Fiji's economy main U.S.P. beneficiary: unions

The University of South Pacific staff unions and student association have questioned the Fiji government’s continued opposition to the reinstatement of Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, when Fiji’s economy continues to benefit as the regional university’s host to the tune of FJ$315 million annually.

A fortnight ago the Fiji Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Civil Service and Communications, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum reportedly told Fiji’s Parliament that the decision of the U.S.P. Governing Council to offer a new contract to Professor Ahluwalia – which will see him work from the university’s Samoa Campus at Alafua – was illegal as it is contrary to the U.S.P. Charter and regulations.

But in a joint statement released last Monday, the Association of the University of South Pacific Staff (A.U.S.P.S.), The University of South Pacific Staff Union (U.S.P.S.U.) and the University of South Pacific Student Association (U.S.P.S.A.) said there is no reference in the U.S.P. Charter or statutes relating to the process of appointment of the Vice Chancellor as stated by Fiji’s Attorney-General in the parliament.

“A search of the U.S.P. Council documents namely U.S.P. Charter, Statutes of the University, Ordinances does not reveal any statement or comment or inference that the Vice-Chancellor must be located at the Laucala Campus, Fiji,” reads the joint statement.

“The documents do confirm the regional nature of the institution noting representation of campuses on committees.

“The A.G. has misinformed the people of Fiji.”

The Samoa Observer sent questions to the Attorney-General’s Office in Fiji last Tuesday seeking comments from Mr Khaiyum on the statements he made in Fiji’s parliament, and the rationale behind the Fiji government’s decisions that opposed the appointment of Prof. Ahluwalia, and ultimately led to his deportation from Fiji in February this year.

To date this newspaper is yet to hear from the Attorney-General or his Office in Suva.

In terms of the benefits that Fiji’s economy continues to get both directly and indirectly through its hosting of the regional university, the U.S.P. staff unions and student association said the financial returns back to the country are enormous.

“It is common knowledge and confirmed by the Executive Director Finance through the University Grants Committee that for every FJ$1 Fiji contributes to the U.S.P. it gets FJ$9 in return,” the staff unions and student association said in their statement.

“So, the FJ$35million obligation translates to FJ$315m being pumped into the economy from income tax, purchase of goods and services by staff and students, rent, travel, transport, medical etc.

“With this contribution from all who study and work at U.S.P. Fiji gains FJ$215m in revenue from its investment, not to mention qualified citizenry. This is the full and true picture.”

The staff unions and student association then claimed that the Fiji government’s actions are, “spurred on by the A.G. and PS Education, Dr. Jokhan who is regarded as having a major conflict of interest stemming from the BDO Report findings, it is 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 in the latter part of the 2009 – 2018 period.”

Turning to the regional university and the fact that it is owned by 11 independent regional governments including Samoa and not just Fiji, the staff unions and student association said the U.S.P. is “bigger than one country, one man or one group of persons”.

“The University of the South Pacific is an institution that is bigger than any one country, one man or one group of persons and the governance issues of the past two years brought to the fore warrant reflection and just and fair action to go forward. 

“If Fiji continues to withhold its grant it is high time its five seats on the Council is reduced.”

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