4 Feb 2021

A move to Samoa floated for USP following Fiji uncertainty

7:11 pm on 4 February 2021

Samoa has confirmed it will pursue moving the University of the South Pacific headquarters from Fiji to Samoa.

The revelation follows the Fiji government's deportation of USP vice-chancellor and president (VCP) Pal Ahluwalia and his wife after they were whisked away from their home in the middle of the night by immigration officers.

USP campus in Fiji

USP campus in Fiji Photo: USP

Samoa's minister of education has revealed that moving the university headquarters to Samoa will be on the agenda of tomorrow's USP Council meeting.

Loau Keneti Sio said the manner in which USP president and vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia was removed will also be tabled.

There were issues to work through in moving much of a large campus, said Loau, but they were not insurmountable and Samoa offered many advantages, including stability.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's foreign ministry has expressed concern at the implications of VCP Ahluwalia's removal, and said it would work with other USP Council members for a resolution.

It has sought information from the Fiji government.

USP Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandy have boarded the flight to Brisbane

USP Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandy have boarded the flight to Brisbane Photo: Nukualofa Times

Fiji government's claims

The Fiji government has released a statement about the deportation of the USP vice-chancellor and his wife, who were foreign citizens in Fiji on work permits.

But in a statement, the government said "repeated breaches by both individuals of the stated provisions of Section 13 of the Immigration Act" were the reasons behind the deportation.

"Their actions have clearly violated the terms of their work permits, resulting in their subsequent deportation," the statement continued.

"Similar criteria have been applied to other foreign nationals in Fiji in the past and, as a sovereign nation, Fiji will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards any breaches of its immigration law."

However, the USP Staff Union (USPSU) and Association (AUSPS) released a joint statement condemning the deportation as "a violation of human rights and due process".

The two bodies have demanded an explanation of how Ahluwalia can be cited by government as a 'public risk'.

Meanwhile, the leader of Fiji's opposition National Federation Party (NFP) said the vice-chancellor was deported so that he would miss the next USP Council meeting.

Ahluwalia had been exposing "mismanagement, nepotism and corruption" at the university among those closely associated with government, Prasad said.

He said both Ahluwalia and the university's governing council had frustrated government with their ongoing independence.

Prasad said the USP Council meeting agenda tomorrow included dealing with those choosing to undermine that independence.

"The USP Council Chair and another government individual who have been basically an obstacle to the management and governance of the university," he said.

"And obviously [the] Fiji government wanted to protect these individuals and therefore, before the council meeting, they have undertaken this particular action which is entirely uncalled for."

The NFP is calling on the prime minister, who is also the immigration minister, to rescind the decision.

Leader of the National Federation Party Biman Prasad

Leader of the National Federation Party Biman Prasad Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox