THE government has supported the decision to suspend the University of South Pacific (USP)’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
At the same time, the government has appealed to members of the Executive Committee Council to exercise their trusteeship duties with responsibility, in unity, and with care for the greater and shared common good of the peoples of the South Pacific in resolving the leadership and governance-management crisis.
Education minister Lanelle Tanangada confirmed the government’s support yesterday.
She said the Government is a party to the decision taken by the council on June 8 to suspend Professor Ahluwalia and for the commission of an independent investigation into the allegations of impropriety against him.
Tanangada revealed that the independent investigation will be made by the USP Audit and Risks Compliance Committee.
She also said the independent review will also include assessing the allegations on the role of the Chair of the Council.
Professor Ahluwalia has been alleged to have breached policies and procedures relating to governance and management of the affairs of the University by the Audit and Risk Compliance Committee of the University.
“The Solomon Islands Government has always expected the University leadership to concentrate on good governance and management practices and to focus more on the core business of the University, which is to deliver quality teaching, research and to extend its services to member countries in the region,” Tanangada said.
“It is also the expectation of the Government that students at the USP should concentrate more on their studies in order for them to attain their qualifications,” she added.
“Currently, this is not the case as they are getting more preoccupied in protests and exchange of views in both the media and social media, which is damaging the reputation of the university as well as senior university officials that are implicated in the recent allegations.
“There is disunity amongst its staff and students due to the leadership and governance crisis.
“The most challenging thing about the current governance-management crisis affecting USP is that the committee appointed by Council in August 2019 has not fully implemented the recommendations of the BDO report.
“This would have seen increased improvement in control and strong governance in dealing with human resource matters and financial decisions.
“However, fresh allegations have been laid more recently against the incumbent Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia, which has exacerbated the situation.
“The BDO report arose from the allegations of misconduct that USP Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia had made in March 2019 against the former leadership of Professor Rajesh Chandra who was Vice-Chancellor from 2008 to 2018.
“An Auckland firm BDO was engaged to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against the former Vice-Chancellor,” she further added.
She said that Government has made its position on the USP saga after Cabinet met this week.
“An independent investigation into the allegations raised against the Vice-Chancellor and the Chair of Council is fair and transparent and would allow natural justice served not only to the Vice-Chancellor, but also the Chair and University officials that are implicated.
“The findings of the investigation will enable the Council to ascertain the truth of the matter and consider the necessary action.
“The way forward to resolving the current governance-management crisis that currently affects USP is not to take sides on the officials of the University who are implicated in the allegations laid against them, rather it should be to support the Council make collective wisdom of the USP Council to address this matter in the most expeditious manner.”
The USP council will meet today via teleconferencing facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic which has hindered members from travelling to Suva, Fiji, to attend the meeting physically.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN