Student Council praises Samoa Govt. as U.S.P. mired in controversy

The University of South Pacific’s Student Council has praised the Samoa Government for rejecting a probe announced by the university's Council Chair and Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson into incumbent Vice Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

U.S.P. Student Council President Joseph Sua and Vice President Viliame Naulivou have appealed to the rest of the university’s governing council members to follow the lead taken by the Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, and direct Mr Thompson to stop his actions.

“The [students] body further joins the Honorable Member from Samoa in cautioning the P.C. [Pro-Chancellor] that his action does not carry the intents of the Council and that we will not be held back from joining the council in initiating the proceedings to remove the Pro-Chancellor from Office,” they said in a letter dated April 7, 2020 addressed to members of the U.S.P. Council published by Suva-based Islands Business magazine.

“The student body has had enough of this rift, we have already seen the grave mismanagement in the past and we cannot risk this governance body to fail from taking actions to protect this very institution that brings pride to the region and to the people of the Pacific.

“We are encouraged by this support from Samoa and call upon other member countries to join us in this good cause of saving our Pacific Institution from the actions of one individual that can seriously put this prestigious organisation at risk.”

Mr Thompson, in response to questions sent by the Samoa Observer, said he was not given the courtesy by the U.S.P. Student Council leadership and the U.S.P. Concerned Staff to respond to allegations contained in separate correspondence USP Council Members.

“Professor Ahluwalia returned from a week’s personal leave in the United States on the weekend of 15 March. He called an extended SMT meeting for 16 March. Some members of SMT questioned why he was at the meeting since he had just returned from the U.S. where it had become clear from reports that COVID-19 was getting out of control. When this matter came to my attention, I suggested to the V.C.P. that as a responsible and prudent measure to protect the University community, many of whom were in the vulnerable category, he should self-isolate,” he stated in his email response to the Samoa Observer.

“The University has a state-of-the-art communication network and him operating from his home on campus was a small inconvenience to eliminate the risk of cross-infecting attendees. It had been proven that one can still be an inadvertent carrier although not showing symptoms. He refused citing his clearance by inspection at Nadi Airport on arrival. When he refused to recognize his responsibility, I was forced to instruct him to self-isolate to protect the University community.”

Mr Thompson then made reference to a COVID-19 case in Fiji involving a Fiji Airways flight attendant who transmitted the virus to two others, and highlighted how the Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned of the risks of carelessness.

“As P.M. Bainimarama has been emphasizing in his daily press briefings since 19 March, it only takes one careless person to bring down an epidemic.”

On the matter of allegations of material misconduct against Professor Ahluwalia, Mr Thompson said the investigation will be in accordance with the terms of his appointment and the relevant ordinance of the University and Members of Council will have the opportunity to decide after the allegations have been investigated and a report provided for a decision.

Loau, in an interview with Islands Business, said the Samoa Government rejects the inquiry set up by the Pro-Chancellor and it should cease immediately.

He said if Mr Thompson does not comply, the Samoa Government as one of the 12 member countries who own the U.S.P., will push for his removal from office.

“This submission is not taken lightly but the viability of our regional university is too important to be put at risk by the actions of one individual,” said Loau.

The position of the Minister was supported by the U.S.P. Alafua Campus Head of School, Dr. Joeli Veitayaki, who told Samoa Observer that the ongoing dispute involving the university's Pro-Chancellor is driven by toxic internal politics.

“I like that the member Governments are taking a stand on the matter which is theirs and I feel that the Pacific islanders and those of us who have been to the University and now work for the University, we wish the best for this institution for the sake of future generations,” he said.

“I really salute them for that because anything that happens to the U.S.P. will affect the region and that's what's obviously [happening]."

Additional reporting by Alexander Rheeney

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