Fijian officials accused of hijacking control of USP

Wednesday June 10, 2020 Written by RNZP Published in Small World
USP's Suva campus Photo: wikicommons USP's Suva campus Photo: wikicommons

Hundreds of staff and students at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji are protesting the suspension of their Vice-Chancellor and President by the USP Council.

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea has accused a “small group” of Fiji officials of “hijacking” the 12-country regional University of the South Pacific and suspending the vice-chancellor.

The executive committee reportedly suspended Professor Pal Ahluwalia following a row over employment issues.

Aingimea has called for an urgent meeting of the full University Council to reverse the “illegitimate” action  Professor Ahluwalia, which he described as a “personal vendetta”.

“The future of our regional Pacific university is now seriously in jeopardy,” he wrote in a statement following two days of extraordinary events at the Laucala campus in Fiji.

Hundreds of staff and students have met in rallies around campus protesting against the treatment of Professor Ahluwalia, a Canadian, and demanding governance and transparency at the institution.

The USP Students Association (USPSA) Federal Council also issued an open letter yesterday calling for the resignations of the USP Council chair, former Fiji diplomat Winston Thompson; deputy chair Aloma Johansson; and the chair of the council’s audit and risk committee, Mahmood Khan.

The statement signed by Joseph Sua, chair and president of the USPSA federal body, threatened a boycott of exams by students if the University Council did not act.

“The students will not step back from participating in peaceful demonstrations and boycotting exams, classes and other activities from USP’s 14 campuses should the USP Council fail to act,” Sua wrote.

Fiji police have launched an investigation into the protests of staff and students at USP, saying they would not hesitate to arrest people breaching the covid-19 coronavirus restrictions, reports FBC News.

Saying he was “appalled” at the developments at USP, Nauru’s President Aingimea wrote in his protest letter:

“The executive committee of the USP Council met despite the conflicts of interest and the serious concerns expressed by the council members.

“Due process was disregarded. This must not be allowed to rest here and further action is warranted.

“In recent days, the hostility and a lack of duty of care to a council-appointed vice-chancellor shows what a small group of members, who are not direct members, have hi-jacked  council processes and failed to accord duty of care and natural justice to a council-appointed vice-chancellor.

“These actions represent a personal vendetta against the vice-chancellor.”

Another council member, Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, posted a statement on social media saying: “Be interesting to see how  a special council meeting  pans out. USP at tipping point of becoming nationalised and the region looks on.”

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