The Council of the University of the South Pacific has appointed a committee to implement the recommendations of BDO Auckland, which had been brought in to investigate allegations of mismanagement and abuse of office at the regional university.
In a statement released tonight, the Council says the BDO report resulted in a "range of findings and recommendations that will need to be addressed to ensure the sound operation of the University."
BDO Auckland was engaged to investigate the allegations raised in a paper by the Vice-Chancellor & President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia titled “Issues, Concerns and Breaches of Past Management and Financial Decisions.”
The statement tonight does not specify what BDO's recommendations are, but says the Commission's work will relate to:
The Council has promised transparency, saying it will develop an action plan that will be made publicly available, and that a summary of the BDO Auckland report will also be made public "in due course."
The Commission will report to three members of the USP Council; Committee Chairman Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and Fiji's Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
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.
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.