Fijian Govt adamant on USP grant stance despite opposition

Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said Fiji will continue to withhold grants from the University of the South Pacific for as long as Professor Pal Ahluwalia remains at the helm, a decision the Opposition says is detrimental to Fiji nationals who study and work at the regional university.

In a ministerial statement in the Fijian Parliament today, Sayed-Khaiyum referred to Professor Pal as “former VC” insisting that his reinstatement is illegal despite his reappointment by the USP Council, an appointment he said was made despite “significant abstentions and opposition in the council.”

He described the appointment as “a backward and divisive step that goes against the interests of students, governments and reasonable goodwill.”

Sayed-Khaiyum further laid out the Fijian Government’s condition for the resumption of grant payment, including that a full investigation is carried out into allegations against Professor Pal, and that a new appointment is made to the office of the VC.

He said if the contents of five reports, two of which said to have been penned by former USP Pro-Chancellor Winston Thomson, were “independently investigated could have led to the dismissal not only of the former VC, but some of the senior management team of USP.”

Allegations against Professor Pal, he said include making decisions that lacked adherence to principles of good governance including the manner in which some of the senior appointments were made.

“Given the allegations of serious mismanagement against the former VC, Fiji as the largest contributor to USP reiterates that it will not make any contribution of grant funding to USP until such time when a new Vice-Chancellor is appointed in accordance with a mandated turnover and recruitment process, and until such time all the alleged breaches are investigated further independently. Fiji does not accept Ahluwalia as the vice-chancellor and will not provide any funding assistance to USP as long as he remains supposed Vice-Chancellor.”

He highlighted 2019 contributions to USP in which Fiji paid 70.85% compared to 11 other Pacific Island countries whose individual subs ranged between 0.14% and 8.9% of the total grant, a payment formula that opposition MPs SODELPA’s To Filipe Tuisawau and NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad said made sense because Fiji makes up the most number of students who have been educated and are being educated at the university compared to other Pacific Island countries.

In withholding the grant, they said Fijian nationals who are being educated and employed by the university stand to suffer the most.

“Who are the victims here? The victims here are the students and the staff. Who are the majority? The majority of the staff are Fijian staff and Fijian students,” Ro Filipe said. “They talking about the contributions to USP, what about the benefits Fiji is getting.”

Professor Biman who once worked as a lecturer at USP said Fiji has been the largest beneficiary in the university’s 50-year existence.

“To brag about that we put more money, talk to the taxi drivers, talk to the shopkeepers, the businesses around Suva, the flat owners, everybody will tell you that there is an economy that comes out of the University of the South Pacific. We are giving a lot of money to the university because we are getting a lot of benefits from the university.”

Professor Pal was reinstated as USP Vice-Chancellor earlier this month after his deportation from Fiji in February. He recently signed a three-year contract and is based out of the university’s Samoa campus.

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