafa, and comprised

Mr. Ikbal Jannif (Deputy Chair of Council and Chair of Committee)

Mr Filipe Jitoko (PS Education and appointed by Chair of Council)

Mrs Ashla Singh (representing me)

Professor  William Albersbert (nominee of Vice Chancellor Chandra).

I was indeed fortunate to have the brave Mrs. Ashla Singh (Lecturer in FBE) represent me when the President of AUSPS (Mr. Rohit Kishore went overseas) without initially notifying me that he would not be at my appeal).  Interestingly, the VC’s nominee Professor Albersberg did not attend the meeting although the Appeal Committee report noted that he had been in email contact.

The Appeal Committee wrote to me, attaching their Report (I  Appeals Committee Report) which, except for their conclusion (i) which I would later challenge, pointed out in clauses (ii) to (vi) all the weaknesses of the Staff Review process that I have previously explained.

In particular (current USP Staff please note): “that the criterion of publishing internationally was overemphasized effectively overshadowing Professor Wadan Narsey’s contributions in teaching, research and publications of regional relevance… [which] ought to have carried more weight”.

The Appeal Committee of USP Council noted that I was an “exemplary academic and a teacher of very high caliber” and advised me (Annex J)  that they had recommended to the Staff Review Committee to reconsider its earlier decision. They looked forward to my “esteemed and valuable contribution to the University”.

There was no mention in the Appeal Committee Report that any extraneous matters had been introduced by some in the SMT, because the Head of the HR Secretariat deliberately chose to not record them in the Minutes.

Despite that, I must acknowledge with gratitude that Mr Ikbal Jannif and his Appeals Committee behaved with integrity, even though they would have been aware that I was a thorn in the side of the Bainimarama Government, Fiji’s largest financier.

VC Chandra Still Refused to follow USP Regulations on Documentation

My appeal did not end with USP granting my three year contract renewal. Not only did the Vice Chancellor still refuse to pay me my small cash bonus as recommended by my supervising officers, but he adamantly refused to correct the USP records which would have shown that the Vice Chancellor and his Senior Management Team had not followed due process according to USP regulations.

I wrote to HR Secretariat complaining that the Appeals Committee was not aware from the USP records of the Staff Review Committee that totally extraneous and false matters had been introduced to the meeting by Deputy VCs Kelly and Williams, and fully backed by VC Chandra, Dean Jokhan and DPD (Michael Gregory).

The Secretary to the Staff Review Committee (Ms. Agnes Kotoisuva) informed me that she did not record any elements of discussion which were not pertinent to my academic performance.  The BDO established commission should ask Agnes Koitoisuva, why she did not record these extraneous comments which were clearly pertinent to the SMT decision? How extraordinary.

The VC then also refused to reply to my emails, a favorite ploy to express his displeasure with subordinates or not make decisions.

I then wrote a letter (17 March 2011) to Hon Fiame Mata’afa who was Pro-chancellor and Chair of USP Council (Annex K  Letter to Mata’afa), requesting her to ensure that

(a) the Minutes of that SRC Meeting were amended to show what extraneous matters had been introduced and by whom and supported by whom

(b) That the University require the Chair of all Staff Review Committees to state before every meeting that negative or extraneous matters must not be introduced into the Staff Review process unless the staff member has been notified in writing and allowed to respond, as required by USP regulations.

(c) That the University require the Secretariat of all Staff Review Committees, in future, to record all substantive comments and discussions made, whether considered relevant to academic performance or not.

I also pointed out that the refusal by the VC to grant the cash bonus that had been recommended by my superiors and clearly vindicated by the USP Appeal Committee comprising the Deputy Chair of Council, indicated his total contempt for USP Council and its Appeals Committee (today we can see as completely counter to Chandra’s Dubious Claim 2 in his Fiji Sun Opinion piece, that he has always operated under the direction of Council and its Chair).

