USP reputation 'affected further' following Vice-Chancellor deportation - Dr Malakai Kolomatangi

Political commentator Dr Malakai Kolomatangi believes this "drastic measure" by the Fijian government will affect the university's reputation further.

5th February, 2021

USP reputation 'affected further' following Vice-Chancellor deportation - Dr Malakai Kolomatangi
USP Vice Chancellor Pal Ahluwalia was deported from Fiji to Australia. Photo Supplied.

The shock deportation of the head of the University of the South Pacific from Fiji is raising questions about the university's reputation as well as the action taken by the Fijian authorities. 

Fijian immigration officials suddenly removed Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his partner from their home this week, and deported them to Brisbane, citing Ahluwalia as a "public risk".

Political commentator Dr Malakai Kolomatangi warned the "drastic measure" by the Fijian government will affect the university's reputation further. 

The image of USP has been under the microscope for some time over concerns about widespread mismanagement exposed by Ahluwalia.​

​"This is problematic. The government needs to ensure there's a pathway to reforming and improving the image of the university, otherwise it will just become a institution of no consequence and that's not what we want," says Kolomatangi.

The move has also sparked concern from Associate Foreign Affairs Minister, Aupito William Sio.

"The university of the South Pacific is a regional asset and is a vital institution for the whole Pacific region, so we're just concerned about how this will disrupt the university going forward and our mission is seeking more clarification from the government of Fiji," said Aupito.​

Kolomatangi was critical of the Fijian government, saying it had a duty of care to the university before taking action.

"To ensure what it does respects the institution and what it does is also respected by the other Pacific states. 

"You can't take unilateral action against the institution without consulting the other members of the Pacific islands forum and other Pacific leaders."

 Ahluwalia himself told the ABC that his deportation is "a classic case of beating the whistle blower".

He says he feels like his removal was a "pre-emptive move" before the USP Council meeting taking place today.​

"In that council meeting it was quite clear there were two things that were going to be discussed. One is the position of the pro-chancellor and the chair of the audit and risk committee... and also at that meeting council was going to look at my contract... so the vice chancellor could operate out of any of the other eleven countries of the universities.

"In short, I'm the messenger being shot,"​ says Ahluwalia.

The repercussions are already being felt.

RNZ is reporting that Samoa has confirmed it will pursue moving the University of the South Pacific headquarters from Fiji to Samoa, which will be on the agenda at today's USP Council meeting.

Samoa's minister of education Loau Keneti Sio says there are issues to work through in moving the campus but Samoa offered many advantages, including stability.

Moving forward Ahluwalia will fly to Nauru and will continue to operate as USP's Vice chancellor once the council sorts everything out.