D Day for USP 3

The executive body of the University of the South Pacific, the USP Council, meets tomorrow (Friday) to determine the fate of three of their senior Council members.

To be convened virtually using the Zoom platform, the meeting will be chaired by acting USP Council chair and the sitting Chancellor of the university, Lionel Aignimea, the President of Nauru.

It is a special USP Council meeting, called to finish uncompleted agenda items from its last meeting that was also held virtually in November 2020.

Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson has confirmed the meeting is on tomorrow, but has declined to reveal the agenda, saying Council may issue a media release at the end of the meeting.

However Islands Business has confirmed through its sources that a decision on the future of  Thompson, his deputy Aloma Johannson and the chair of the Council’s audit and compliance committee Mahmood Khan is the main agenda item tomorrow.

Thompson and Khan are the Fiji Government nominees to the regional university body, while Johannson is a Tongan-based accountant.

Staff and students of the university have called for the removal of the three for their roles in leading a long and disruptive campaign to remove university vice chancellor and president, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

The trio wanted him out after the VC authored a report in 2019 alleging financial abuse and mismanagement by his predecessor, Professor Rajesh Chandra of Fiji.

Islands Business obtained a copy of Professor Ahluwalia’s report and published it in May 2019.

Some members of the Council, including representatives of Pacific governments that with Fiji co-own the USP, have also sought the removal of the three accusing them of working against the interests of the university.

Their case has been bolstered by a damning report against Thompson, Johannson and Khan that a senior USP administrator authored and has circulated to members of the Council ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.

That report documents six allegations against the senior Council members; including alleged abuse of authority causing a financial loss to the USP, interference and restrictions with the internal investigation process, restrictions on liaison with Fijian regulators and law enforcement including the Fiji Independence Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) and the Fiji Revenue & Customs Service (FRCS), interference with internal disciplinary processes, misleading Council members and the public on matters relating to fraud and corrupt practices and bullying and harassment.

There has been no official response to these allegations by Thompson, Johannson and Khan but early this week the Fiji Sun newspaper, which is closely aligned to the Fiji government,  included in its gossip column a reference to a possible change in the leadership of “a big school.”

“It is believed that the working permit for the foreign head of the big school has not been renewed and his days may be numbered,” added the newspaper.

It didn’t make mention of Professor Ahluwalia or the USP, although it is public knowledge that the vice chancellor’s work permit will be up for review in the second half of the year.