The controversy surrounding the University of South Pacific’s (USP) leadership has taken another turn after Nauru’s President Lionel Aingimea released part of a confidential investigation into mismanagement at the university in defence of the institution’s Vice-Chancellor Prof Pal Ahluwalia.
Mr Aingimea told the Nauru Parliament that in 2019, BDO, a New Zealand accounting and auditing firm who was contracted by the USP Council to investigate allegations of mismanagement “unequivocally confirmed a number of serious breaches of university processes and procedures that resulted in the leakage of millions of dollars of member country taxpayers and donors’ funding”.
In a statement to Nauru Parliament last week, Mr Aingimea highlighted six cases from a BDO report that included:
- Prof Arvind Patel (former acting dean of the faculty of business and economics 2016-2019) – Mr Aingimea said BDO noted in their report that Prof Patel’s appeal and approval for salary increment in 2018 was in breach of USP policy. He said the firm indicated that “these types of inducement allowances are not paid in the manner that USP pays them in Australian and New Zealand universities”.
- Associate Prof Anjeela Jokhan – Mr Aingimea said BDO noted that there was no record of Associate Prof Jokhan being awarded a two-month contract from 1 November 2018 to 31 December 2018 carrying a salary of $294,514 signed by Vice-Chancellor and President (VCP) Prof Rajesh Chandra. “We were unable to obtain evidence of any review meeting prior to this contract being awarded, if this is the case it would appear as being a breach of policy of VCP Ordinance section 50 which states that senior management team remuneration is to be covered by the remuneration committee,” BDO reportedly said.
Mr Aingimea said BDO observed that there was no formal remuneration committee:
“Therefore, we note the five-year contract renewal which is required for standard USP policy to be considered by a remuneration committee was in the form of a review panel. The matter highlights the lack of a formal remuneration committee as the review,” BDO said.
Mr Aingimea said the other four cases included Jaindra Karan, who was married to Fiji’s Minister of Education Premila Kumar and others, including Prof Chandra.
“These six cases are mere examples of clear breaches of USP policies and processes that implicate Prof Patel, Associate Prof Anjeela Jokhan, Mr Jaindra Karan, Ms Shobna Kiran, Mr Hasmukh Lal and the then VCP, Professor Rajesh Chandra as well as Pro-Chancellor Winston Thompson,” Mr Aingimea said.
“However, in the course of 2019 and 2020, Prof Ahluwalia uncovered numerous other violations of USP policies and procedures. A number of these replicate the six cases cited.”
Mr Aingimea also criticised Fiji’s decision to withhold grants to USP because of its disapproval of Prof Ahluwalia.
“This move is seen as a divisive and a dismissal move against regionalism considering that at that particular USP Council meeting, all Pacific Island country members of USP were present and voted overwhelmingly to support the offering of a new contract to the VCP,” he said.