Relocation of V.C. to Samoa legal: Nauru President

The President of Nauru and U.S.P. Chancellor Lionel Aingimea has defended the relocation of the university's Vice Chancellor and President to Samoa, saying it would not be a disadvantage when carrying out his work.  

President Aingimea said the re-appointment of V.C., the offering of a new contract and relocating his place of work is legal, contrary to statements by the Fiji Attorney-General and Minister for the Economy, Civil Service and Communications, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum.

Last week, six recommendations were presented to the regional university’s governing body by a subcommittee chaired by the Nauru President, which convened on two separate dates and agreed among other matters that Professor Pal Ahluwalia will be offered a new contract as the V.C. and President. 

Following the meeting, Khaiyum claimed the appointment was illegal because it was not in accordance with the university’s charter and that the Council had breached U.S.P.’s processes.

He had also claimed that the contract of the V.C. stated that he was appointed to serve at Fiji’s Laucala Campus.

But the Nauru President, in a statement released on Wednesday, criticised comments by Fiji's A.G. to Fiji's Parliament, saying he does not see how it can be illegal.

“The Council stands for what’s right and that’s what the students and staff wants,” President Aingimea said.

“We [Council] looked at the U.S.P. Statutes and Charter and we have not broken any rule in offering a new contract to the V.C.”

And while the President agrees it is Fiji’s decision to terminate the work visa, the issue of contract terminations is prescribed under the duties of the Council as the employer of the V.C. 

“I don’t see how it can be illegal. I am also a lawyer and I’ve also read the U.S.P. Charter and Statutes and the Council has the authority in making appointments," he said. 

“There’s nothing in the Statutes or the Charter to suggest we have broken any rule by re-appointing the vice-chancellor or issue him with a new contract. 

“There is nothing illegal about it; Council offered him a new contract and it can, as the employer.” 

On Monday, the U.S.P. Staff, the U.S.P. Staff Union and the U.S.P. Student Association issued a statement slamming the Fiji A.G., Khaiyum’s comment as a “total disrespect” to the U.S.P. Council comprised of representatives of 11 independent regional governments, donors, staff students and alumni. 

The joint release from the three U.S.P. unions dismissed the Fiji Attorney General's comments, saying there is no reference in the U.S.P. Charter or Statutes that the V.C. must be located in Fiji as he claimed.

Referencing the U.S.P. Charter, statutes of the university and ordinances that govern the regional university, the U.S.P. staff and student bodies said the Fiji A.G. has “misinformed” the people. 

“The students and staff basically read the Charter and Statutes, and issued their press release and specifically quoted sections in the Charter and Statute. The same Charter and Statute the Council used,” President Aingimea continued on Wednesday. 

“This shows that what Council did is indeed, not illegal.” 

President Aingimea noted that as a former lecturer at U.S.P., such issues the university is facing are “longstanding” issues. 

“So maybe it’s about time the region spoke out,” he said. “This is a regional university. It doesn’t belong to any one country.” 

President Aingimea emphasised that as Fiji has the highest number of students attending the U.S.P. it therefore is the highest contributor in terms of university grants with an annual contribution of $34.4 million. 

He noted that while the Fiji government has not paid the full amount in years, they benefit the most out of all other co-owning nations through income tax, rent, travel, transport, medical, and the purchase of goods and services by the staff and students that attend and are employed by the University. 

The same concerns were relayed by the three unions' joint statement saying the A.G.’s efforts to point out the fact that Fiji is the highest contributor to the U.S.P. is misleading. 

“Fiji contributes the highest amount because it has the highest number of students and the highest number of staff and therefore is the biggest beneficiary of the U.S.P.,” the unions wrote.

“In the current situation, Fiji has not paid its $20million – this is dishonest practice and even worse it is being used as a threat against the University. In the meantime, Fiji students continue to receive quality education from committed staff without Fiji honouring its obligation!"

The unions' statement claimed that the Fiji Government’s actions have made it abundantly clear that their concern is less about the students and good governance and more about protecting their loyal supporters in the U.S.P. Management Team.

President Aingimea reiterated that all member countries of the U.S.P. have the right to an equal voice in the decisions and operations of the university.  

The U.S.P. drama continues a year after a leaked audit of the university's finances raised allegations of millions of dollars in improper salary payments and expenses, and disturbing claims of a “sex-for-grades” scheme that was covered up. 

The university mismanagement was first discovered by the reinstated Prof. Ahluwalia, just months into his appointment, which led to the investigation by accounting firm B.D.O. Auckland. 

He has since been suspended, had his home in Fiji raided and his credit cards confiscated and forcibly deported out of Fiji, along with his wife. 

Prof. Ahluwalia is currently in Nauru and says he is excited to carry on his role as the V.C. but from the Samoa Campus in Apia.

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