GRUBSHEET: By Graham Davis
With barely four weeks to go to the election, students and staff at the regional University of the South Pacific have stepped up their political activity against the FijiFirst government over its refusal to pay $85 million (and counting) in outstanding contributions to the running of USP.
The USP community — which some estimates put at more than 30,000 — is being encouraged to vote accordingly, with an indirect but unmistakable appeal to “Friends of USP” to vote for the People’s Alliance-National Federation Party prospective coalition come polling day.
It beggars belief that the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has left Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and his cabinet colleagues so exposed at USP.
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Because if the university community — students, staff, their families and sympathisers — lodge a collective protest vote against his conduct, it could easily cost the government the election.
What other political party in its right mind would put at risk its survival to support a position that simply isn’t sustainable because Fiji doesn’t have the numbers on the USP Council to enforce its will?
FijiFirst, of course. Which is prepared, lemming like, to go over a cliff with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum just to pander to his ego.
You might have expected student protests at USP as it is being slowly strangled by the ruling party and certainly that would have happened anywhere else in the world. Yet it’s no surprise to learn that there has been a strong, though subtle, plainclothes police and military presence at USP for some time, including specific incidents of intimidation of students and staff.
Climate of fear
So the relative silence from the student body doesn’t owe itself to apathy but fear — the climate of fear that pervades the rest of the nation as well and has been the subject of public comment by church leaders and private comment by almost everyone else.
It is a rich vein for the opposition to mine in the election lead-up. So get set for the government’s scandalous conduct at USP to become a major election issue.
And for the prospect of FijiFirst suffering a humiliating setback at the polls to match its humiliating inability to get its way with its absurd demand for “reform” of the university, including the removal of its exiled vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who continues to run USP from Samoa.
Australian-Fijian journalist Graham Davis publishes the blog Grubsheet Feejee on Fiji affairs. Republished with permission.
Statement to Friends of USP voting in Fiji’s election 2022:
TURN UP AND MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT.
We will be casting our votes on 14 December.
Nine political parties are contesting. Apart from Fiji First Party (FFP), the other serious contenders are Rabuka’s People’s Alliance Party, Prasad/Tikoduadua’s National Federation Party (NFP), and Gavoka’s Social and Democratic Party (SODELPA). SODELPA has been imploding for some time!
Since 2018, FFP government has withheld Fiji’s contribution to USP. All other parties have campaigned to pay what Fiji owes. Most of us would like to see a change of government because of the government’s refusal to pay its contribution which stands at FD$85 million.
As preposterous as it may sound, it means that eight small member countries such as Tokelau (pop. 1400), Niue (1600) and Tuvalu (11,300) are subsidising Fiji, having the largest population with nearly a million people!
Despite five independent investigations confirming corrupt practices by the former vice- chancellor and president (VCP), and confirming the current VCP’s report on the corruption, the government continues to shield the former VCP and his supporters.
Through its domineering presence in Council, the government lobbied hard to terminate the current VCP Dr Ahluwalia’s contract. When Council rejected it, the government unprecedentedly deported Dr Ahluwalia and his wife Gestapo-like. It declared them persona-non-grata in the same shameful manner as the late pre-eminent Pacific historian Dr Brij Lal and his family.
With Council’s support, USP is being run from Samoa campus, home of current Chancellor (Head of State Tuimaleali’ifano) former mother and daughter Pro Chancellors (Fetaui and Fiame Naomi Mata’afa), and VCP Professor Ahluwalia.
There are three serious implications of the Fiji debt.
First, institutional utilities and student services are likely affected as maintenance and upkeep of buildings and facilities are compromised.
Second, the growing vacancies across a number of academic, professional and support staff will not be filled quickly, thereby increasing the work-load of an already overstretched staff.
This is exacerbated by the protracted delays in the issuance of work permits to expatriates and regional staff from member countries such as Tonga and Solomon Islands.
Staff shortage threatens availability and variety of programmes (e.g. Pasifika orientated programs in Governance, Law, Social Sciences, Climate Change, Engineering, MBA etc), erosion of quality of teaching and research output.
The third and most critical is the obvious collateral damage to the education of students (35,000 to 40,000 in 2022) and 50 years of capacity building with an alumni of 60,000 plus across the globe.
For USP to continue as the premier university to nurture and realise the spirit of Pasifikan regionalism, a change is necessary.
In 2018, the FFP narrowly won by 150 votes. A groundswell of support is evident for Rabuka’s Peoples Alliance Party (PAP), and Prasad/Tikoduadua’s National Federation Party (NFP). To make the change and ensure USP’s survival, make your vote count.
Voting is at the polling stations shown on the voter registration card. For iTaukei voters intending to travel to the islands and villages before 14 December, before traveling, check the polling station shown in your voter registration card and avoid disappointment.
WE must turn up and not waste OUR votes on FFP, smaller parties and independent candidates.
God Bless Fiji and USP
This content originally appeared on Asia Pacific Report and was authored by APR editor.