Fiji suspends funding grants to USP over long-standing conflict

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Nauru President Lionel Aingimea
Nauru President Lionel Aingimea ... called meeting to decide on the fate of two Fiji executives at heart of conflict at USP. Image: Nauru government

By RNZ Pacific

The Fiji government has suspended its funding grants to the University of the South Pacific.

This comes after months of conflict at the regional institution between the regional governing council and the Fiji-based university management.

Fiji had allocated almost US$13 million in grants to the university for the current financial year.

Last week, Islands Business reported that the Chancellor and Nauru President Lionel Aingimea had alled for a special council meeting to determine the fate of two senior Fiji executives.

“Controversial pro-chancellor of the University of the South Pacific Winston Thompson of Fiji has been instructed to convene another urgent meeting of the USP Council,” reported editor Samisoni Pareti.

“This time … Aingimea told Thompson that the university’s supreme body [would] need to determine his fate and that of the chair of the council’s audit and risk committee, Mehmood Khan, also of Fiji.

“Supporting [the chancellor’s] call are council members from Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and representatives of the governments of Australia and New Zealand and the university Senate, staff and student bodies.”

Accepted exoneration of the VC
Thompson held a press conference earlier this month and said he had accepted the decision by the council to exonerate vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia of misconduct allegations.

But Thompson claimed there was a disconnect between the council and the university management.

In June, Professor Ahluwalia was suspended by the USP’s Executive Committee led by Thompson.

But he was reinstated after weeks of protests by students and staff, when the university council – which includes most of the region’s governments – ruled due process had not been followed.

On Thursday, FBC News reported Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum as saying the Fiji government – as the largest grant contributor to the USP – was concerned at the “continuous question marks about the lack of adherence to the principles of good governance in the day to day administration of USP”.

The report said the government was particularly and deeply concerned about the lack of investigations into serious allegations that have been identified by both Thompson and Khan.

Sayed-Khaiyum said the USP council had ignored the recommendations of the special executive committee – that at least 14 of the 33 allegations against Professor Ahluwalia required an independent investigation.

The USP has been told that until a thorough and independent investigation was carried out to the satisfaction of the Fiji government, grants to the university would be stopped with immediate effect.

This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.

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