NEWS

Probe On Pal: Over 200 USP Students Protest Suspension

At least 200 staff and students protest suspension of USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who claims this ‘10th investigation’ will fail.
09 Jun 2020 10:07
Probe On Pal: Over 200 USP Students Protest Suspension
Suspended University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia talking to staff and students at USP’s Laucala Campus in Suva on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ashna Kumar

University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia has been suspended.

This comes after an Executive Committee of the USP Council met yesterday following a growing row over employment issues.

An independent inquiry is likely to follow.

Pro-Chancellor and USP Council Chair Winston Thompson did not elaborate on the outcome of yesterday’s meeting.

He suggested to wait for a press statement to be released later in the week.

Mr Thompson maintained that whatever was discussed in the committees were confidential to the committee and he was not at liberty to discuss anything.

It is understood that the committee addressed concerns raised by council member Mahmood Khan, the Fijian Government representative.

The chartered accountant is also the Chair of the Risk and Audit Committee.

He had raised concerns of alleged breach of policies and procedures by Vice Chancellor Professor Ahluwalia.

Before the Executive Committee met in person and via Zoom video, at least 200 staff and students protested outside the building.

Staff representative, Elizabeth Reade claimed that more than 40 per cent of the 1400 staff want Professor Pal Ahluwalia to remain in office.

She called for no interference and due process to take its cause.

Winston Thompson

Protestors chanted: “Remove Winston,” among other things. They were referring to Mr Thompson.

Mr Thompson responded and said that the USP Council is the only authority that can make that decision.

“We are a democratic country and people are entitled to say what they think and hope that the council will base their decision on the best available facts and not on hearsay or rumours,” he said.

The University of the South Pacific Pro Chancellor and chair of the USP Council Winston Thompson at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar

The University of the South Pacific Pro Chancellor and chair of the USP Council Winston Thompson at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Professor Ahluwalia

Professor Ahluwalia tweeted during the day that he was humbled and proud of the show of support from staff and students.

“We all have trust in USP Council as it carries out its work.”

Later in the afternoon he spoke to students and staff outside his office.

“I have tried to clean up. They don’t like me.

“With God’s grace, we will clean this university. Even if I am not here, this university is a great university and you will all fight for the justice that I have started.

University of South Pacific protesting staff with their plycard at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar.

University of South Pacific protesting staff with their plycard at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ronald Kumar.

“Even if I am not here, every one of you now knows that we cannot take this lying down.

“Don’t worry. We are going to fight this. I will fight it.

“I love you all. I think we will take this to the next level. It is a matter for our council. It is the council that decides whether I stay in this office.

“They might have wanted to suspend me for a while, but I have not done anything wrong.

“Let them investigate it. I love the support and how much I appreciate it.

“This university is nothing without its students and staff.”

Professor Ahluwalia claimed this was the 10th investigation that the council have started on him.

“Nine have failed and I am sure the tenth will fail.

If I have done anything wrong then forgive me. I am your humble servant. And I am trying my best.”

The University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia with staff, students and supporters of the VC at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ashna Kumar

The University of the South Pacific Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia with staff, students and supporters of the VC at USP on June 8, 2020. Photo: Ashna Kumar

Government

Meanwhile, Government has raised concerns about the future of USP in light of the governance issues.

Fiji provides the biggest funding for the university in the region.

Attorney-General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said: “The issues have also been highlighted by the chair of the audit committee and we believe that these need to be investigated.”

He confirmed that Minister for Education, Rosy Akbar was part of an USP Executive Committee meeting on behalf of Government.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedback: ilaijia.ravuwai@fijisun.com.fj



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