Professor thrilled over USP return – Fiji to pay $90m university debt

Professor Pal Ahluwalia
USP vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia with students and staff at Suva's Laucala campus ... exonerated by five inquiries but forced into exile in Samoa by the FijiFirst government. Image: Linked-In

By Felix Chaudhary in Suva

Exiled University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia says he is thrilled at the prospect of returning to Fiji.

Speaking to The Fiji Times from Los Angeles in the United States yesterday, he said Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka — when he was in opposition — made a commitment to pay Fiji’s outstanding debt of $90 million to USP and to allow him to return to Fiji.

“Mr Rabuka said it, National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad said it, and the Social Democratic Liberal Party leader also said it,” Professor Ahluwalia said.

“So it’s part of all three parties’ manifestos and part of their public statements, so we as a university are delighted that this amount that has been outstanding for so long will finally come to the university.

“It’s excellent news, not just for the Fijian students but for the entire region because the region has been carrying Fijian students for quite a while and there will now be a chance for us to do a lot of things that we have deferred and not been able to do, particularly issues around maintenance.

“It also means we can now aggressively look for quality academic staff.”

Rabuka issued a statement on Boxing Day saying the prohibition order against Professor Ahluwalia had been lifted and he was welcome to travel to Fiji at any time.

Professor Ahluwalia and his wife Sandra Price claimed that on Wednesday February 3, 2021, 15 people made up of immigration officials and police stormed into their USP home and forcefully removed them at about 11.30pm.

They claimed they were driven the same night to Nadi International Airport and deported on the morning of Thursday, February 4, to Australia.

The FijiFirst government on February 4, 2022 issued a statement that the Immigration Department had ordered Professor Aluwahlia and his partner Sandra Price to leave Fiji with immediate effect following alleged “continuous breaches” by both individuals of Section 13 of the Immigration Act.

Government said under Section 13 of the Immigration Act 2003, no foreigner was permitted to conduct themselves in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security, or good government of Fiji.

Fiji now ‘free country’
RNZ Pacific reports that Finance Minister Professor Biman Prasad said all three parties in the coalition had promised this in their election campaigns and manifestos.

The former FijiFirst government have withheld the payments since 2019 over a protracted battle with Professor Ahluwalia, now operating in exile out of Samoa.

“They didn’t like a man who was doing the right thing who exposed corruption within the university,” Professor Prasad said.

“And it has done you know, to some extent, terrible damage not only to the university, but also the unity in the whole region.”

In July, the two unions representing staff at the university said the Fiji government owes the institution F$78.4 million and the debt has increased since then.

“Well, I can’t tell you the timetable, but all I can say is…that the university will receive the appropriate funding, as well as the government will pay what is due as a result of the previous government withholding the grant to the university,” Professor Prasad said.

His revelation comes after the government statement by Prime Minister Rabuka inviting Professor Ahluwalia to return to Fiji.

Personal apology
Rabuka said he wanted to apologise to Professor Ahluwalia in person upon his arrival for the way he had been treated by Fiji.

The prime minister has also invited the widow of exiled Fijian academic, Professor Brij Lal, who passed away on Christmas Day last year to bring home his ashes for burial at Tabia near Labasa.

Professor Prasad said they look forward to welcoming home more Fijians and expatriates exiled during Voreqe Bainimarama’s 16-year-reign.

“Fiji is now a free country. We will welcome everyone who wants to come to Fiji. No one should fear about any kind of vindictiveness or harassment,” Professor Prasad said.

“That is what we promised during our campaign, and that is what this government will deliver.”

Felix Chaudhary is a Fiji Times reporter. Republished with Fiji Times permission. This article is also republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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