By Samisoni Pareti in Suva
The governing body of the University of the South Pacific has put a stop to a long and bitter campaign by the Fiji government to get rid of vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
With the strong leadership of Tonga and Samoa, the council voted to:
- Issue a new contract for the vice-chancellor’s position to Professor Pal Ahluwalia
- Relocate the VC’s office from the university’s main campus in Suva, Fiji, to the USP’s Alafua Campus in Apia, Samoa; and
- Stipulate that VC Ahluwalia’s contract be a three-year term.
Fiji’s five representatives to the council were led by its Solicitor-General Sharvada Nand Sharma in place of Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (who was attending a virtual session of the Fiji Parliament), and Education Permanent Secretary Dr Angeela Jokhan (who was until last year a senior academic at the USP).
They attempted unsuccessfully to garner support to block the three motions.
The strongest support they received was when eight council members voted against a three-year term for Professor Ahluwalia’s new contract as VC. The additional three votes against the motion came from the representatives of Australia, New Zealand and council chair Winston Thompson of Fiji.
A majority of council members did not support reservations raised over Professor Ahluwalia’s age. He is 62 this year, but some senior members of USP have worked at the university until they were 70 years of age.
Australia called for this clause to be reconsidered by a new sub-committee, a suggestion Nauru’s President and education minister, Lionel Aingimea, strongly opposed. Aingimea argued that the motion had already been scrutinised by a sub committee of the council which he chaired, and the better way for Australia to show its stand on the matter would be through voting.
How they voted
Thompson and the Australian representative also voted with the Fiji bloc against the relocation of the VC’s office to Samoa. New Zealand joined the majority of members that included Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Marshall Islands and a majority of the USP staff and student reps in endorsing the motion.
Solomon Islands had an unusual voting pattern, Islands Business was told, for its education minister voted with Fiji on the first motion opposing the re-engagement of VC Ahluwalia, and then decided to abstain in the successive two motions.
Her attempt to claim the additional vote of their new co-opted member to the council, long-time Pacific fisheries expert Dr Transform Aqorau was denied by the council because Dr Aqorau is yet to undergo an induction as its newest member.
Samoa was represented by senior civil servants.
With the council secretariat withholding a statement on the outcome of today’s meeting which was held virtually, it could not be confirmed whether the council would be meeting again next week to decide on the fate of its chair Winston Thompson and the chair of the council’s audit and risk sub-committee Mahmood Khan, also of Fiji.
Both men have been cited for insubordination and of working against the interest of the council and the USP, and have spearheaded the campaign to remove Professor Ahluwalia as VC.
Those efforts saw attempts to suspend him from the position in July last year, and a middle-of-the-night deportation, along with his partner, Sandy Price, from Fiji in early March this year.
Professor Ahluwalia and Price have been living in Nauru since then.
Samisoni Pareti is managing director of Islands Business news magazine in Fiji. This article is republished with permission.