Sunday, July 15, 2007


Premila Devi Kumar is a strong-willed woman, with a true urge to serve people and work for their best interests.
Her name will be familiar to people who have been cheated as a consumer for she is the Consumer Council of Fiji's chief executive officer, being appointed last May because of her personal interest and will to serve the people
"I had always had an interest and desire to assist people and one of the many ways to do this is to make them aware of their rights and obligations as consumers so that they are not unfairly treated by unscrupulous traders and service providers," she said.
"The profile of the council was low and I was interested in turning this important organisation to a level that it should have been rather than just being a passive organisation serving little purpose."
There is no doubt she has ended up in the right place at the right time as Premila said she loves her job and was committed to it.
"It is interesting, challenging and a very important area of intervention by the Government.
"My task here is to empower people on their consumer rights so they don't have to put up with sub-standard products, faulty weights, adulterated food, exorbitant prices, useless guarantees, poor services and a host of other ills," she said.
What triggers her to stay on with the council is seeing people coming to her office everyday because they believe that the council can address their problem.
Her aim is to promote and safeguard the interests of consumers. She is tasked with the responsibility of building a conscious and assertive consumer movement in Fiji.
Her ambition is to educate herself and to serve the people honestly to make a difference in their lives.
On the personal side, she said she wanted to have a close-knit family and was pleased to have achieved that.
Premila believes in honesty, hard work, transparency, accountability, equity, human values and recognition and respect.
"I dislike dishonesty, disregard for the law, rules and procedures and corruption. I dislike lazy people who depend on government for survival rather then believing in themselves that they can make a difference," she said.
She attended Suva Methodist Primary School and Dudley Intermediate before moving to Mahatma Gandhi Memorial secondary school.
The Suva born and bred girl showed leadership skills from an early age, something she is proud of, saying her leadership qualities helped her climb the ladder of success.
"I attended MGM High School and completed my sixth form education," she said. "While at MGM I was the head girl, so leadership came to me early in life.
"I am the eldest in my family so it was with me from the start. High expectations were always there and became a trend for me later in life. One needs maturity and commitment to handle things in this area
"After high school, I pursued a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Chemistry and Biology from Sophia College (an all- girls institute), in India. At the university, I again took up a number of leadership roles such as being active drama, oratory and debates and on the student council."
The Premila most people know and hear of evolved from teaching field.
"When I returned from India I taught at Dudley High School in the early 1980s before moving to Indian College where I stayed for 10 years teaching Form 6 and 7 Biology.
"I did my post-graduate certificate in education at USP to become a qualified teacher.
"I was the head of science before I joined the Fiji College of Advanced Education in 1994 where I was teaching teachers how to teach.
"I found that very challenging switching from 'chalk and talk' style to discovery and inquiry learning.
"It was difficult to enter the teaching field at the time and I had replaced the teacher who had taught me.
"It was very challenging at Indian College but I like challenges. I like working in the field where things are not perfect because it gives me a new challenge.
"I liked to challenge my students by telling them that 'You can't do it' and that worked well.
"It challenged and gave them a new confidence to prove me that I was wrong. When I am teaching, I mean business.
"Outside the classroom,
"I was different with them and they approached me to speak on any issue and were very comfortable but it was a different story inside the classroom where I demanded respect and expected students to work hard," she said,
Premila stays in touch with some of her students.
She gives her 100 per cent and is completely focused on the tasks she has to perform, ensuring the best results are obtained.
"To me, work is worship because that is my bread and butter. I can't pick the pay package and not do work worth the money," she said.
"I am known for criticisms but criticisms make you better in whatever you do, especially in workplaces. It's like an evaluation.
"My critical thinking has made my career and people know they can't fool around with me."
Premila gave up teaching to take out time for her children who were growing up and needed a mother's attention and care.
"It was difficult to leave teaching because people had the perception that once a teacher, always a teacher.
'After that my interest in environment grew and I began doing research on young people's attitude towards environment."
She then spent the next 10 years in the environment field, contributing to the formation of Fiji's environment legislations. Even though she has departed from the teaching field, it remains her proudest memory.
"I am proud to be a teacher because imparting knowledge is developed here," she said.
"The foundation to build my career and the confidence I needed started in school as a teacher."
Premila has been happily married for 21 years and is proud of her three beautiful children.
Her husband, Jaindra Kumar is Fiji's Trade Commissioner to Australia.
Mr Kumar is originally from Lautoka and the pair was introduced by a relative.
Premila said she had never thought of getting married because of the responsibilities and commitments that go with it but she gave in to the charms of Mr Kumar a decision she says she can never regret.
"I did not want to marry because of the responsibilities and I married late when my parents pressured me that it was time I settled down," she candidly said.
"Jaindra is not a typical Fiji-Indian man and I think that is what clicked between us.
"We created a respectful relationship with great understanding. I have no regrets of getting married," said Premila.
Yamal, 19, her elder son is at Auckland University in his second year of conjoint studies for Bachelors of Commerce LLB.
Daughter Eshmee, 17, is a seventh former at Indian College and her younger son, Shaman, is in year 11 in Sydney.
Shaman lives with his father in Sydney.
A family to Premila means responsibility, sharing and caring, love and affection and above all strength and respect.
"I have an excellent relationship with my family," she said.
"Everyone is important and we discuss issues affecting each and every one of us.
"So teamwork begins at home. We support and stand by each other.
"My family is very close to immediate extended family as well," she said.
Premila spends most of her time with her daughter Eshmee as her husband and two sons are normally away from home.
In this way Premila said she had lesser demands and expectations to fill.
"Yes, my husband is in Sydney doing an important job for Fiji in promoting exports to and investments from Australia.
"Managing the family is not a problem if one organises him or herself well," she said.
She devoted her success to her husband.
"My husband is very supportive, understanding and always encourages me to strive for better.
"Jaindra encouraged me to do my Masters degree.
"He looked after the kids when I was on study leave.
"Even after marriage, I continued with my education because my husband was very supportive and understanding.
"He believes in my ability to deliver and often says nothing is impossible for me to achieve," she said.
"My children are my angels now growing into adolescence. They are lovable and very caring — something they have learnt from my father-in-law and from my mother.
"I am looking forward to the day when they complete their tertiary education, get a good job and settle in their own life," said Premila.
Because of family commitments and Mr Kumar's job, Premila was unable to take up a scholarship to do her doctorate.
She had to choose between a PhD and her family and she chose her family. She doesn't regret giving up that scholarship. Premila said she had to play multiple roles at times but that was not a problem as she easily fits in whatever role that needs her attention.
"I play multiple roles such as a loving mother, caring wife, a responsible daughter and daughter-in-law and a good sister and so on. I am able to easily fit in whatever role that demands my attention," she said.
Premila comes from a well off background.
He father was a businessman who owned the popular Ram Karan Kava shop on Bureta Street, in Samabula.
After her father's death in 1991, the business was handled by her younger brother.
Premila comes from a big family she has three brothers and three sisters. She is the eldest.
"Being the eldest in the family and the first one to go to secondary school (MGM High) was a proud moment for my parents. They had high expectations of me so I was pressured to do my best not to disappoint them."
Her two other brothers, in Sydney and Vancouver, are businessman who import produce, frozen food and vegetables from Fiji for markets where they are.
Their supplier is none other than their younger brother and Premila said she was proud of the way her family business was being handled.
One of her sisters is settled in Sydney, the youngest is a doctor in Auckland and the one in Fiji runs a family shop.
Premila's mother is a social worker who still lives in the family home on Bureta Street.