USP and its Never Endin
The 19-page report prepared for the University of the South Pacific Council needs a thorough examination.
Let us examine a few facts based on what Acting VC Giulio Paunga, Acting Deputy VC Jito Vanualailai, Executive Director Finance Kolinio Boila and Executive Director People and Workforce Jone Maritino Nemani penned to the Council.
Professor Pal Ahluwalia was never cleared of any wrongdoing. The
Council decided not to investigate the allegations against him but at no time did they review the evidence, initiate a formal investigation or talk to complainants.
The failure of the Council to undertake an investigation into any of these matters is currently a matter of appeal by a number of the complainants who have argued that the Council has failed to protect their rights as employees of the University as well as failing to fulfil its responsibilities, including fiduciary responsibilities as the governing body of the institution. In respect of the BDO report that report did not make claims of corruption or criminal wrongdoing. The Council decided to take no action against any member of the former administration.
The BDO report recommended a review and update of policies by an independent Commission. All parties agreed with this recommendation.
The Fiji Sun has revealed a number of actions by the former Vice-Chancellor and the current senior management that raise serious concerns about decisions made by Mr Ahluwalia and his management team.
Most of these are already on the record but no investigation into them has been undertaken despite extensive documentary and witness evidence.
Far from running a campaign against the VC and his senior management team the Fiji Sun has merely called for the allegations to be investigated which is the same position the Fijian Government has taken.
The President of Nauru is himself highly conflicted in these matters but has never declared a conflict of interest.
It is not clear that the Council has confirmed that Mr Ahluwalia’s benefits should continue but if it has then this itself may constitute a breach of Fijian law as well as the University’s own statutes and Ordinances as he no longer has a contract with the University and he is also banned from working and being paid from Fiji.
It is also unclear what he is doing to justify the payment as there is an acting Vice Chancellor appointed by the Council.
There are no anonymous complaints against the VC. All whistle-blowers have gone through the proper process even though retaliatory measures were subsequently taken against a number of these whistle-blowers.
Instances of Interference with Management
The chair of Audit and Risk Committee has the power to initiate an investigation into any matter brought to his attention or over which he independently has concerns in respect of the management of the University.
A formal whistle-blower complaint was made against the staff review process for reappointing the Director Audit and Risk in 2019. This complaint was independently reviewed by Ernst & Young and upheld.
No action was taken by the Vice Chancellor or by Council in response to this breach of procedure and failure to comply with recommendations of the Staff Review Committee despite Mr Ahluwalia’s refusal to recuse himself from the meeting even though he had registered a conflict of interest.
This matter was subsequently reported in a further complaint to the Council which Council chose to ignore despite the independent report and which was then later reported in the
The professional assessment of the Executive Director People and Workforce Development as head of Human
Resources lacks credibility in this respect, firstly because he is directly implicated in the appointment processes that are being challenged and secondly because as a direct appointment by Mr Ahluwalia to a one year acting position as head of HR he is conflicted in respect of judgments about how these decisions were made and their merits.
The key point here that Mr Ahluwalia chose a member of the Counis cil to join the recruitment panel. This should have been done through the Pro-Chancellor as chair of Council - end of story.
The allegations raised about the process involved in the appointments and the merits of the appointees are the subject of separate staff complaints. There is prima facia evidence at least that in some cases the appointees did not meet the Minimum Qualification Requirement and that the contracts offered breached the University’s own policies – e.g three year contracts for internal appointees
This is represented in the document as a performance issue when in fact it is a governance issue. Mr Ahluwalia’s attempt to take control of the Secretariat is a very serious breach of good governance.
The Secretariat reports to the VC on Senate matters but not on Council matters. It is crucially important that the Council should have the benefit of legal and procedural advice which is independent from Management.
It seems that Mr Ahluwalia does not like some of the advice the Council has been given by the Secretariat. Whether or not the performance of the Council Secretariat meets appropriate standards is a matter for the Council to decide. This is the case in any university in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
It should be noted that complaints have previously been made against Mr Ahluwalia by members of the Secretariat for bullying
Who was Mr Ahluwalia/Mr Paunga proposing should be seconded to the Secretariat? Interesting to know. Rahkel?
The recommendations of the Commission on appointment to positions in the Secretariat suggest that they have very little experience of University Governance. It was completely inappropriate for the VC to appoint the University Secretary. This person reports directly to the ProChancellor and their role is to support the Council in the governance of the University
The response of the acting Secretary on 25 Feb 2021 suggests just how serious and distressing the bullying directed towards her by the Management has been.
PC interference in staff disciplinary matters
Much of the indiscipline and unethical behaviour can be laid directly at the door of Ahluwalia supporters, especially the leaders of the Unions. No action has been taken to enforce the social media policy. No action was taken against the university Librarian when she closed the Library to students in support of Ahluwalia and so on. The Code of Conduct and policies on bullying etc have been widely breached in the formal actions of Ahluwalia, acting VC and head of HR. The recent suspension of whistleblowers is an obvious but fairly typical example.
Security Advice to the PC
This sounds more like a threat and attempt to intimidate the Pro-Chancellor into not attending the meeting in person.
Recruitment of DVE Education
A joint committee was appointed in June 2019. The committee never met because the VC did not provide a job description despite many requests and therefore the job could not be advertised.
The appointment of the acting DVC was a secretive process with no transparency about the membership of the selection committee.
The appointed candidate had very limited management experience and similarly very little experience in Education. Other people applied who were eminently better qualified and experienced including the senior academic in the University in this field (Professor Som Naidu who at that time had not reached the retirement age).
Overall, this letter appears to be a disingenuous attempt to distract the Council’s attention away from the very serious issues being investigated by KPMG and possibly cover wrongdoing that the authors may themselves be involved in.
The state of management in the University with 3 of the 4 incumbents of the most senior roles in acting positions is a particularly worrying concern. None of these people have been tested against international competition for their jobs and all three are completely behoved and therefore conflicted to Ahluwalia for their positions. The governance of the University is also a shambles as the governing body fails to accept its legal and fiduciary responsibilities. This is particularly problematic given that governance is the responsibility of the Ministers of Sovereign countries. If the university is to survive it must have a radical ovehaul of its governance structures which allow a significant degree of independent governance with perhaps a light touch involvement from politicians eg perhaps through the existing UGC structures. As it stands USP is a failed institution and its management is incompetent and unaccountable.