I also pointed out a serious weakness in academic staff assessment KPIs that I am certain persists to this day. I pleaded with Hon Mata’afa that

“that the performance of academics ought to be judged by KPIs which take into account all the activities expected of them by the USP Charter, the Vision, the Mission, and the Strategic Plan, and that the judgment of supervising officers should not be countermanded without legitimate  justification.”

I also requested that

“the USP Council needs to discuss whether it is appropriate for at least some professors like myself (and others) to continue to focus their academic activities on the teaching, research and consultancy needs of USP’s Member Governments, donors, and the NGO community, as I have done in the last ten years, without fear of penalization by USP Management”.

Did Hon Mata’afa ask that the records of the Staff Review Committee be corrected?

Were my requests for the determination of professorial KPIs ever put to USP Council?

Readers  may wish to read my email of 3 February 2010 to the VC (at the end of Annex A) where I supported the point that Professor Randy Thaman had made to the VC’s Public Forum that good quality teaching should also be a critical KPI for academic staff, given that this was the primary function that we were paid for by USP Member Governments and students and their parents, and this was what our graduates remembered of their time at USP, not the international publications of their staff.

I also pointed out to Hon Mata’afa that VC Chandra continued to victimize me, refusing to launch three extremely important publications I had been involved in (including one important FBE collective effort resulting from a $400 thousand dollar regional symposium funded by UNFPA), refusing to include me in a USP Team (“too many Indo-Fijians” he said) even though I had been part of the Planning Committee and had been specifically invited by UNDP  for an important Round Table on the GFC, held in Vanuatu.

I received no reply from Hon Mata’afa and eventually, out of respect for my colleagues at UNFPA Suva, I withdrew that letter of complaint, which was a condition set by VC Chandra before he would agree to jointly launch the Population and Development monograph with the UNFPA representative coming from Bangkok. For more on this saga you can read here:

Final Ejection of Narsey from USP

My successful appeal for Contract Renewal was tragically only Round 1 of the bout.

Soon after and totally shattered emotionally, I took Sabbatical Leave at Kagoshima University, my first sabbatical ever for more than twenty years.

But within months while on Sabbatical Leave, I received two letters that yet again threw my life into turmoil.

The first was a forwarded email (29 May 2011) from Deputy Chair Ikbal Jannif to VC Chandra, cc’d to Fay Yee (Chair of Finance Committee) and Fiame Mata’afa (Chair of Council) indicating clearly that the Attorney General Sayed Khaiyum had been complaining VC Chandra about me (Annex L  Jannif letter to VC).

Jannif advised VC Chandra that he “write to Wadan expressing USP’s concern at the wild and unsubstantiated accusations he makes against the Fiji government, and ask him to refrain from this practice”.

The Dean of FBE also informed me (19 June 2011) that “serious complaints have been received by the University about your writing and other activities…[with] serious implications for the University Community”.

Soon after I received an ominous letter from VC Chandra (29 June 2011) demanding that I return to USP for a meeting with the VC and his Senior Management Team at 10 am on 15 July or “There would  be serious consequences should you fail to attend as directed”.  That he would not accept a conference call indicated to me that he meant business, now that he had Deputy Chair of Council (Jannif) on his side.

Reluctantly, and at great inconvenience, I came back to USP and attended the meeting with VC Chandra, his two Deputy Vice Chancellors Susan Kelly and Esther Williams, and the Dean of FBE (Professor Biman Prasad). The President of AUSPS (Rohit Kishore) did not attend, even though I had requested his presence.

Despite the seriousness of the meeting there was no one from the HR Secretariat taking minutes. USP Council and BDO should ask: why not?

But I had protected myself by ensuring that I had an irrefutable record of the proceedings, word by word and blow by blow.

This transcript records that the USP VC claimed that my writings

“have now jeopardized the funding of the university from the Fiji Government and it is also jeopardizing the future of the whole university …. The Fiji Government has not paid its contributions to the end of July… the first time it has [not] done so… The letter from the Government has specifically mentioned that the Minister of Finance, who is also the PM, has refused to release the funds….  it is a lot of money [$30  million] and we need those funds. But it is also posing a risk to the future of the University not just the current funding. This is also the time when a new funding model is being discussed about the contributions of the Fiji Government to the three institutions [universities].”

