Controversial pro chancellor of the University of the South Pacific Winston Thompson of Fiji has been instructed to convene another urgent meeting of the USP Council.
This time, interim USP Council chair, and president of Nauru, Lionel Aingimea told Thompson that the university’s supreme body will need to determine his fate and that of the chair of the Council’s Audit and Risk committee, Mehmood Khan, also of Fiji.
It apparently stems from Thompson and Khan’s refusal to accept the decision of the USP Council to endorse a recommendation by one of its sub-committees to clear USP Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia of misconduct allegations.
Since Ahluwalia’s appointment in early 2019, both men have led an intense campaign to remove the Canadian academic.
President Aingimea’s letter to Thompson dated 18 September also disclosed that his call for another special USP Council meeting has the endorsement of more than the required 10 members.
The meeting has to take place within the next 10 working days, added President Aingimea in his letter.
Supporting his call are Council members from Marshall Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and representatives of the governments of Australia and New Zealand and the university Senate, staff and student bodies.
Fiji IT company director and co opted USP Council member , Semi Tukana and USP’s vice chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia have also lent their support.
The letter says the agenda for the Special Council meeting should also include election of the Depty Pro Chancellor and the “dire” financial situation of the USP and the Vice Chancellor’s proposals to address this.
Last week Thompson told media that USP lost revenue of about $20m last year under the leadership of Professor Pal Ahluwalia, and claimed the Vice Chancellor was trying to restructure the institution without following the proper channels.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) recently invited 30 employers to engage in a two-day exposition at its annual Career and Internship Fair.
The event was organized by USP’s Career and Entrepreneurship Center, Campus Life and allows USP students to learn about graduate training programs, attend career planning workshop sessions and interact with potential employers from the public and private sectors. The theme for this year’s fair was “Your Future Direction”.
Amongst the speakers at the event were three female engineers from the Fiji Roads Authority (FRA). Amor Acapulco and her colleagues spoke extensively about women’s empowerment in the male dominated career field.
“Civil engineering is not only for men… there are a lot successful women in engineering, like all the women sitting in front of me, and I believe even more can succeed. I have done it, so could you,” she emphasised.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on the recruitment patterns were also major part of discussions at the event. Martha Wedlock, an employee of Mind Pearl underlined this issue.
“I want to educate students that even though the aviation companies and other businesses are slowing down, that’s not the end of it.”
Wedlock said that Mind Pearl and other organisations will continue to adapt their business practices and showcase resilience in the face of current economic climate, by sharing knowledge and through in-house training opportunities to enhance employee skills.
Meandering through the exposition booths, fourth year law student Pelenaisi Tu’i encouraged fellow USP students to fully utilise this opportunity.
“It’s a great opportunity for students because it will give them more knowledge, and when they go out to work they will know what to do,” she said.
“My voice does matter, someone will listen, we can make a change whether to write poems or not. What you do matters.”
That was the message of Tongan student, Anna Jane Vea, at the launch of a book of poetry ‘Rising Tide’ in Suva recently.
The Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women Programme launched the human rights and social justice themed poetry anthology for secondary school students. The Partnership aims to integrate human rights studies into community and school discussions.
Speaking during the launch of the ‘Rising Tide’, the Head of Political, Trade and Information at the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Galia Agisheva underlined the significance of the publication in terms of promoting discussion of ‘sensitive’ in the region such as women and girls’ rights and LGBTQ rights.
“This collection of the Pacific poems, will undoubtedly generate inspiration for the young generation for which it is aimed,” she said. “This young generation is the rising tide of the Pacific, can become agents of change of attitudes, in their lives, in their communities, in their countries, and also globally.”
The University of the South Pacific’s Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia commended the initiative, and explained that its recognition of Pacific poets and creative arts is parallel to USP’s objectives.
“This is something the University has committed to, not just through the Oceania Centre but also through the School of Languages, Arts and Media Pacific Writing Forum,” he said.
Reading her poem, ‘Sorry’ during the launch, Anna Jane Vea, shared her gratitude for being included in the publication and denoted poetry as a powerful medium to connect different people.
Copies of ‘Rising Tide’ were handed over to nine secondary school students during the launch and VCP Professor Ahluwalia stated that copies of book would be made available at the USP Book Centre soon.
Nauru’s President says moves by University of the South Pacific’s Pro-Chancellor to schedule an Executive Council meeting today “seems very much like an attempt at undermining [the USP] Council or usurping the authority of Council.”
Lionel Aingimea, who is also USP Chancellor, is particularly concerned that the Executive Committee meeting called by Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson is reviewing the dismissal of the former USP Pacific’s Technical and Further Education chief executive officer, Hasmukh Lal.
Lal was dismissed following concerns over his academic credentials and the circumstances in which he gained them. In a letter to Pro-Chancellor Thompson, President Aingimea writes “You sir are muddying the process once again. The Lal matter is clearly before Council and Council is waiting for the Executive Committee report which will in part address the Lal issue.”
“There are also serious conflicts of interest in discussing the Lal matter if it involves you, the Deputy Pro Chancellor, the Chair of Audit and Risk Committee and the Vice-Chancellor” Aingimea continues. “These conflicts of interest automatically undermine the credibility of the meeting you are calling on Friday.”
“Prudence would be the operative word I leave with you and strongly recommend that the Executive Committee meeting for this coming Friday [today] be deferred until such time as the issues in the BDO report and the Executive Committee report is submitted to Council and decision taken accordingly.”
Senior USP academics and staff are accused in a special audit report of manipulating allowances to pay themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars they were not entitled to.
The payments were revealed by Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia on November 1, 2018. Since then, Vice Chancellor Ahluwalia and Pro Chancellor Thompson, have been at loggerheads, with their opposing factions rallying behind them.
Ahluwalia’s whistle-blowing led to the Auckland office of international accounting firm BDO being bought in to investigate.
The dust may have settled in some aspects of the saga at the University of the South Pacific (USP) campus. Vice Chancellor and President Pal Ahluwalia and Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson may have worked out a harmonious modus operandi between them, under their respective terms of reference, to patch up the unity that has been subverted and which is desperately needed. The fine print of the truce may have prioritised the improvement of ‘governance within the institution’, as earnestly solicited by the new USP Chancellor, President Lionel Aingimea of Nauru. And the students are back in their lecture rooms for lessons and assignments.
However, there are grey areas and questions left unanswered. There is no resolution, for example, on the debate on whether or not the BDO Report and all the indictments it contains can be trashed onto the historic scrapheap and best forgotten. Further, there is an eerie silence on the political economy aspects of Fiji’s sizable contributions to the university budget and her prominence as a host government. Though not articulated, there were commentators who proffered these aspects as extenuation for Fiji’s conduct of matters in the USP Council.
These factors among others have been, inevitably, been brought up for public and regional discussions. And these are issues that are fundamental to the life and sustainability of the university. So much so that the question of its future rings loudest as a pivotal matter for genuine reflections. The University’s sustainability as a regional good is an obvious candidate for reflection. A regional good is simply that which meets the interests and needs of members. If such sustainability cannot be envisaged, what form of ‘public good’, or otherwise, USP is going to become?
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