27 Apr 2021

USP Council meets over BDO Report

1:48 pm on 27 April 2021

The University of the South Pacific Council meets today to discuss the BDO Report which had highlighted a number of governance issues at the regional institution.

The report was compiled in 2019 by forensic accountant BDO Auckland following serious allegations by former Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia of mismanagement and abuse of office at the USP.

Lionel Aingimea

Lionel Aingimea Photo: Nauru Government

But since November 2019, the report had not been made public amid calls for the council to do so.

Professor Ahluwalia and his wife were forced to leave Fiji in early January after the government claimed they had both breached provisions in their visas.

The move sparked a stand-off between the university's host country, Fiji, and the USP Council which also put the regional institution's future under scrutiny.

The Fiji Government withdrew its funding of almost $US9 million and had called for an investigation into fresh allegations made against Professor Ahluwalia by the USP Executive Committee led by Pro Chancellor Winston Thompson and head of the Risk Committee Mahmoud Khan.

USP Chancellor Lionel Aingimea said the BDO Report was still relevant, and its contents would be discussed by the council.

Aingimea, who is also Nauru's President, said reports in the Fiji media related to investigations carried by audit firm KPMG could not overshadow the BDO report.

Audit firm KPMG was engaged last month by Thompson to look into allegations of discrepancies in the university's internal operations.

Several staff had been suspended since.

Ahluwalia, who is currently in Nauru and is on the USP pay roll, turned 63 in January.

His now terminated contract would have been the only one he could have held with USP given that the university's retirement age for all senior staff was 65.

This also means that any attempts by Samoa and Nauru to circumvent legal opinion provided by USP lawyer Munro Leys to give the Canadian academic a new five-year contract may not succeed.

Samoa and Nauru had been pushing for Ahluwalia to receive the remainder of the contract, but it too may not be in line with the legal opinion provided by the university's lawyers.

President Aingimea said that as far as he was concerned, the BDO report was important and that the council would meet to "tick off these items on the agenda on things we need to fix urgently which are also a matter of importance to USP.

He said the report was sanctioned by the council and there was commission mounted because of the BDO report so it was still a relevant issue for the governing body.

Ahluwalia had also raised serious allegations of misconduct by top university executives in early 2019 which he claimed related to remuneration policies and control, inducement allowances, responsibility and acting allowances, bonuses and consultancy arrangements.

He also alleged there were succession planning, human resources, transition arrangements, governance and oversight, operation of senior management team, interface between governance and management and committee structure and responsibility being allegedly carried out by the USP executives.

University of the South Pacific (USP) vice-chancellor and president Pal Ahluwalia.

University of the South Pacific (USP) vice-chancellor and president Pal Ahluwalia. Photo: USP