University of the South Pacific’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia has been reinstated to office and his suspension has been lifted.
The USP Council has stated that having considered the decision by the university’s Executive Committee to suspend the Vice-Chancellor and President, the Council is not persuaded that due process was followed in the suspension of Vice-Chancellor Ahluwalia.
The USP Council says they set aside the suspension of the Vice-Chancellor and President by the Executive Committee and have resolved that the process as prescribed in An Ordinance to Govern the Discipline of the Vice-Chancellor be followed in investigating any allegations against the Vice-Chancellor and President.
The Council agreed to the decision after a full day meeting starting at 9am and ending at about 5pm.
The allegations of material misconduct against Professor Ahluwalia will still be investigated however he will remain in office during the course of the investigations.
Earlier in the Council meeting, USP Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson recused himself due to a conflict of interest as he was the Chairman of the Executive Committee that decided to suspend Ahluwalia pending independent investigations.
When approached by Fijivillage after the meeting, Fijian Education Minister, Rosy Akbar said she cannot confirm the Council’s decision at this stage as they decided as a Council to release the statement this evening.
However, Akbar says they discussed all issues and made the final decision as a USP Council.
She says they continue to promote good governance.
Akbar also made it clear that it was not Fiji’s decision not to make the BDO New Zealand Report public, and Fiji has supported the appointment of the three-member Commission which is still looking into the findings of the report.
President of Nauru and incoming Chancellor of USP wants special Council meeting to be held this
By Naveel Krishant [Saturday 13/06/2020]
The President of Nauru and the incoming Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Lionel Aingimea says they require that the special Council meeting be scheduled for 10am this Wednesday and not Friday.
In a letter to USP Pro-Chancellor, Winston Thompson, Aingimea says that the matter must be dealt with at the first possible opportunity.
He also says for transparency and security reasons, the Zoom meeting should not be compromised by having USP staff supporting this meeting.
Aingimea adds they will organize an independent organization or Australia or New Zealand to initiate the meeting.
We acted within our powers – Winston Thompson - Thursday 11/06/2020
VC Ahluwalia’s suspension is in no way linked to the allegations he brought up last year – USP - By Vijay Narayan
[ Pro-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific Winston Thompson]
The Pro-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific Winston Thompson had stressed on Thursday that the university’s Executive Committee acted within its powers to look into allegations of material misconduct against Vice-Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and to suspend him pending an independent investigation.
Thompson says claims that the Executive Committee acted illegally on Monday, are incorrect.
Thompson had said if you read the statutes and ordinance, it gives specific powers to the Executive Committee to do what it did.
He stressed that during an emergency, the Executive Committee may act on behalf of the USP Council and then report back to the Council.
Thompson had said the allegations against Ahluwalia will be thoroughly investigated so that the facts will come forward and hopefully it will be sufficiently clear, and it will point to one way or the other.
He adds that an independent team will be chosen to conduct the investigation.
Thompson had also stressed that the allegations against Ahluwalia is separate from the report he had prepared last year.
I have done nothing wrong and will fight any allegations lawfully- Ahluwalia
By Naveel Krishant - [Tuesday 09/06/2020]
[Suspended USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia]
Suspended USP Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia had said on Monday that this evil has done the university so much damage.
Ahluwalia says he has done nothing wrong and he will fight any allegations lawfully. He says there have been nine investigations against him already.
3 member commission still working on tightening up governance issues at USP - Friday 12/06/2020
Greater oversight, control and management of the HR and payroll functions needed at the USP – BDO report - By Vijay Narayan and Naveel Krishant
USP Pro-Chancellor, Winston Thompson stresses that the 3 member commission that was appointed to look into issues raised in the BDO report following the allegations raised by USP Vice Chancellor, Pal Ahluwalia last year, are still working on tightening up governance issues at the university.
Thompson says when the BDO report was tabled to the USP Council last year, it had made various decisions which included the setting up of a committee of 3 Ministers which was tasked to follow up on the BDO report particularly as it related to governance weaknesses within USP.
He says the Committee of 3 Ministers appointed a Commission of 3 who are still working on going through governance instruments, policies and procedures to try to tighten up where it seemed that they were weak. The Committee consists of Professor Satish Chand, Professor Jenni Lightowers and Graeme McNally.
