This story originally appeared on RNZ and is republished with permission
The Pro Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific says he has accepted the decision by the USP Council to exonerate the Vice Chancellor of all allegations levelled against him.
In June, vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia was suspended by the USP’s executive committee led by Winston Thompson over alleged malpractice.
He was reinstated after weeks of protests by students and staff, when the council ruled due process had not been followed in the suspension. Last week, the council also cleared Professor Ahluwalia of all the allegations.
However, according to Thompson, a disconnect remains between the council and the university management.
“The management is not fulfilling its responsibilities to the governing body and this is causing consequential strains and has obviously a negative impact on the reputation of the university.”
Thompson said the management had not respected its duty to the council and the university had been “besotted by a continuing crisis in governance since January 2019”.
He said this “engulfing crisis” was the result of a disregard for the governance oversight responsibility of the council over the actions and performance of the management.
He said there were three glaring issues of the council being bypassed in terms of its right to be kept fully informed of important issues at the university.
Thompson said the recent special council meetings, which began on June 19 and ended on September 4 this year, were a “consequence of the non-compliance by management of its responsibility to the governing body.
“As also was the special council which met in August 2019 to consider the BDO report,” he said.
“The turmoil was created and perpetuated by management non-compliance with its duty to governance oversight.”
Thompson said the latest incident of the breach of the governance process was the attempt by the management to submit a proposal to the June special council concerning a substantial reorganisation of the university.
He said the second instance of disregard for the council’s right to be fully and expertly informed of important issues by management was the July 2020 meeting of the University Grants Committee (UGC) without due references to the council.
“The matter only became known through a comment in the report of the vice-chancellor to the executive committee which met on August 28, 2020.”
Thompson said the third instance was the re-registration of the university with the Fiji Higher Education Commission (FHEC).
He said the university was awarded a five-year registration by the FHEC in 2013 and was due for re-registration in 2018.
“The process was delayed and began in October 2019,” he said.
“The council, through its committees, should have been informed by a management paper explaining the process before October 2019 and followed by progress reports.”
Instead, Thompson said the council came to know of it in August 2020 when stage four of the six-stage process had been reached and various members of the council had selected unilaterally by the management to meet the five senior auditors who had been appointed by FHEC to conduct the re-registration process.
He said since January 2019, the non-consultative leadership style had impacted governance and caused dysfunction at the interface of governance and management disrupting the smooth operation of USP.
“This can be seen in the significant decline in the overall performance of the university as indicated in the 2019 annual and financial report of the university compared to the 2018 report.”
Professor Ahluwalia is yet to respond to Thompson’s claims.
Meanwhile, one of the people who accused the USP Vice Chancellor of malpractice is still pushing for an investigation into his claims.
Mahmood Khan, the chairman of the USP’s Audit and Risk Committee, said he was not happy at the decision by the university council to exonerate Professor Ahluwalia.
He said an independent body must be establised to investigate the allegations against the vice chancellor.
“They formed their own committee, not independent, but of their own members and started investigation. I don’t know what the result of these three or six-member team that they had appointed came up with.
“I’ve challenged the Special Council to make that public which hasn’t been, and as far as I am concerned I still would require the Council to investigate independently.”
Khan denied that he was part of a witch-hunt against the vice chancellor.
USP declared smoke-free
The USP’s Laucala Campus was hit this week with reports of drug activity rife at the university.
A student from Papua New Guinea was convicted in a Suva court on Thursday for possession of marijuana
But the magistrate said he would not register the young man’s conviction as it was unlikely the student would reoffend.
In May, a university report attributed one-third of cancer deaths in Fiji to smoking.
It said smoking had caused about 80 percent of lung cancer and 30 percent of cancer deaths.
“Non-smokers are also in danger through passive smoke and are at risk for lung cancer and other respiratory problems,” the report said.
The university research also suggested that only five percent of cancers were hereditary.
“That means that the non-inherited causes of cancer is dependent on the lifestyle that we choose, the foods that we consume and the level of physical activity we do.”