By Wata Shaw in Suva
Fiji’s Economy Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is “doing damage” to the premier regional university by withholding the Fiji government’s obligatory contribution, say the two staff unions representing the University of the South Pacific.
Association of the USP academic staff president Dr Elizabeth Fong and USP staff union president Tarisi Vacala said in a statement that the USP Council had held several special meetings to address current USP issues as well as matters of concern of the Fiji government members.
“The council deliberations led to clear majority decisions that exonerated Professor Pal Ahluwalia yet again of any mismanagement, administrative or for financial, and his reappointment as vice-chancellor and president of the USP and his relocation to Samoa,” the statement said.
The unions said despite the deportation from Fiji of Professor Ahluwalia and his wife, just two years into his first contract, the government continued to “hurt Fiji and regional students” by withholding its obligatory grant.
“Mr Sayed-Khaiyum’s statements in the Fiji Parliament and media about the withholding of Fiji government grant have not been accompanied by any formal paper to the University Council justifying his calls for an independent inquiry, the objectives of the inquiry, the composition of the commission of inquiry, or its terms of reference nor the financial costs that may be incurred.
“It is apparent, that unable to remove Professor Pal Ahluwalia for his exposure of financial mismanagement and other breaches, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is doing damage to the premier regional university and hurting USP students by withholding the Fiji government’s obligatory contribution.”
Questions sent to Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Sayed-Khaiyum by The Fiji Times remained unanswered at publication time.
‘Honour’ Parliament decisions call
RNZ Pacific reports that the unions called on the Fiji government to “honour” the decisions of Parliament and pay the outstanding subsidy due to the university.
The Fiji goverment has withheld what is officially called a grant but is in fact a subsidy on the student fees at the university, RNZ Pacific said.
The two unions — Association of USP Staff (AUSPS) and the USP Staff Union (USPSU) — said the Fiji government owed the institution FJ$78.4 million (NZ$58 million).
The money has been withheld by the government because of its ongoing battle with vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia.
There were a series of inquiries after Ahluwalia had identified significant corruption within the previous administration at the USP.
Five inquiries so far have cost the USP more than FJ$1 million — and they have all exonerated Ahluwalia.
The unions said: “It is apparent, that unable to remove Professor Pal Ahluwalia for his exposure of the financial mismanagement and other breaches of the previous USP Administration, the Attorney-General and Minister for Economy, Civil Service, Communications, Housing and Community Development is doing damage to the premier regional university and hurting USP students by withholding the Fiji government’s obligatory contribution.”
However, the Fiji government last week called for yet another investigation.
The two unions representing staff at the University of the South Pacific are calling on the Fiji Government to honour the decisions of their parliament and pay the outstanding subsidy due to the university.https://t.co/aIgYpn0lu3
— RNZ Pacific (@RNZPacific) July 22, 2022
The unions had a paid advertisement running yesterday in Fiji.
In it they said: “Based on the outcomes of the inquiries there is no reasonable justification for another inquiry.
“The unions on behalf of the students, staff and alumni therefore call on the Prime Minister, [Voreqe] Bainimarama to abide by and honour the decision of the Fiji Parliament that approved the USP grants for 2020, 2021 and to pay what is owed under its obligation and to bring this matter to closure so as to leave no-one behind.”
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ and with permission from The Fiji Times.