Jun 07, 2020 Last Updated 3:16 AM, Jun 7, 2020

The year-long leadership tussle at the sole Pacific owned university has flared again with reports of fresh attempts to dismiss besieged vice chancellor and president of the University of the South Pacific, Professor Pal Ahluwalia of Canada.

This new attempt to remove Ahluwalia reportedly stemmed from his decision a fortnight ago to terminate a senior USP manager for alleged plagiarism.

IB Online spoke to the university's controversial pro chancellor and USP Council chair Winston Thompson today, and while he confirmed that he is  convening a meeting of the executive committee of the council on Monday next week, the retired Fijian diplomat declined to reveal the meeting's agenda.

He also declined to confirm whether the suspension of Professor Ahluwalia will be discussed.

Tensions between the two surfaced in public more than a year ago after the leaking of a report that was critical of several appointments and payments made by the university during the term of Ahluwalia's predecessor, Professor Rajesh Chandra of Fiji.

Ahluwalia authored the report, and his critics, including Thompson and Chandra, accused the Canadian academic of leaking the report to the news media.

Attempts by Thompson to sack Ahluwalia on at least two occasions last year were foiled by the USP Council, which instead formed two groups of experts to look into the issues raised by both vice chancellor Ahluwalia and a BDO New Zealand report. The Council had commissioned the accounting firm to review the allegations Ahluwalia had raised.

In March this year, Thompson launched another attempt to remove the vice chancellor by writing to Council members to say that he has formed a committee comprising of mainly Fiji-based councillors to investigate Ahluwalia on allegations of misconduct.

The status of this investigation is unknown after several education ministers from Pacific Island governments that co-own the USP with Fiji, wrote in to warn Thompson to stop his investigation and his constant interference in the running of the university.

Just yesterday, IB Online published the story of Hasmukh Lal, the previous CEO of Pacific TAFE who has taken legal action against the university for what he claimed was unfair dismissal.

He is accusing his previous employer of breach of contract, of negligence and breach of duty of care, and is claiming damages as well as reinstatement.

IB Online has established that Lal's termination was over a dissertation for a doctor of business administration he was pursuing at an online university, called the Atlantic International University on 21 May 2019.

Called the 'Processes & Impact of Strategic Mergers in Higher Education; Study of Pacific Technical and Further Education of [the] University of the South Pacific,' Lal allegedly  plagiarised elements of the paper from one of his former employees at the USP.

The controversy surrounding the top job at the University of the South Pacific (USP) has refused to go away nearly one year after it first erupted at its main campus in Suva, Fiji.

By March this year, exactly 10 months after this magazine exposed a damning confidential report about a series of allegedly questionable payments and senior appointments at the USP, the USP Council is still embroiled in the fallout of the report.

The Council is the top decision-making body of USP, comprising representatives of the 12 island governments that own the institution plus associations of staff and students, as well as key funders of the university, including Australia and New Zealand.

Now Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand have called on the USP's Pro Chancellor to stop pursuing a parallel investigation into the university's Vice Chancellor.

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By Samisoni Pareti

Winston Thompson, the besieged pro chancellor of the University of the South Pacific has sought the suspension of the USP vice chancellor and president, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

Ambassador Thompson made the request in a confidential paper he submitted to the USP Council yesterday. The council is currently meeting at a hotel in Nadi, Fiji.

At this point,  IB Online is yet to confirm whether the Council is deliberating on Thompson's proposal. All that we were told was the Council meeting finished late yesterday evening because of Thompson's presentation.

It is believed that his 17-page submission concludes with eight recommendations, and that they include a call for the immediate suspension of Professor Ahluwalia and for an investigation into his performance at the regional university.

Thompson accuses the Canadian academic of tarnishing the reputation of the USP and working to undermine its operations.

The confidential paper confirms what the retired Fijian diplomat had told Islands Business magazine in May; that it was his personal wish that Professor Ahluwalia be dismissed.

It follows the leaking of a confidential report authored by Ahluwalia, which makes allegations of gross abuse and mismanagement against high level managers at the university. 

The uproar triggered by the Ahluwalia report forced the USP Council to commission an independent investigation into the allegations when they met in May in Vanuatu .

That investigation is complete, but reports reaching IB Online say the BDO Auckland report was—at least initially—not tabled when the Council meeting began in Nadi yesterday.

The Council secretariat instead opted to circulate hardcopy versions of a report compiled by the USP Council's Audit & Risk Compliance committee on the BDO report.

The Compliance committee is headed by Mahmood Khan of Fiji, who is a retired partner of a BDO franchise in New Zealand.

The Council meeting in Nadi is expected to conclude later today.

By Samisoni Pareti

The supreme body of the University of the South Pacific, the USP Council is meeting in Nadi, Fiji from today to discuss the report of the investigation into allegations of gross abuse and mismanagement at the regional institution.

The two-day meeting at the Tanoa International Hotel is however shrouded in deep secrecy, with reports circulating that the University Pro Chancellor, retired Ambassador Winston Thompson of Fiji directing that no electronic copy of meeting documents should be made available.

IB Online has also been reliably informed that copies of the investigators’ findings have not been circulated to council members beforehand as is the usual meeting practice. All Council members will get their copies when they attend today’s meeting.

Such a directive has got the university staff association worried, and they have told Islands Business they fear that attempts could be made to tamper or water down the content of the investigators’ report.

USP staff have repeatedly written to the USP Council to voice their concerns about the so called independence of the investigation, but these concerns have been largely ignored. They had also submitted that Thompson ought to step aside during the investigations because he is among those implicated in the allegations.

A New Zealand accounting firm, BDO was invited by the Council in July to conduct an investigation into allegations of abuse and mismanagement by the previous USP management that were highlighted in a confidential report that was authored by the university vice chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

Staff had even questioned the appointment of BDO as investigator, given that the chair of the Council’s Audit & Risk Compliance committee was a former BDO partner.

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