A “support good governance” protest organised by the University of the South Pacific Student Association today with the theme “wear blue” is now underway in a number of campuses around the region with the exception of Fiji, where police presence at the Laucala Bay campus has limited students’ ability to gather.
USPSA Federal spokesperson Aneet Kumar told IB Online the protests are meant to be peaceful and they have cautioned Fiji students and staff who have joined the cause to be careful “because the last thing we want is for anyone to get into trouble.”
“We have asked everyone to wear blue to show their support and we have a sea of blue right now at the Laucala Bay campus but we cannot gather to protest because there is police presence all over campus. We know this because officers are walking around campus wearing blue tee shirts with Fiji Police logo on them. So we’re just asking our supporters to take precaution and wear blue to show our solidarity in silence,” Kumar said.
“But our Emalus campus in Vanuatu is paving the way for Fiji campuses since we can’t gather. They’re having a peaceful protest there.”
USPSA’s Emalus Campus members have just completed demonstration in a peaceful gathering of around 100 students and staff.
“We doing this to support the re-instatement of Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and also for transparency and accountability at the highest management level of USP,” USPSA Emalus campus, Vanuatu spokesperson Atina Schutz told IB Online.
Protests have also been held at the Niue, Samoa, Kiribati, Nauru and Solomon Islands campuses of USP.
Fiji Police stopped protests by Laucala Bay Campus USPSA and the USP Staff Union (USPSU) when they began early this week and this has forced the fraternity to express themselves in other ways, one of which is the coloured dress code that started yesterday with Black Thursday.
Police investigation into the protests are reportedly continuing, with the Fiji Times reporting that it was served yesterday with a search warrant by Police for photographs of the protests on Monday and Tuesday.
The call for solidarity, hash-tagged #WearBlue #GoodGovernance #Solidarity on the USPSA Facebook page, sees students and staff rallying behind Professor Ahluwalia in a show of support for good governance, with ocean conservation also thrown into the mix to acknowledge this week’s World Oceans Day.
The USPSA, with membership of around 27,000 students, has been actively voicing its disapproval of events that led to the suspension early this week of Professor Ahluwalia.
The call for Ahluwalia’s reinstatement and for good governance is also being supported by the USP Staff Union (USPSU).
“We want good governance to prevail. While we want to protest and air our grievances about what has happened at USP, we don’t want to do anything that would be seen as breaking the law because that would defeat the purpose of what we want. At the end of the day, what we want is good governance,” said Ilima Finiasi, general secretary of USPSU, which has a membership of around 500 admin staff throughout the region.
The current USP debacle has its origin in a report compiled last year by Professor Ahluwalia, which contained a series of allegations about anomalies in the institution’s financial affairs, especially salaries and benefits for some academic staff and top management .
The damning report has been the cause of the rift that now polarises students, academics and admin staff at USP. A subsequent investigation by BDO Auckland was carried out.
Both USPSA and USPSU want Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson removed and Professor Ahluwalia to be reinstated.
However in a media conference yesterday, Thompson said the correct processes have been followed, and Professor Ahluwalia's removal is unrelated to the BDO investigation.
In accordance with the regulations of USP, a meeting of its 35-member ruling council – which include representatives from all 12 Pacific Islands member countries of USP, donor partners as well as staff and students representatives – will be convened soon to look into the matter.