By RNZ Pacific
The Speaker of Fiji’s Parliament has rejected calls from the opposition to debate the controversial deportation of the University of the South Pacific’s vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
Ratu Epeli Nailatikau ruled that an oral question from National Federation Party (NFP) leader Professor Biman Prasad, a former USP economics academic, and an adjournment motion from Sodelpa leader Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu were not urgent.
The deportation of the regional 12-nation body’s vice-chancellor has led to widespread regional criticism of Fiji’s government and urgent calls for action.
However, Speaker Ratu Epeli said Dr Prasad’s question did not relate to a matter of public importance and did not qualify as urgent.
Further, the adjournment motion was disallowed under standing orders.
“I have considered the nature of the adjournment motion and ruled that the matters raised in the adjournment motion are not something that requires the immediate attention of Parliament or the government,” Ratu Epeli said.
The council stated that it had not dismissed Professor Ahluwalia and expressed disappointment that it was not advised, as his employer, of the decision by Fiji’s government to deport him.
The council has established a subcommittee, chaired by the President of Nauru, Lionel Angimea, including the council representatives of Australia, Tonga, Niue, Solomon Islands, Samoa and two Senate representatives to look into matters surrounding the deportation.
The meeting on Friday also discussed the possibility of a vice-chancellor being based in and operating out of another country apart from Fiji.
Dr Giulio Masasso Tu’ikolongahau Paunga has been appointed acting vice-chancellor of USP in the meantime.
The sub-committee has been tasked to bring recommendations to the council as soon as possible. The next meeting is on February 16.
Dame Meg ‘disheartened’
The incoming Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna, of the Cook Islands, said he would not be speaking about the removal of the vice-chancellor until after a communique from the regional grouping was released.
However, the outgoing Secretary-General, Dame Meg-Taylor, of Papua New Guinea, issued a statement.
“As the permanent chair of the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific and a member of the USP Council, I am disheartened by the ongoing and recent events at the university culminating in the deportation [last week] of vice-chancellor and president, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
“I am confident that fellow council members will continue to uphold good governance and follow due process to ensure the immediate restoration of strong leadership of the university,” Dame Meg said.