VC Chandra even alleged that there had been an anonymous letter of complaint from a student, which he refused to release to me.

I informed the SMT that while the

“The substance of your criticisms and that by Ikbal Jannif are about my going outside the bounds of academic freedom… I wish to state very categorically and clearly that I am expressing my right as a citizen of this country to my basic human right to freedom of expression without pressure from anybody …  I am free to write criticisms of government policies- of whichever government- whether it is this governments, or Qarase government or others, and you know very well that I have been critical of every government in this country on issues of principle.  Where in my opinion the problems are caused by systemic issues, then I have to be critical of governments and their accountability to the people who pay the taxes which are disbursed by these governments- whether they are legitimate, like the Qarase Government or the Chaudhry Government, or illegitimate like the Bainimarama Regime. Now I not claiming that I have an academic right to do these things. I am saying that I have a basic human right as a citizen of this country to express these views.

[I owe this most powerful argument to my personal legal adviser of many years, who is worth her weight in gold, more than any qualified lawyers I know. USP staff and students whose academic freedoms are being attacked, please note this argument].

I asked the USP VC and his SMT to point to any USP Regulations that I was breaking. They could not.

I told them that the Bainimarama Government could take me to court if was breaking Fiji’s laws. The SMT could not point to any such laws which I may have been breaking.

I pointed out to the USP VC and his SMT that

It is tax-payers’ money the regime which is in power is disbursing not their own….  and my fundamental position would be that my responsibilities are to the taxpayers who pay my salary…  and not to an illegal treasonous regime, illegal government, illegal Prime Minister and illegal Attorney General”.

The USP VC made many other criticisms including the extraordinary one (an insult to his own School of Journalism) that in my newspaper writings for the people of Fiji and the region, I was behaving like a journalist and “not a professor”.

He totally ignored that most of my newspaper articles were on serious public policy matters like the sanctity of FNPF contracts with pensioners and the critical importance of media freedom against government censorship.

The VC bluntly informed me that if I wanted to pursues my human rights I should do that without being a USP staff member.

The discussions went round and round for more than an hour and the transcript of the proceedings would be funny if it was not so deadly serious for my future.

In the end, I asked the other SMT Members whether they supported the VC, hoping for some dissent.

Both Deputy VC Susan Kelly and Deputy VC Esther Williams firmly said they did they supported VC Chandra. The Dean of FBE was outvoted.

He told me in my despondent walk back to FBE that he had previously had a heated debate with the VC about the very arguments I had made, and had to tell him not to treat him (Dean) like a child.

After a one to one meeting that evening with VC Chandra who told me to stop being selfish and save USP’s current and future funding from the Fiji Government, I resigned from USP, after I had pointed out that I had a legal non-negotiable contract with USP till 2013.

Doubly traumatized after my battle for contract renewal, I signed a one-sided Deed which ensured that USP could talk about the terms of my resignation but not myself.

Despite so many senior academics knowing what had happened to me, there was no public outcry or even any discussion at USP Council that I am aware of.

I was grateful for a brave letter by USP PhD candidate Lillian Green (wife of the equally brave NZ Diplomat to Fiji, the late Michael Green) which I attach as Annex M. It speaks for itself.

USP staff, having witnessed what had happened to one of their most senior colleagues, thereafter kept their silence on many other matters, including the draconian crackdown on academic freedoms of staff and students of which I have written elsewhere on my blog NarseyOnFiji.

VC Chandra’s Other Grand Claims

There is much more one can write about the hollowness of the claims by the former USP Vice Chancellor of his management record.

I have already written about VC Chandra’s censorship of academics and students at USP. Read here:

But there are far more issues and bad stories about USP management that have not been publicly aired.