Thompson says he has been informed that the BDO report has been leaked when it should have been kept confidential.
The BDO report arose from the allegations of misconduct that USP Vice-Chancellor Ahluwalia had made against the previous management team.
Thompson says the allegations were considered serious but it was incomplete and more information was needed to establish whether a decision was needed to be made by the Executive Committee.
Thompson says the allegations were submitted by Ahluwalia to the Executive Committee in March.
He adds the committee decided then to ask the University’s Director of Audit, Assurance and Compliance to investigate and get information from those who were being accused in the document and come back to the committee in the next meeting to give a report.
Thompson says in the next meeting the Director said that she decided to hand this to FICAC.
He says he was informed in May that the report was on Facebook.
Thompson says one week later when the Council met in Vanuatu and because of the publicity, the Council was alarmed and so they then were promoted into setting up a special investigation and from which the BDO investigation took place.
The committee of 3 ministers comprising of Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa Fiame Naomi Mata'afa (Chairperson), Prime Minister of Cook Islands Henry Puna and Fijian Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had resolved towards the end of last year that a Summary of the Independent Investigation Report by BDO Auckland should be made publicly available.
BDO report into USP that is being looked at by the 3 member commission - Friday 12/06/2020]
[The USP Council during a meeting last year]
The report states that the investigation was carried out on an evidential basis, with allegations or assertions being traced through to documentary evidence.
However, due to the level and/or quality of documentation retained by the USP, this wasn’t always possible.
As a result, BDO was not able to substantiate a number of the allegations.
BDO’s view was that a majority of the decisions investigated were made within the boundaries of the Vice Chancellor’s Ordinance.
However, it said when critically analysed, the rationale for many of the decisions taken is unclear. BDO also stated that it was of the view that further investigation is required and a number of policies and ordinances require significant alignment and stronger oversight from the Executive Committee and Council.
The independent investigation report also noted that similar themes and control weaknesses were identified by the USP’s internal audit service provider over the past few years.
It states that these Human Resources and payroll concerns were reported in accordance with USP’s standard internal audit reporting process across three reports.
BDO Auckland says the conclusions within these reports point clearly to a need for greater oversight, control and management of the HR and payroll functions at the USP.
It also says that the outcomes of the BDO investigation suggest that the recommendations raised have only been partially implemented, or in some cases, not at all.
BDO Auckland also said that while the allegations highlighted in the paper have arisen in an unfortunate manner, they have raised serious concerns that require attention and action.
It said that these provide USP with an opportunity to reflect and take corrective action that will ultimately improve the culture and quality of education and research at USP.
The investigation focused on allegations made by Vice Chancellor Ahluwalia in 2019.
BDO says those allegations primarily related to human resource and remuneration decisions that were made by the former Vice-Chancellor and the senior management team of the USP.
It said in it’s introduction, objective and scope that the paper put forward 26 allegations of mismanagement by the former Vice-Chancellor of the USP who held office from 2008 to 2018.
BDO says to a lesser extent, the paper implicated other members of the USP’s senior management team as either beneficiaries, or decision makers.
BDO stated that it is of the view that oversight, governance, and control of remuneration is a key weakness across the USP.
It said that this was the key theme throughout the investigation as many of the matters raised in the paper, or the likely motivations behind those matters, relate to remuneration.
It said that the USP’s current policy framework, while extensive, is overly complex, fragmented, outdated, and generally isn’t fit-for-purpose.
The report said that as a result, four remuneration mechanisms have collectively been exploited and have led to significant cash leakage across the USP over a number of years. These mechanisms are inducement allowances, responsibility and acting allowances, bonuses and consultancy agreements. BDO has also recommended a comprehensive structural review of the USP’s human resources function.
The review should focus on building institutional knowledge to drive consistent, efficient policy applications and behaviour.
BDO has also recommended an urgent review of the USP’s core human resources policies, procedures, and forms.
The focus of this review should be on simplifying policies to drive more efficient, transparent, and equitable behaviour.
There are currently three ordinances, 58 policies, four procedures, and 38 forms stored in the human resources section of the USP Policy Library.
