Fiji Sun

USP and its Never Endin

- Jyoti Pratibha

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

Fiji Sun.

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

Council Secretaria­t

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.

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 ?? Photo: Leon Lord ?? ICT Centre at the University of the South Pacific in Laucala, Suva
Photo: Leon Lord ICT Centre at the University of the South Pacific in Laucala, Suva
 ?? Professor Pal Ahluwalia. ??
Professor Pal Ahluwalia.

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