17 Feb 2021

Fiji Govt accuses USP VCP of permit breaches

7:26 am on 17 February 2021

Fiji's government has claimed there were various breaches of a work permit which led to the deportation of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific.

Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum

Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum Photo: Fiji Govt

The government alleged the deportation of Ahluwalia and wife Sandra Price followed breaches in provisions of their work permits.

On 3 February, the couple were taken from their Suva home by plain-clothed immigration officers and police.

The Australian citizens were transported to Nadi from where they were deported hours later to Brisbane.

Ahluwalia was told he posed a "public risk".

The government stated that 'under Section 13 of the Immigration Act 2003, no foreigner was permitted to conduct themselves in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security, or good government of Fiji'.

Yet, no further details have been made public.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said Ahluwalia's employment contract ended when his work permit was cancelled.

Sayed-Khaiyum said a special USP Council meeting following the deportation was about whether Ahluwalia's contract was still in place because Nauru had sought to amend the contract.

"So our argument was, you cannot amend the contract that has already been terminated," opined Sayed-Khaiyum.

"You can only amend something that is in existence. The contract was terminated because of the revokation of the work permit. That was the position."

However, Ahluwalia said despite the government claims that he had lost his job, he had not received any notification from his employer, the USP Council, confirming this.

USP vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia

USP vice-chancellor Pal Ahluwalia Photo: Supplied

He disagreed he'd been a risk to the people of Fiji or that he knowingly breached any provisions of his visa.

"I really cannot tell you if I've breached anything because nobody ever warned me that I was breaching anything and similarly I think the key point is that the Act provides that they don't have to tell me. They can just trample on people's human rights without any recourse."

Ahluwalia said the risk he posed was of exposing corruption by running the university under principles of good governance and regulations.

"And I think that is the fundamental issue that I've been under attack for, for over 18 months. Now I'm not aware of any breaches that I might have conducted. As I said, I was doing a job, enshrined by those principles I've just outlined.

Calls in parliament by the Opposition for details of alleged breaches have remained unanswered.

Meanwhile the main Opposition party claimed the whole saga illustrates the type of dictatorial leadership the country is under.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party said the couple didn't deserve the 'barbaric' treatment they received.

Viliame Gavoka.

Viliame Gavoka. Photo: Supplied

Their undignified and inhumane removal from Fiji, according to SODELPA leader Viliame Gavoka, was a slap in the face of the hard work, vision and dreams of the country's founding fathers.

The government must stop interfering in the affairs at the regional institution, said Gavoka.

"We were quite shocked that it came to that - what they did was deplorable. They cannot continue to say that there's no crisis because clearly USP is right now in a very delicate position with the way things are going," he added.

While denying a crisis at the university, Sayed-Khaiyum had also claimed the governing body - the USP Council - was deeply divided.

Fiji doesn't own the USP, said Gavoka, and risked damaging its reputation in the region and abroad, reducing Fijians to 'mere thugs' in the eyes of outsiders.

"We are very concerned, the way this thing is being handled," he said.

"The FijiFirst government is interfering too much in the affairs of the USP and we want that to stop. The USP is run by the Council and they should be given their independence and no one should be interfering with them."

Gavoka has called on the government to reverse its decision immediately and let Mr Ahluwalia return to work.

Staff and students at the university are also calling on the government to reinstate work permits for the couple and have condemned what they call its "Gestapo" tactics over the deportation.

The president of the USP Staff Association Elizabeth Reade-Fong said they were horrified, shocked and disgusted at how the couple was treated.

The staff have proposed a petition to protest Fiji's action, said Reade-Fong.

"That's what we are waiting for now to see what the direction is. The senior management team are currently holding the university together and have been directed by council to manage the university until they make a decision."

She said the government must reinsate Professor Ahluwalia's work permit and apologise for violating the couple's human rights.

Meanwhile, it is understood the USP Council met yesterday to discuss the findings of the investigation into the employment saga.

RNZ Pacific was yet to heard from the USP Chancellor, Nauru president Lionel Aingimea.

Elizabeth Reade Fong, (in black)

Elizabeth Reade Fong, (in black) Photo: USP