NEWS | Opinion

Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia’s Reinstatement A Victory For Integrity And Pacific Regionalism

Many observers have stated that it is time that all those involved in the university saga should bury their difference and work together for the sustainable development of the Pacific region.
20 Jun 2020 12:31
Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia’s Reinstatement A Victory For Integrity And Pacific Regionalism
USP’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia presenting to the Standing Committee on Social Affairs on the USP's 2018 Annual Report.

Opinion:

University of the  South Pacific Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia’s suspension has been lifted and he has been reinstated to his office.

The USP Council “is not persuaded that due process was followed in the suspension of Vice-Chancellor Ahluwalia”.

The USP Council resolved that the process as prescribed in An Ordinance to Govern the Discipline of the Vice-Chancellor be followed in investigating any allegations.

There are unconfirmed reports that Professor Ahluwalia’s support in the Council came from Polynesian and Micronesian members.

One early sign that there were some complications in the allegations brought against Professor Ahluwalia was when the highly respected finance and IT expert, Semi Tukana, resigned a week ago.

He had sent his letter of resignation to Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson who had appointed him to the investigation committee.

Mr Tukana had provided four reasons for resigning. One concern was that “this sub-committee (is) being used as a means to achieving the ultimate aim of terminating the appointment of Professor Pal Ahluwalia as VC at USP.”

He also highlighted the “existing public perception of the lack of independence in how the appointment of the members of this committee was arrived at,” and the “non-involvement of the USP Council as a whole.”

Mr Tukana’s sentiments that Professor Ahluwalia “has managed to hold the University together above water, and especially in the midst of this world-wide crisis with the Covid-19 pandemic” appeared to be shared by council members who supported Professor Ahluwalia’s reinstatement.

When Professor Ahluwalia took up his position in 2019, he hit the ground running.

Although appointed in November 2018, he formally took up his role in January 2019.

Within six weeks of taking office, concerned staff had gone to Professor Ahluwalia with allegations.

In April 2019, Professor Ahluwalia sent a paper entitled “Issues, Concerns and Breaches of Past Management and Financial Decisions” alleging wrongdoing by the former Vice Chancellor”.

Professor Ahluwalia had made 26 allegations of mismanagement against his predecessor who held office from 2008 to 2018.

BDO Auckland concluded there was a lack of documentary evidence because of the level and or quality of documentation retained by USP. “BDO’s view is that a majority of the decisions investigated were made within the boundaries of the Vice Chancellor’s ordinance.

However, when critically analysed, the rationale for many of the decisions taken is unclear.”

BDO identified the need for greater oversight, control and management of the HR and payroll functions of the USP.

Professor Ahluwalia was suspended for the material misconduct allegations and new allegations. This led some to question whether there had been elements of vindictiveness in his suspension.

Professor Ahluwalia appears to have a huge following in Fiji and the Pacific.

He is charismatic and has excellent interpersonal communication skills. It is reported that his affirming nature is such that he willingly give up his cup of tea to support staff.

Last week as he was surrounded by staff and students, Professor Ahluwalia cut an imposing figure, rather like Thakur Baldev Singh getting ready to face the dacoits in Sholay as he intoned, “I will fight with every drop of my blood.”

Professor Ahluwalia is dynamic and needed in the Pacific.

Many observers have stated that it is time that all those involved in the university saga should bury their difference and work together for the sustainable development of the Pacific region.

The saga has also been a victory for students and all those who have used social and mainstream media to highlight the issues and bring about this satisfactory conclusion to this matter.

It has been said that conflict in a university is not necessarily a bad thing if we can learn from these experiences.

It is the moral responsibility of the Pacific community, senior administrators, student leaders, staff, and council members to find common ground to proactively develop USP so as to contribute to the sustainable development of the Pacific.

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj

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