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By ILIESA TORA

Nuku’alofa – August 20, 2021: 9.45am (Nuku’alofa Times): News that the Fijian government will not pay its dues to the University of the South Pacific is shocking.

And it just confirms the notion that the man in charge Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum is letting his ego get out of control – with Fiji destined to suffer from his pathetic decision.

It is no secret that Khaiyum makes the decisions for everyone in Cabinet.

Not the Prime Minister, my momo Frank Bainimarama.

It is Khaiyum who makes the decisions – he gives the yes or no. Everyone else toes the line, even my momo included.

The latest decision just shows that the Fijian government is acting like a spoiled brat.

According to the RNZI website, the Fiji Government has announced it will not make grants to the University of the South Pacific (USP) as long as Professor Pal Ahluwalia is the Vice-Chancellor.

Last month the University Council re-appointed Professor Ahluwalia after he and his wife had been forced out of Fiji amid claims they had breached the Immigration Act.

They also located his position to the Samoa USP campus.

Fiji’s Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told the parliament the appointment of Professor Ahluwalia is illegal.

“Fiji does not accept Ahluwalia as the vice-chancellor and will not provide any funding to USP for as long as he remains the supposed vice-chancellor.”

He said they wanted the alleged breaches against the professor investigated independently.

The University of the South Pacific's Vice Chancellor, Pal Ahluwalia.

University of the South Pacific’s Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia. Photo: USP

But USP Chancellor and Nauru President Lionel Aingimea defended the council’s actions and rejected Sayed-Khaiyum’s claims the proper process hadn’t been followed.

President Aingimea said there was nothing in the statutes or the USP Charter to suggest the council had broken any rule by reappointing Ahluwalia and issuing him a new contract.

The statement from Sayed-Khaiyum came a day after Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama spoke in parliament on the importance of regionalism in the Pacific. Bainimarama is now the chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The USP is the property of 12 Pacific nations who are all members of the Forum.

New Zealand and Australia gives significant amounts to the running costs of the university, but Fiji is the largest contributor.

Speaking to FBC News in Suva Khaiyum says they are also considering our options to recommend to the Prime Minister to have a Commission of Inquiry into USP.

He claims that ever since the appointment of Professor Ahluwalia in January 2019, there have been serious allegations of mismanagement, and failure to adhere to principles of good governance established rules and procedures of USP.

This includes two reports from the Pro-Chancellor, Winston Thompson and three from the Chair of USP’s Audit and Risk Committee.

The Fiji Attorney General says if the contents of these reports were independently investigated – it could have led to the dismissal of not only Ahluwalia but some of the senior management team of USP as well.

He adds some examples include the post-retirement appointment of Doctor Morgan Tuimalealiifano.

The renewal of the contract for 12 months for the Director Assurance and Compliance was being pushed by Professor Ahluwalia despite his conflict of interest and due process was completely contravened as stated in the Earnest and Young report says Sayed-Khaiyum.

He says while due process was followed to appoint the Dean for a Head of School, it was refused by the Professor because the candidate was not his supporter.

The Attorney General further adds the Deputy Vice-Chancellor regional campuses were appointed by Professor Ahluwalia when the position was not advertised and without issuing a contract.

He adds the Professor usurped the authority of the Council as only the Council has the authority to appoint the Deputy VC.

Sayed-Khaiyum says this is one of the seven breaches found in the KPMG investigation and the Council by sweeping this report under the carpet clearly accepts that Ahluwalia can usurp the powers of the council and operate unhindered.

Late last year the National Federation Party in Suva had slammed government’s decision back then.

Fiji’s opposition National Federation Party has condemned the government’s decision to suspend its funding grants to the University of the South Pacific.

Pio Tikoduadua

Pio Tikoduadua Photo: Fiji Government

NFP President Pio Tikoduadua told the RNZI then that USP was a legal entity, governed by a number of Pacific Island countries including Fiji.

Tikoduadua said the government was legally obliged to fund the university.

He said Fijian taxpayers’ money earmarked for the regional institution should not be withheld by the government.

The NFP said the USP’s financial accounts had been audited by credible accounting firms registered to practice in Fiji.

It said the university’s audited accounts for 2019 were unqualified and there was no basis for the government to withhold any funds.

Tikoduadua said if the government is not happy with the way its grants are being used at the USP, there are provisions in the Finance Management Act under which it can audit the funds it has contributed.

He said without this, ceasing any grant is “bordering on the illegal and absolute bad faith”.

The regional institution had been mired in allegations of corrupt practices, which were the subject of a report by New Zealand-based accounting firm BDO.

Tikoduadua said the BDO had confirmed confirmed massive instances of abuse of funds, which were uncovered by Ahluwalia.

He also called for the BDO Report to be made public as public funds were being used at the USP, and that the public had a right to know what were the BDO’s findings.

Almost $US13 million had been allocated to the USP in Fiji’s 2020/2021 National Budget announced in July.

The continuing interference of the Fijian government in the decisions of the USP Council and the management of the region’s premier educational institute has also taken its toll on regional member countries, majority of whom are not happy with Fiji’s decisions.

One good example is the fact that the VC is now based outside of Fiji.

The issue is simple really. Fiji should pay her dues and let the USP Council and the VC do their job – that is managing the university and its campuses so that students can have a positive learning environment.

It will be interesting to see how Fiji’s decision will affect regional solidarity within the Forum, with momo Frank now taking over the chairmanship.

Last year saw the Micronesians leaving.

Who will break away next?

Could the Polynesians say they have had enough of the political interferences by Fiji and leave too?

There is no secret that there are talks being held in the background amongst the region’s respective think tanks.

But one thing is clear – Fiji is acting like a hurt brat that can not get over the fact that everyone else is moving on.

With Khaiyum making the decisions things are proned to only get worse.

Watch this space!

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