“Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it; those who strive to build a protective wall around it, and those who wish to pull it down; those who seek to mold it and those committed to breaking it up...." (Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Kenyan writer and academic)
VERONA - Despite the disastrous economic situation in Papua New Guinea while I was UNITECH vice chancellor from 2012 to 2018, and the far from propitious operating environment, we were able to produce many positive changes at the university.
As a public sector manager, there are so many worthy investment to choose from, but the trick is to to invest strategically and in such a manner that you don't increase the deficit (which should be zero) or increase the debt burden.
During my two terms as vice chancellor I was able to make many useful investments simply by controlling spending and stopping wastage. In 2017, for example, we were able to reduce operational spending by K2.2 million, or about 20%, of the total operational budget.
Before becoming vice chancellor, I was already an experienced and well-trained higher education executive.
In my roles as centre director at the School for Field Studies (USA-TCI) and academic director at Zuyd University (Netherlands), I had learned that groups anywhere in the world will behave opportunistically.
My former UNITECH colleagues - blinded by fear and pressured by politicians - failed to guard their own long-term interests and let a politically-motivated witchhunt and sheer madness take control.
Now the risk for the UNITECH community is that the Marape government will not accept the dishonesty, monumental incompetence and total ineffectiveness that the current university council and management show in their actions and highly questionable decisions.
Why can't management provide proper internet access? Why are student dining facilities no longer compliant with health and safety regulations? Why is the quality of the food so bad? Why did the UNITECH community not stand up for the long term interests of the university?
How easy it has been for a corrupt prime minister to appoint cronies and nincompoops to university councils and management. Everybody knew Peter O'Neill would probably not last until the next election in 2022. In fact, despite impossible odds, he was removed as prime minister by parliament after another deal gone bad and we saw democracy triumph for a change.
Making predictions is hard, especially about the future, as someone joked once. It seems clear however, that the cycle of university student boycotts and staff strikes has not been broken.
An unresponsive and callous university management, and a council which has political and personal interests at heart, will inevitably produce more boycotts and strikes. These may or may not lead to a change in the management or to council, but it has happened in the past.
The alternative scenario would have been so much better for all staff and students. I would have finished my second term as Vice Chancellor, and would have produced the full range benefits stemming from a highly successful internationalization and engagement strategy.
Internally, I was in the process of raising the healthy elements and getting rid of ineffective and dishonest deputies and senior staff, but my opponents beat me to it.
There would have been a peaceful transition, without court cases and newspaper headlines, and the reputation of the university would have been re-established nationally and internationally.
By listening to self-interested voices and unleashing a witch hunt, everybody lost. Because a few power hungry, greedy and dishonest individuals were afraid to lose their positions, UNITECH's reputation is again in tatters. This is what UNITECH community has allowed to happen and brought upon itself.
Several generations of students fought hard for transparent and accountable university governance and improvement in the academic programs so that these would be internationally recognised. Now all these efforts have gone to waste.
As to my legal case, any hope of justice will need to occur by following the Western way. I will win the judicial review case, and my remedy will be in damages. Many now know that this is in the millions of kina for back pay, damages for unlawful prosecution and damages due to defamation based on trumped up and false allegations.
Most of the student leaders who stood up against the former university council and the O'Neill government have not found good jobs, and are either self-employed or work in small companies in remote areas.
Many students did not finish their studies, some suffered physically and financially. A large group was kicked out by the arbitrary imposition of disciplinary penalties meted out by a kangaroo court run by the registrar. Some were arbitrarily accused of crimes and spent time in prison. They are all still around, some even coming back as students with an axe to grind.
Personally, if I were a current council or management team member, I would be fearful, having gained my position through appointment by one of the most corrupt prime ministers in the history of PNG.
The Marape government is unlikely to put up with this council's dishonest shenanigans. The management and council do not understand their lack of legitimacy and credibility as leaders, which are clearly perceived by the majority students and many among the staff, who are afraid to speak up just yet.
With none of the university's problem solved in a lasting and intelligent manner, frustration will again boil over and the memories of how things improved during my two terms as vice chancellor will be all the more salient.
‘Apres moi le deluge’ (after me disaster), a French king once said, and that is my prediction for UNITECH in the coming years.
The human spirit craves for liberty and justice. Both have a strange way of being unstoppable in their paths. It is not over.