Bainimarama’s Fiji faces investigative PR crisis on eve of climate COP26

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The Independent on USP
"The students love their vice-chancellor but the Fijian government wants him gone. The Independent investigates the power struggle at the top of the University of the South Pacific." Image: The Independent screenshot APR

COMMENT: By Grubsheet’s Graham Davis

A public relations disaster for Fiji just as Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum head to Glasgow for COP26 as one of Britain’s leading media outlets — The Independent — carries out a detailed investigation into events at the University of the South Pacific.

Fiji’s reputation in Britain and the academic community the world over has suffered a grievous blow.

What emerges is a sordid tale of cronyism, bullying, repression and a frontal assault on regional cooperation by the FijiFirst government that has undermined Pacific solidarity and adversely affected the education of ordinary Pacific Islanders at USP, including Fijian young people.

COP26 GLASGOW 2021

The length and scope of this article and its impeccable pedigree guarantee that it will become the dominant global narrative about events at USP and have a far reaching impact on Fiji’s reputation, including its current role as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

And for what? For Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum’s ego.

A festering wound that will cripple the FijiFirst government all the way to the 2022 election, when its prized “youth vote” will get to make its own pronouncement at the ballot box on events at USP.

Be genuinely dismayed at the AG’s shortsightedness and Bainimarama’s stupidity for allowing his number 2 to embark on a battle he simply cannot win.

This is what The Independent describes as a “long read”:

“At first there is a woman’s voice coming from the back of the house in the dead of night. Then there is repeated ringing of the doorbell. Other voices, male ones, are coming through the front door now; the voices are authoritative and increasingly impatient. Instructions are barked, telling those inside to open up. Fists bang the door. Soon plainclothes police officers are inside and shortly afterwards 63-year-old Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandy Price are forcibly escorted to the airport. The vice-chancellor of the most prestigious university in Fiji is being deported on the orders of the Fijian government.

“The University of the South Pacific (USP) is pretty. Its main campus building in Fiji has a clean, modern design and is fronted by rows of palm trees. But behind the attractive facade and beneath a clear blue South Pacific sky, all hell is breaking loose. An internecine conflict has broken out. On one side stands the vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who claims to have blown the whistle on mismanagement and malpractice at the university; opposing him are pro-chancellor Winston Thompson and the Fijian government, who say Ahluwalia is guilty of both breaking USP hiring protocols and of unspecified immigration violations.”

Read on at The Independent or if you want to dodge the paywall, read here.

Republished with permission.

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