One extraordinary story concerns the $30 million PICPA project funded by AusAID. USP had won this project because a certain Professor Wadan Narsey and Professor Biman Prasad had accompanied VC Chandra to Brisbane to make our case for PICPA to be based at USP.

PICPA was supposed to undertake the highest levels of management training for the CEOs of government departments and public enterprise in the region. This was much higher training than had been conducted in the seventies and eighties by USP’s ISAS.

I envisaged that we would need a top management professor or expert from Australia or NZ. But the USP VC refused to offer the market salaries which could attract such an expert to lead that project, his facetious argument being “how can the VC’s subordinate receive a higher salary than the VC himself”.

Inappropriate and ineffective Heads were appointed, and even the Dean of FBE was removed from the acting position (for reasons the reader can guess).  The PICPA project was unable to use more than three quarters of the funds which were eventually taken back, much to AusAID’s relief. Before that happened, I am told that a temporary co-ordinator may have been paid extremely large consultancy sums out of that aid money, no doubt with the VC’s approval.

How strange that pals of the former VC are now pals of the current VC Pal.

Very similarly, the USP VC removed the Dean of FBE (Prasad) from implementing our wonderful Development Dialogues around the region (again for reasons that can be guessed) and the responsibility for that was given to his chosen few who squandered another valuable project genuinely serving policy dialogue in the region (a role now filled by the ANU-USP Updates).

One of the extraordinary aspects of the former VC’s claims of his achievements as VC is that there are no objective KPIs given to substantiate these claims. Indeed, one can look at USP’s annual reports and find a lot of data which indicates a stagnation of USP academic outputs and quality senior staff.

The BDO Commission might wish to investigate what proportion of the alleged recent increase in students numbers is in fact due largely to USP adopting Pacific TAFE which provides technical and vocational training competing with FNU and other technical institutes in the region.

The BDO Commission might wish to investigate what proportion of the best secondary school students are no longer coming to USP- a study which I had advised former VC Chandra to undertake (as I had done when I was DPD in 1995). Of course, VC Chandra refused to undertake this study as he probably guessed what the result would be.

But I suspect that the employers of USP graduates in Fiji could tell USP Council about the declining standards anyway.

SMT lack of decency towards long-serving staff

In 2014, I wrote a letter (Annex N) to Ikbak Hannif (then Chair of Council) pointing out USP’s disregard of normal organizational etiquette in showing no appreciation on the departure of a faithful member of staff who had served USP for more than thirty years and at its highest levels moreover being a public face of USP for most of that time.

I asked that this letter also go on the personal files of VC Chandra, his file (Jannif) and HR records (Heather Stadel and Agnes Kotoisuva).  There was no response from Jannif or VC Chandra or the HR Office.

The BDO Commision might wish to investigate whether this document has been retained on USP’s HR records or if it has also been “disappeared” by someone.

This disregard for decent HR etiquette was sadly not an isolated incident. A University Librarian who retired after forty years of service to USP was not even given a cup of tea by USP Management- not the VC, not the Deputy VCs or even the responsible Pro VCs.

Not exactly a good advertisement for the premier university of the region. I am sure there are more senior staff who have been equally shabbily treated  at their departure, in contrast to the grand send-off for one former Vice Chancellor.

For the future

What the USP stakeholders should ask honestly is: how did USP get to this sorry state that such far ranging recommendations are called for by the BDO inquiry?

What was USP Council and its committees doing all this time that the university was deteriorating?

Has there been sufficient intellectual expertise at USP Council meetings to see through the manipulation by USP management?

How can USP Council have a Chairman who having just overseen a new VC being appointed then publicly calls for his sacking without due process?

[Although this does not surprise me since the same individual, at the same time as PM Bainimarama was condemning the massive loss of taxpayer funds through the NBF disaster during the years of the Rabuka Government, alleged at the Rev Niukula Lecture I gave at USP that the NBF losses were exaggerated- he had chaired the NBF Board at the time it was going under and reporting huge profits when it was actually insolvent.]

