The workers unions of the University of the South Pacific have called on the Fijian leadership to release funds owed to the regional institution, with outstanding payments now at more than AU$51 million.
In a statement, the staff unions of the University of the South Pacific, AUSPS and USPSU have said that all independent inquiries into allegations against vice chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia had cleared him of any wrongdoings.
The unions said that until 2019, USP regularly received Fiji government grant contributions which were based upon a formula endorsed by the University Grants Committee (UGC) and meant to subsidise Fiji students who study at USP.
“In addition, this funding is used together with other member states and development partners grant contributions to fund the University’s operations including maintaining excellent facilities, high quality education, research and outreach activities.
“However, since 2020, the Fiji government has not paid its Grant as agreed by UGC and thus far owes the University FJ$78.4 million (AU$51m).
The unions said the four inquiries by reputable organisations and individuals have exonerated and cleared Prof Ahluwalia of any mismanagement.
The financial cost of the inquiries has impacted on the University in an already financially challenged environment.
According to the union, despite the deportation from Fiji of Prof Ahluwalia and his wife, just two years into his first contract, the Fiji government continues to hurt Fiji and regional students by withholding its grant by obligation.
“We believe that the USP’s supreme governing body, the USP Council has conducted its approved inquiries in compliance with the principles of transparency and good governance,” the union said.
“The unions, on behalf of the students, staff and alumni call on the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, to abide by and honour the decision of the Fiji Parliament that approved the USP Grants for 2020, 2021 and 2022 totalling $78.4m and to pay its obligation and to bring this matter to closure so as to leave no-one behind.”
The recently announced Fijian national budget shows no allocation towards USP although there are allocations to universities which are local.
During the recently held Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting Samoa’s prime minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa urged Fiji to pay what was owed to the USP.
Australian foreign minister Penny Wong was asked by the Pacific Advocate if she had talks with the Fijian government regarding solving the USP impasse.
She said Australia would like that worked through in the region.
“We understand there are strong differences of views between parties. We would simply say this is a matter in which consensus ought be reached and given the number of people we heard this this morning, I think, and yesterday, how many young people enter the labour market each year across the Pacific, it is imperative we invest in their skills. So, we would hope that we can find a way through on this,” Ms Wong said.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum was asked for his response to the statement, to which he is yet to respond, however, his comment a fortnight ago in local Fijian media was to conduct an investigation and Fiji would release funds.
Prof Ahluwalia cannot enter Fiji until this impasse is over and has been controlling things remotely from Samoa.
He has indicated that he is ready to talk to the Fijian government to solve the impasse because it was the students who were suffering.
For now the amount owed by Fiji keeps on getting higher and while the Fijian government has not paid its grant, it continues to pay tuition fees for Fijian students who either studying under scholarships or the loan schemes.