The BDO report also noted that USP has a significant reliance on employees who have reached retirement age.
BDO noted that numerous senior academic and professional positions are held by staff members who have reached retirement age.
It said that in itself, this is not an issue however, BDO also noted that many of these individuals had been appointed in those roles numerous times after reaching retirement age.
It said this would suggest a lack of succession planning across these senior roles.
Click here for BDO report
Allegations of Fiji attempting to nationalise USP are untrue – Akbar - Wednesday 10/06/2020
Fiji Wants USP Governance Issues to be Resolved Quickly - By Vijay Narayan
Minister for Education Rosy Akbar says the Fijian Government is concerned about governance issues at the University of the South Pacific in light of a number of anomalies found by the USP Audit Team and wants the issues resolved quickly.
Akbar has expressed concerns about USP, which continues to be distracted from its core function of delivering quality teaching and education needed by our Pacific countries to build strong economies and prosper.
She also urged students to remain focused on what is most important - their education.
Akbar says as the host country with the largest number of enrolled students, and by far the largest contributor from the Pacific member countries, Fiji would like to see the matters resolved quickly through the internal mechanisms of the university. She says it is clear, after studying all the material there is a need to address the governance anomalies which have disrupted the transparency at the university.
Akbar says a university is a place of learning and they must set an example to students, our future leaders, that any breach of rules will be investigated using the proper channels with action taken if and as appropriate. The Fijian Education Minister says a large number of complaints against the Vice-Chancellor have been brought to the attention of the USP Audit Team prompting the investigation.
Akbar says the quantity and nature of the complaints were very serious and cannot be ignored.
She says the Vice Chancellor has been suspended while investigations are taking place, as per the procedure.
Akbar also stresses that allegations of Fiji attempting to nationalise USP is untrue and quite frankly uncalled for.
She says they want to ensure that USP students, including those from Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Nauru and other countries do not fall victim to issues created by bad governance.
The Education Minister says all USP Council members should be advocating for good governance and transparency and be an example to students.
Australia is concerned and wants a special meeting of USP Council
By Semi Turaga [Thursday 11/06/2020]
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne says they are concerned about leadership issues at the University of the South Pacific.
She says they have called for a special meeting of the USP Council.
Payne adds that it is important to find an acceptable solution for all Pacific countries, that is in the best interests of the university and education in the region.
She further says that Australia recognises USP as an important and highly valued regional institution and tertiary provider in the Pacific. Payne says Australia is a longstanding partner of USP and they are strongly committed to supporting education in the region.
No one from Fiji should interfere in VC Ahluwalia’s work - Fong - Tuesday 09/06/2020
Staff and students supporting Ahluwalia meet to discuss next step - By: Vijay Narayan
Staff and students of the University of the South Pacific supporting the now suspended Vice-Chancellor, Pal Ahluwalia say that USP should be maintained as a regional institution and no one from Fiji should be interfering in trying to get Ahluwalia out.
Staff member and spokesperson Elizabeth Read Fong says they know that the Deputy Pro-Chancellor, Aloma Johansson has written to Ahluwalia on behalf of the Executive Committee that he is suspended on full pay pending investigations.
Fong also says that this message of Ahluwalia’s suspension should be conveyed to all the USP Council members from the region as the President of Nauru who is the next Pro-Chancellor, the governments of Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand have earlier said that Ahluwalia should be left alone to do his job and to assess him fairly.
She confirms the staff and students supporting Ahluwalia will have lawful protests however more details will be revealed later.
Fong also says they have a strong belief that Pal Ahluwalia is being targetted after he exposed serious allegations relating to governance practices when the previous Vice-Chancellor was in office.
She says the staff and students supporting Ahluwalia hope those people who are facing the allegations are not appointed as Acting Vice-Chancellor.
Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum had said yesterday that the Fijian government is concerned about governance issues at the University of the South Pacific after reports emerged that the university’s Executive Committee was meeting to decide on the future of Pal Ahluwalia.
Sayed-Khaiyum confirms that the Audit Committee has highlighted a number of anomalies and the Minister for Education, Rosy Akbar attended the Executive Committee meeting.
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