What has happened to the independent academic voices that used to previously go to Council meetings, before VC Chandra slowly but surely tightened his control of USP Council?

Where are all the checks and balances on the VC’s power that used to exist before in USP Senate and USP Council, before it became converted to the VC’s personal fiefdom?

Post-script 1

A premier research institution like USP has any number of interesting research topics before it such as (to give just a few):

  • Have senior academics appointed to USP Council ever hinted at these deep-seated problems besetting USP or have they for their personal interests, attended the meetings and kept quiet?
  • How did an accounting professor who could never be accused of being a national or regional thought leader in the field of accounting and auditing (as the late Professor Mick White was), be appointed by a USP VC to be Acting Head of Economics (over far more capable Economics staff) and even Acting Dean of FBE and Co-ordinator of PICPA?
  • Why did the former VC remove the post of Registrar. While  Professor Vijay Naidu has argued that this post should be brought back, the argument can be made about all the Heads of sections who have been virtually emasculated by the former VC.
  • What would be revealed by an objective journalism study of the coverage given to the last three vice chancellors (numbers of pictures and stories) by USP Bulletin abd the USP website, before and after the last appointment of the Director of Communications, relative to actual research findings by USP staff and students?
  • What have been the outstanding abilities and academic performances of all the deans appointed by the former  VC?
  • How many “empty” or “visionary” speeches have been given in the region by various VCs, including that by the late Savenaca Siwatibau?
  • At USP in the seventies and eighties, our academic staff union (AUSPS) was a powerful defender of academics’ rights against encroachment by the USP management. Current staff might wish to investigate how AUSP executives gradually got into bed with the USP VC and obtained rapid promotions personally, while gutting AUSPS’s independence.
  • Related to (f) above, how did new appointment at USP, Rohit Kishore, soon become President of AUSPS, and what led to his strange departure from USP (a great joke in semantic among lawyers apparently)?
  • Why is it that the glossy publication compiled by “historian” Dr. Jackie Lequie commemorating USP’s 50th Anniversary has no mention at all of all the cases of censorship of academic staff and students by the former VC, or indeed any of the major problems and challenges that USP has faced over the last fifty years? Indeed, why would a premier university with its own history department and communications office, hire an expatriate history lecturer in order to produce a glossy, largely empty, PR exercise for USP? Why did USP not conduct a “stocktake” with the full range of stakeholders asked to present past experiences and future challenges, as befits the 50th anniversary of any institution?
  • while the current VC Pal also, like the previous VC, wishes to place USP  in the top ranks of universities in the world, what about USP’s fundamental Vision and Mission statements on being relevant to the taxpayers of the region?.

The list goes on and on.

Post-script 2

When I eventually did publish my Magnum Opus (British Imperialism and the Making of Colonial Currency Systems) with Palgrave Macmillan, a truly international publication by any USP academic, VC Chandra who had used  my alleged lack of international publications as an excuse to get rid of me from USP, not only congratulated me in a USP Bulletin article (3 May 2016) but claimed “You will of course recall us talking about this publication earlier through Macmillan”. I have no such recollection and I don’t (as yet) have Alzheimer’s. The USP Book Centre does not even stock this internationally published book by a former USP academic.

Post-script 3:   Our blind ethnic lenses and egg on our faces

This is a good place as any to place on record how some of us, because of all the discrimination that Indo-Fijian academics faced at USP in the seventies and eighties, used to react with ethnic lenses every time one of our Indo-Fijian friends or colleagues were criticized. Let me just relate two anecdotes.

When Rajesh Chandra was vying to become VC, I remember that some of us were affronted when a certain Professor Peter Newell warned us: “Beware, he will make USP an Indian secondary college”.

Then when departing Registrar (Walter Fraser) was being given a farewell at the USP Dining Hall, he tongue in cheek gave a parting gift to the new VC “Management for Dummies”. Some of us engaged in some heated emails at the “gratuitous insult”, we thought.

Newell and Frazer have probably had the last laugh on us.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: