11 Jun 2021

Nauru leader defends USP Council decision to reappoint Ahluwalia

5:47 pm on 11 June 2021

Nauru President Lionel Aingimea has denied Fiji's assertion that the decision to reappoint the vice-chancellor of the University of the South Pacific and base him in Samoa is illegal.

USP Chancellor and Nauru President Lionel Aingimea.

USP Chancellor and Nauru President Lionel Aingimea. Photo: Facebook/Fiji Parliament

Lionel Aingimea, who is also the USP Chancellor, defended the governing council's decision to relocate Pal Ahluwalia after he was deported by Fiji authorities in February.

The government claimed Professor Ahluwalia and his wife had breached Fiji's Immigration Act.

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told Parliament the USP Council had acted illegally because it did not follow the process.

But Aingimea rejected this, saying there was nothing in the statutes nor the USP Charter to suggest the council had broken any rule by reappointing Ahluwalia and issuing him a new contract.

President Aingimea said the council had offered Ahluwalia a new work contract and it could as his employer.

"I don't see how it can be illegal," Aingimea said.

"I am also a lawyer and I've read the USP charter and statutes, and the council has the authority in making appointments.

"There's nothing in the statutes or the charter to suggest we have broken any rule by reappointing the vice-chancellor or to issue him with a new work contract."

Aingimea said there was a precedent - Ahluwalia's predecessor Rajesh Chandra's contract was renewed by the council without the position advertised.

"USP's charter, statutes and ordinances do not make reference that the VC must be located at the Laucala Bay campus in Suva."

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

During debate on the university's 2018 annual report in Parliament, Sayed-Khaiyum said the contract of all vice-chancellors in Fiji was based on them being appointed at the Laucala Bay campus.

He said this was why it was stipulated in the charter that Laucala was the main campus.

"What is really interesting now is his illegal appointment of Pal Ahluwalia and I will tell you why this is illegal because the charter and the regulations of USP is quite specific," the A-G said.

"The regulations in the charter et cetera says that there is a particular process through which you appoint the vice-chancellor, and the process is you actually advertise, you go through a selection panel and then you appoint.

"It may have been that he could have been reappointed if they went through the process. Fiji has no objection to that. However, the council short-circuited it."

Chancellor Aingimea said it was Fiji's decision when it came to terminating work visas, however, he added the issue of contract termination lay with the council as the VC's employer.

The USP staff and student unions support the council.

In a joint statement quoting sections of the USP charter and statutes, the Association of the USP Staff, the USP Staff Union and the USP Students Association said the Fiji government's claims were not true.

They challenged the government to prove its claims that Ahluwalia's reappointment was illegal.

Ahluwalia's contract has been extended for three years and he is now working out of the USP's Samoa campus in Apia.

The Canadian-born academic has maintained that Fiji's attempt to deport him was politically motivated, with the government wanting to wrest control of the regionally-owned university.

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