7 Mar 2019

UPNG council not sidelined - chancellor

5:17 pm on 7 March 2019

The interim chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea has rubbished a report that the interim university council has been sidelined.

Outside the University of PNG

Outside the University of PNG Photo: facebook

The Post Courier reported prime minister Peter O'Neill sidelined the council in accordance with the demands of striking lecturers, represented by the National Academic Staff Association (NASA).

However, interim chancellor Jeffrey Kennedy said he spoke yesterday with the minister of higher education, Pila Niningi, and was confident the report was inaccurate.

"I had my discussions with the minister after his meeting with NASA and as far as my discussion with him is concerned there was no decision to sideline the council," Mr Kennedy said.

"NASA did have an issue with some of my council members, the minister undertook to look into that," he said.

"And the minister also invited them to give him some names of anybody they think should be fit to join the council."

Some lecturers had boycotted their classes at the university this week in protest of the minister's decision to suspend the previous council.

But Mr Kennedy said all classes had resumed today.

The minister said he suspended the council in January after being presented with "disturbing documents" that included "serious allegations concerning the questionable use of funds".

The interim chancellor said the interim council was investigating allegations that included systemic corruption and sexual abuse under the previous administration.

Pila Niningi.

Pila Niningi. Photo: Facebook / Pila Niningi

Mr Niningi, NASA's Mark Kia and Linus Digim'Rina could not be reached for comment.

According to the Post Courier, NASA is calling for the removal of the interim council, the reinstatement of registrar Peter Petsul and the appointment of Frank Griffin as vice chancellor.

Mr Kennedy said the interim vice chancellor Kenneth Sumbuk would remain in his post, and that neither he nor the minister were aware that Dr Griffin had ever been appointed to the role.

"The minister did point out to [NASA] that no appointment made by the council was ever put to him to take up to NEC (national executive council)," he said.

"What ever documents that the previous council produced for the appointment of Griffin, once it comes to this current interim council of course it will be passed on to the department.

"Other concerns that they have in relation to the suspension of the registrar, minister told them that's an administrative issue that they have to take up with the council."

The 11 member interim council is three months into its one year term and contains three Australian based professors.

By law, two more members are able to be appointed, Mr Kennedy said.

Meanwhile, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has weighed into the dispute, calling for the minister to explain how members of the interim council were appointed.

"The Minister of Higher Education Research Science and Technology, Pila Niningi, must immediately inform the public on the selection and vetting process used to appoint members to the interim council.

"It is in the public interest that serious allegations of undue influence at the highest level are dispelled.

"Failure to demonstrate that tests of proper and fit character were applied in the recruitment of the interim council will only exacerbate the anger on campus."