02 April 2020, By Samisoni Pareti, Island Business. High drama continues at the Pacific’s only regional university, with reports that one of the member country’s that owns the university has signaled it could seek the removal from office of Winston Thompson, currently the pro chancellor and chair of the Council of the University of the South Pacific.
Samoa is objecting to Thompson’s bid to investigate Vice Chancellor, Professor Pal Alhuwalia.
“My government’s position is that Council should instruct the Pro Chancellor to cease and desist from carrying out this investigation into the charges of material misconduct against the Vice Chancellor as these are substantially to do with issues referred to the Commission,” Loau Keneti Sio, education minister of Samoa wrote in a letter addressed to all USP Council members.
“That further, serves a formal caution on the PC (pro chancellor) that his actions are counter to Council’s intent and resolutions to address the issues investigated and reported on by the BDO (accountancy firm), through a process of institutional reform under the auspices of the Commission.
“In the event that the PC does not comply, that Council will begin proceedings to remove him from office.
“This submission is not taken lightly but the viability of our regional university is too important to be put at risk by the actions of one individual,” Minister Sio wrote in his two-page letter addressed to PC Thompson as well as to all the other 11-member countries of the Pacific that co-own USP.
Written on the minister of education of Samoa’s official letterhead, the letter was un-dated, although several Council members have confirmed to Islands Business that it was sent out early this week.
The letters follow the controversy surrounding Thompson’s decision a fortnight ago to form a team to investigate USP Vice Chancellor Professor Pal Alhuwalia on misconduct charges.
Both the associations of staff and students of USP have denounced Thompson’s actions, and in letters sent out to all government owners of the university, both bodies called for their intervention.
“Council had already put in place a procedure for dealing with governance and management issues as well as a process for implementing reforms to the university,” the Sio letter says.
“Council appointed a sub-committee and authorised the appointment of a Commission.
“My government has a very real concern that the investigation into the conduct of the Vice Chancellor by yet another committee is not helpful and not supportive of Council’s resolutions.
“At worst, it impedes the ability of those charged with implementing reforms from doing so.
“I am persuaded by the staff and student letters that this is a matter we must take seriously.
“They are out constituent bodies and the university does not exist without them.
“Students and staff are lobbying for their vice chancellor.
“Council must pay attention to their voices.”
To Minister Sio and his government of Samoa, Thompson has embarked on “a continuous and concerted effort to undermine and obstruct the work of VC Ahluwalia,” and is in defiance of the explicit instructions of the Council in two separate meetings that he and Ahuwalia should commit “to work together for the good of the university.”
“Regrettably, the actions of the PC is creating disruption to the work of the university and the charges against the VC/P (Vice Chancellor/President) is a continuation of his paper brought to the meeting last August seeking to suspend the VC/P.
“This paper was neither endorsed nor approved by Council.
“Notably there are still no minutes for this special meeting of Council despite repeated requests from Council members that they be made available.
“This is a grievous oversight on the part of the PC, and I hope this is not an intentional attempt to nullify Council’s resolutions with regards to the BDO
Report and the appointment of the 3 persons Council Sub-Committee to establish an independent Commission to implement the recommendations of the BDO Report inclusive of governance and management issues.
“The Commission has started its work with a summary of their plan of action that has been forwarded for the information of the USP community.
“I am informed that they have had two visits to Suva since the beginning of the year.”
Samoa also questioned Thompson’s decision to interfere in the operations of the USP, by ordering the self-isolation of Professor Ahluwalia, upon his return from overseas travel in mid-March, at a time when the Fiji Government policy of self- isolation was not applicable to the country the VCP had visited.
“From Council’s perspective, the self-isolation imposed on the Vice Chancellor had the potential to damage the university by impending management putting in place all appropriate mechanisms to address the COVID19 situation for the better protection of our students and staff.
“At that date, this was the Vice Chancellor’s most important task.
“However, and at the same time, the Deputy Pro Chancellor had already served the Vice Chancellor with a letter notifying him that an investigation into his conduct was being undertaken.”