AUSPS condemns Usamate’s comments

December 4, 2023 4:28 pm

The Association of University of the South Pacific Staff has criticized recent comments made by Opposition MP Jone Usamate

The Association of University of the South Pacific Staff has criticized recent comments made by Opposition MP Jone Usamate.

President Elizabeth Fong, while responding to Usamate’s remark last Wednesday about a 180-degree turnaround by the same staff who previously wanted Vice-Chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia back, stated that the staff have been observing VCP Pal’s actions during the current review period.

Fong mentioned that, in their view, Ahluwalia has not met expectations.

Article continues after advertisement

She added that what Usamate calls a 180-degree turnaround is based on observations, assessments with evidence, and justifications of VP Ahluwalia’s performance from their perspective.

She emphasized that such shifts in perception are normal when a worker is not perceived as performing, and this reflects the staff’s collective viewpoint.

Addressing the statement that Fong was once Ahluwalia’s biggest supporter and is now calling for his removal, she responded by saying that she has a good reason for this stance.

Fong explained that, while Usamate may see her as Ahluwalia’s biggest supporter, her stand at that time was for justice for a worker who happened to be the Vice-Chancellor.

She stressed that she was prepared to stand up for the VC’s rights with the support of many USP staff at a time when the FijiFirst government was taking them to the CID on the pretext of breaching COVID protocols.

On the issue of Ahluwalia reaching retirement age soon, Fong stated that they believe in consistency across the board for all USP staff, including cleaners, Associate Professors, and Clerical Assistants.

She mentioned that the USP does have a policy on post-retirement, and this too has a process that they want to be fairly implemented and not selectively.

Regarding the FijiFirst government stopping the grant to USP and calling for an independent inquiry based on the Audit and Risk Committee’s recommendation, Fong stated that the BDO report was sanctioned by the University Council, which is the governing body.

She emphasized that while Fiji is a stakeholder in the University, it is not the only one, as USP is regional, and all countries have financial obligations based on student numbers.

According to Fong, Fiji has the highest number of students, so it pays the most grant.

She further stated that last year, they proved that for every dollar Fiji pays, it receives nine dollars in return in terms of rental, transport, food, and other shopping from Fijian and regional students who attend the Laucala Campus.

Usamate, in his statement, has asserted that whatever the recommendations of the independent investigation would have been, the FijiFirst government would have resumed the grant.

However, Fong countered by stating that with the actions taken by the FijiFirst government, they removed all trust by USP staff and students.

Regarding the issue of Fiji being the largest contributor to USP and having all the rights to request an investigation, Fong stated that this Fiji-centric view is one that the Fijians at the USP are ashamed of, as it damages relations with regional stakeholders.