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P.M. writes to Bainimarama over U.S.P. crisis

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi has written to his Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama, asking him to personally intervene in the University of South Pacific’s governance crisis.

Speaking on his weekly programme on radio 2AP, Tuilaepa revealed had written to his colleague and believes Mr Bainimarama can resolve the months-long standoff, which has seen Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson order the suspension of newly appointed Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, sparking protests amongst staff and students in multiple regional campuses. 

“All he needs to do is advise the [Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson] to resign and leave the University to V.C. Ahluwalia,”the Prime Minister said. “He was a good person, if it wasn’t for him we would not have known of the rotten things happening in the university.

“Bainimarama holds the cure; one word to [Mr Thompson] will end things.” 

A fortnight ago Mr. Thompson had Professor Ahluwalia suspended over alleged material misconduct, months after the only recently reinstated Vice-Chancellor had revealed rampant misspending by the university leadership prior to his appointment and he resolved to bring an end to the culture.

An independent investigation by accounting firm B.D.O. Auckland confirmed many of the allegations by Professor Ahluwalia. 

Citing the university’s rules on disciplining a Vice Chancellor, the student union has asked whether processes around confidentiality were followed correctly and if the alleged misconduct was both “material and a breach of Fijian law.”

The crisis at the regional university also drew condemnation from the university's former Pro-Chancellor and current Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, who called Mr. Thompson’s vendetta “nonsense.”

The Council members will meet on Friday and according to the President of Nauru and the incoming U.S.P. Chancellor Lionel Aingimea, they will reverse the “illegitimate” action of the university’s E.C. 

More than a week after suspension, Professor Ahluwalia has thanked Council Members who have decided to convene a special meeting to consider what has transpired over the past weeks including his “illegally suspension”.

“I now have the benefit of the unconfirmed minutes of the E.C. meeting of 8 June 2020 (document 5 in the agenda) and the illegality of my suspension is clearly demonstrated, by the absence of any reference to it, that the E.C. did not understand or consider the serious limit on the power if suspension imposed on it by article 6(f) of the Ordinance to govern the discipline of the Vice Chancellor,” he wrote to the council members. 

“On 26 March, 26 charges were levelled against me…many of the accusations brought against me last year continue to be repeated even though some have been cleared. The E.C. meeting held in June 2020 apparently considered another 33 charges against me. This time, the charges were a mix of new and repeated allegations. I was not given the opportunity to defend myself and none of the allegations are substantiated.”

Professor Ahluwalia added that he is a whistleblower and should be protected by the university, instead, he is being targeted while some staff members are protected and others disparaged and made to fear for their jobs.

“The Council has the opportunity to clear my name, support me in my role and reinstate me as the Vice-Chancellor and President of U.S.P. I do not fear an independent investigation.”

The U.S.P. is co-owned by Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Island, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Australia and New Zealand are members of the E.C.

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