Nauru president Aingimea accuses Fiji of being ‘divisive’ over USP funding

Lionel Aingimea
Nauru President Lionel Aingimea ... “USP as a regional university does not belong to any one country." Image: RNZ/Nauru Govt

By Arieta Vakasukawaqa in Suva

Nauru president Lionel Aingimea has accused Fiji of being “divisive” over its refusal to pay its share of funding for the 12-nation regional University of the South Pacific, saying the institution needs every member country to pay their contribution.

Aingimea said all Pacific island country members of USP were present and voted overwhelmingly to support the offer of a new employment contract to vice-chancellor and president Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

Professor Ahluwalia is now based at the USP campus in Samoa after Fiji unilaterally deported him and his wife Sandra in early February.

Aingimea, delivering a ministerial statement in Nauru’s Parliament this week, said there was ongoing contention about Fiji withholding its grant agreement due to the USP council decision to renew Professor Ahluwalia’s contract in spite of opposition by Fiji.

He said Fiji’s Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, had expressed disapproval of the decision of the council

“This disapproval was voiced in the Fiji Parliament sitting of 19 August 2021.

“Honourable Speaker, USP as a regional university does not belong to any one country.

Responsibilities of members
“Responsibilities of the institution are borne by its members.

“Needless to say, there were a lot of statements that were issued by many bodies and people who went against what Fiji’s A-G stated in Parliament.

“In summary of the USP’s council actions, I state that in a democratic environment, where respect and honour is paramount, the USP Council and employer of the vice-chancellor discussed and voted for his re-instatement.”

President Aingimea, former chancellor of USP, said the re-appointment of Prof Ahluwalia was supported by officeholders, staff and student unions.

In August’s Parliament sitting, reported in The Fiji Times, Sayed-Khaiyum said Fiji did not accept Professor Ahluwalia as the vice-chancellor of USP and that it would not provide any funding or assistance to USP as long as he remained in this position.

BDO report tabled in Nauru Parliament
The Fiji Times reported on Saturday that Fijian academics in the former USP administration had been implicated in a 2019 report into mismanagement and corruption at the regional university that was tabled by President Aingimea in Nauru’s Parliament this week.

Known as the BDO report, Aingimea said it showed serious breaches of university processes and procedures resulting in the loss of millions of dollars of member government and donor funding.

Aingimea said the report showed clear violation of university rules, unethical conduct and gross financial mismanagement by the previous university administration.

He said one particular academic was mentioned more than 100 times in the report.

She was investigated after being awarded a five-year contract, three cash bonuses and one-step increment that was not aligned with the university’s recruitment standards.

Aingimea said the report was then used to review the university’s procedures and implement reforms so mismanagement, corruption, fraud and financial irregularities were not repeated.

Moving forward, Aingimea urged USP to develop strategies to ensure it remained financially sustainable.

Most trying times at USP
Aingimea said that during his year-long tenure as chancellor ending in June 2021, he was faced with the most trying times in the history of the regional university.

“Our unity as a region was being severely tested.

“My tenure was marked by having to deal with challenges including the covid-19 pandemic on USP, a severe funding crisis, and the deportation of the vice-chancellor and president (VCP).”

Questions on Aingimea’s comments sent to Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama had received no response.

Contacted on Friday, Professor Pal Ahluwalia said he was in a meeting and that he would respond.

USP Staff Association president Dr Elizabeth Fong said the association had called for action to be taken on the report’s findings.

Arieta Vakasukawaqa is a Fiji Times reporter. Republished with permission.

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