Fiji Govt continues pettiness as students suffer

The Fijian Government is not budging an inch over the AU$50 million it is withholding in grant money for the University of the South Pacific.

This may remain the status quo as long as the Fiji First Government remains in power and their demand for an investigation into USP’s management by vice chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia is not met.

However several audits and investigations into USP have cleared Prof Ahluwalia. The academic was expelled from Fiji last year following a raid by immigration and police at his home in USP. He is now based in Samoa and is running the affairs of USP remotely.

Member of the opposition in Fiji’s parliament, Biman Prasad asked the Fijian Government when the funds for USP would be released.

The funds or grants are paid on a formula where the factor is the number of students each member country has, and since Fiji has the most students, the nation’s grant is the largest.

National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad with Peoples Alliance Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka. Both want USP grants to be released. Picture: National Federation Party

Mr Prasad said while the government was withholding funds, students not only from Fiji but from the region were suffering.

“Withholding of funding to the University of the South Pacific is having a very serious impact not only on the students from Fiji but students throughout the region and for us as a country as well. When you withhold funding, you just don’t give students TELTS loans and send them to the university,” Mr Prasad said.

“When they go to the university, they need good lecturers, qualified lecturers, experienced lecturers, they need the facilities, they need the classrooms, they need recreational facilities, they need libraries, they need books, they need computers and labs. These are facilities that universities have to provide to the students. When you hold grants to the university, you are damaging the quality of education that our students get.”

Fiji’s Minister for Education Premila Kumar said one person cannot be bigger than USP nor bigger than a member country and that the government will release the grant once the institution allows for an independent investigation to be conducted.

Fiji’s minister for education Premila Kumar. Picture: Fijian Government

“If Professor Ahluwalia has not done anything wrong then why is he worried about an independent investigation. Fiji’s stand had been made clear several times, we will resume grants once this investigation is undertaken,” she said.

The nature of the investigation is something which is yet to be made clear as several such investigations even by reputable accounting firms have found no wrong doings by Prof Ahluwalia, however allegations have been raised by former staff members.

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Prof Ahluwalia had previously told The Pacific Advocate that he is willing to talk to the Fijian Government and resolve this issue.

As a result of the grants being withheld, major capital works including refurbishments of buildings, maintenance and investments have been put on hold at the USP.

Staff unions and student bodies have time and time again urged the Fijian Government to release the grant but nothing has changed, and while the grant remains withheld, the amount keeps increasing with time.

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