BY: PENI KOMAISAVAI
Employees of the University of the South Pacific have renewed their call for Pro Chancellor and retired Fijian ambassador Winston Thompson to recuse himself from the position of chair of the university council during investigations of alleged abuse and mismanagement at the USP.
University staff are also uneasy about the involvement of the New Zealand accounting firm selected to look into the allegations.
“A conflict of interest has been declared by ARC (Audit and Risk Committee) chair, a former
employee/Director of BDO. We are concerned whether this divorces him completely from any direct, and or, indirect link to BDO albeit it is not the same branch,” wrote Tarisi Vacala, an official of the USP Staff Union.
“Our concern is couched in the context of ARC’s selection of the four NZ companies inclusive of BDO. We seek confirmation that no personnel of BDO Suva, Fiji is involved in the investigation,” adds Vacala.
The letter was addressed to Kate Vusoniwailala, a Fijian business executive who is also a member of the USP Council and previous acting chair of USP’s ARC. She had written to the USP Staff Union to assure them of the integrity of the selection and the work of the investigator.
“The Audit & Risk Committee is comprised of highly competent individuals and the Council of the University of the South Pacific invested them with the responsibility of securing a highly competent, independent body to undertake the investigation,” wrote Vusoniwailala.
But USP Staff are not convinced. Apart from calling on Ambassador Thompson to step aside, the group wants university donors of Australia and New Zealand to “ensure the
investigation is fair, thorough, and that this results in remedial action where found necessary.”
“Given the gravity of the allegations, and its impact on the University’s reputation and staff morale, we call on Council to ensure the investigation is conducted without fear or favour by a truly independent body which has no direct or indirect link to anyone allegedly implicated,” wrote the union official.
Vacala also wanted Vusoniwailala to explain why the invitation to bid for the work of investigator was not extended to companies in Australia and the Pacific region, and why the transparent online open tender process of the USP was not employed.
“We have been informed by a news article that students and staff who have voiced their concerns about governance issues will be given an opportunity to share their experiences and evidences.
“We therefore seek details of the programme of consultation to enable widest communication with stakeholders.”