USP staff and students hit back at Sayed-Khaiyum’s ‘illegal’ claim

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum & Pal Ahluwalia
Fiji Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (left) and USP vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia ... Fiji was decisively out-voted in the USP council. Image: Fiji Times graphic

Asia Pacific Report newsdesk

The University of the South Pacific staff and student unions have condemned Fiji Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s claim that a new USP contract offer to the vice-chancellor is illegal, saying he has “misled” the Fiji public with a “baseless” statement.

The unions also said he had shown “total disrespect” for the governing USP Council which represents 11 independent regional governments, donors, staff, students and alumni in the Pacific.

In a joint media statement, the Association of USP Staff (AUSPS), University of South Pacific Staff Union (USPSU) and the USP Student Association (UPSA) said today Fiji had the highest number of representatives on the council and was “given ample opportunity by the pro-chancellor and chair of council to share its views” under democratic process.

Fiji was decisively out-voted in the council. A new Samoa-based contract was offered to Professor Pal Ahluwalia who had been abruptly deported along with his wife in February in a widely criticised action.

“In essence the Fiji members of the council failed to convince other members of the council regarding their views on the issues under discussion and now calling a decision illegal and questioning others that are within the purview of the august body,” said the media statement signed by AUSPS president Elizabeth Reade Fong, USPSU president Taris Vacala, and USPSA president (Laucala) Lepani Naqarase.

“This press release serves to rebut as baseless the statements of the AG [Attorney-General] and the Fiji representatives to the USP Council who have reported council outcomes to him.”

Citing many of the university’s governing documents — including the university charter — the statement said: “The council is well within its rights and has determined that the VC/P will be located at the Samoa campus. This was voted for by a clear majority.

‘Within due process’
“The same is applied to the continuation of salary of the VC/P on his deportation by the council at its February 16, 2021, meeting at which the chair of council and chair of the Audit and Risk Committee were not present due to ‘conflicts of interest’ which led to their earlier and continued recusal from council deliberations.

“All of this was within due process. The members must accept that the council has the right to determine whether a conflict of interest exists.”

The statement added that only the University Council could appoint and remove a vice-chancellor.

Sayed-Khaiyum told the Fiji Parliament last week that Professor Ahluwalia’s reinstatement was illegal, reports The Fiji Times.

In response, the university stated its priority during these challenging times was learning and teaching delivery and it wished not to comment further.

The university stated the governing body of the regional institution was the USP Council.

Speaking on the university’s annual report for 2018, Sayed-Khaiyum said the appointment was illegal because it was not in accordance with the university’s charter.

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  1. ASK may have referred to the USP Charter but his main point was that the VC could not continue if his work permit was withdrawn. This, of course, would only apply to his remaining in Fiji. Samoa may be the short-term answer but Fiji is the most logical site from which to administer the university and its many campuses.

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