USP protest for VC Ahluwalia as meeting gets underway

A group of staff and students at the main Suva campus of the University of the South Pacific staged a short and peaceful protest today.

It drew a crowd of about 100 men and women, some holding placards in support for besieged Vice Chancellor of the USP, Professor Pal Ahluwalia of Canada.

Other banners were very critical of the Pro Chancellor of the USP, Winston Thompon of Fiji, who was holding a meeting inside a conference room at the university’s main administration block, as the protestors gathered outside.

Uniformed Fiji police officers were guarding the door of the conference room and other officers stood around the lawn amongst the protestors.

“Winston must resign,” one placard read, while another declared ‘Stop destablising USP.’

They broke into cheers of “we want Pal” occasionally. 

I’ts not known whether the meeting of the executive committee of the USP Council, which Thompson was convening this morning had the required quorum.

VC Ahaluwalia was a notable absentee, although he also sits in the Council’s executive committee.

He was seen at his office, which was just above the conference room where Thompson and his group were meeting.

Incoming chancellor of the university and Nauru President, Lionel Aingimea sent another urgent plea yesterday to Council members asking that today’s meeting be deferred.

“I remind us all that this University is owned by the member countries for the benefit of the people and well-being and needs of the communities of the South Pacific,” wrote President Aingimea.

“A small group of Council members who do not represent the member countries have hijacked the Council process.”

It is not clear whether this particular letter, President Aingimea’s second to the USP Council in a matter of two days, was received by Thompson in time for the meeting this morning.

A document purported to be part of the meeting’s agenda  shows three letters for discussion: one from Thompson’s deputy and Tongan accountant Aloma Johansson on “allegations of material misconduct” against Vice Chancellor Ahluwalia. The date of the letter was not disclosed.

Also on the agenda was VC Ahluwalia’s response to the allegations dated 1 May, and the third letter is said to be that of PC Thompson dated 6 May, which is itemised as his response to “VC Ahluwalia’s report.”

The document did not specify the line of action the meeting would take, although it has been suggested that it would seek the suspension of the vice chancellor.