U.S.P. Vice Chancellor arrested, awaiting deportation

The University of South Pacific (U.S.P.) Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandra Price were arrested and detained by Fiji’s police on Wednesday night and are awaiting deportation from Fiji.

The U.S.P. administration in Fiji confirmed the detention of Prof. Ahluwalia and his wife in an email sent to the university's staff and students around 8.30am Thursday (Fiji Time). 

"Please be informed that our Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife, Ms Sandra Price, were taken into Police custody," the email states. 

"We have no further information on their wellbeing at this time.

"We would like to inform you that business continues as usual.

 "We ask that we all remain calm throughout this situation for the safety and wellbeing of our University Community.

"We will provide you updates as we receive them."

The U.S.P. email had the signatures of Professor Jito Vanualailai, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Education and Dr Giulio Paunga, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Regional Campuses and Estates and Infrastructure). 

The arrest and detention of Prof. Ahluwalia and his wife happened on the eve of an executive council meeting scheduled for Thursday by his chief agitator, Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson who is still trying to have him removed from office.

U.S.P. Staff Union President Elizabeth Read Fong reportedly told Fiji Broadcasting Corporation that the U.S.P. Council, Chancellor and Pro Chancellor have been informed and will be giving staff advice on the developments.

Suva-based news publication Islands Business tweeted Thursday morning that Prof. Ahluwalia's wife Ms Price confirmed their deportation from Fiji.

“We can’t talk, we’re being deported on 11am flight today,” Ms Price said, reports Islands Business.

Their reported deportation comes after months of protracted battles between him and colleagues in the U.S.P. leadership, who have hit back at his investigations into their alleged mishandling of funds.

In September 2020, Prof. Ahluwalia was cleared of all charges of misconduct, after Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson launched an investigation into his colleague earlier in the year.

Prof. Ahluwalia was accused of 26 allegations of “material misconduct” and was temporarily suspended after he revealed rampant misspending by the university leadership and resolved to end it.

An independent investigation by accounting firm B.D.O. Auckland confirmed many of the findings that Prof. Ahluwalia's investigations uncovered. 

The U.S.P. Chancellor and President of Nauru, Lionel Aingimea called for the council to remove Mr. Thompson in June last year and accused him of having a “personal vendetta” against Prof. Ahluwalia.

Islands Business reports Minister of Education, Sports, and Culture Loau Keneti Sio also called for Mr. Thompson to step down from the council this week, with Aingimea replacing him in the interim.

“It is clear that the relationship between the Pro Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor has broken down irretrievably, and that the Pro Chancellor has not abided by his agreement with Council, nor with the Sub-Committee appointed to oversee the Commission, to work with the Vice Chancellor for the benefit of the USP,” Loau wrote in a letter to the U.S.P. council, and seen by Islands Business.

Mr. Thompson had called for a council executive committee meeting for today, though he allegedly does not have the mandate to discipline Profesor Ahluwalia.

The U.S.P. is one of only two universities of its type in the world. It is jointly owned by the governments of 12 member countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa and has campuses in all its member countries.

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