The University of the South Pacific (USP) held its thanksgiving service as the first semester of 2023 got underway and marked the return of the USP Vice-Chancellor and President (VCP) Professor Pal Ahluwalia to the Laucala Campus yesterday.
The event which was filled with jubilant songs of praise and thanksgiving was also attended by Fiji Prime Minister & Minister for Public Enterprises, Civil Service and Foreign Affairs, Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Strategic Planning, National Development and Statistics, Hon. Professor Biman Prasad, Government Ministers and Assistant Ministers.
Professor Ahluwalia was accorded a traditional welcome ceremony by the Itaukei Students Association led by USPSA Student Association President Lepani Naqarase.
“We, the students of USP based here in Laucala, Lautoka and Labasa, are present today to celebrate the return of our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia. Despite the troubled times we have witnessed in the past, we acknowledge our Vice-Chancellor for not losing faith in leading this prestigious institution,” he said.
Mr Naqarase also acknowledged Prime Minister Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka and the coalition government for allowing Professor Ahluwalia to return to Fiji.
In his welcoming address, USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Education) Professor Jito Vanualailai acknowledged the USP member countries for supporting the regional institution when it needed it most.
“We are here for three reasons today, to welcome home our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, to thank the Prime Minister, Hon Sitiveni Rabuka and to give praise and thanks to the Almighty God for this joyous occasion.”
Professor Ahluwalia led the entire audience at the event to a standing ovation in acknowledging Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka.
USP Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the USP Council Hilda Heine thanked Prime Minister Rabuka for allowing Professor Ahluwalia back into the country and for pledging support to the premier institution that serves its 12 member countries across the Pacific.
Ms Heine also said, “I would like to acknowledge Samoa Prime Minister, Honourable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, for hosting the Vice-Chancellor and his family in Samoa since January 2022, and I acknowledge and thank the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and Former President of the Republic of Nauru Hon. Lionel Aingimea and the Government of Nauru for hosting the VCP following his removal from Fiji in February 2021, and thank you to the USP students and staff for supporting our VCP.”
“As we collectively breathe a huge sigh of relief, we give thanks to the benevolence of our Lord and thank him for allowing us to remain united through trying times and for this momentous occasion,” she added.
Speaking at the event, Fiji Prime Minister Hon. Sitiveni Rabuka said, “The power of one vote on the floor of parliament made it possible for me to sit as Prime Minister in parliament and cabinet and allowed me and Fiji to say to Pal Ahluwalia to come home, come back.”
The Prime Minister sincerely apologised to the USP Vice-Chancellor and President with great humility, humour, and emotion.
“It does not matter who did it; as far as the world is concerned, Fiji did it. Now I am Fiji by the power of one vote. Thank you for coming back. I reiterate the USP students’ apology, we were orphaned since you left, and now, we have our parents back.”
The Prime Minister also remarked that USP provided the best example of regional cooperation. USP is breaking new ground in bringing people together not only in the Pacific but within Fiji.
“USP continues to unite the Pacific and achieve excellence; I wish you all well.”
The Fiji Prime Minister also emphasised his coalition government’s commitment to providing the grant owed by Fiji to USP, adding that the first instalment of FJD10M will be disbursed next week.
In an emphatic address, VCP Professor Pal Ahluwalia accepted the Prime Minister’s apology, adding, “after 107 weeks of exile, I never thought I would see the day I get to thank my staff and students in person.”
“Today is the day to celebrate and thank the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to say we deeply appreciate their support and commitment to the regional university.”
The USP VCP also welcomed the Fiji coalition government’s grant commitment.
“Prime Minister, our staff and students have endured some of the most challenging times and have stood by this university, and we can wait a few months. Our relationship with your government is such that we will support the government in any endeavour.”
“I am overwhelmed by the heart of the university, our students, for standing by me, our staff; how do I thank people who sacrificed without expecting anything in return.”
Professor Ahluwalia further added that universities have to become beacons for education and to speak truth to power.
The USP VCP concluded by reassuring the Fiji government, university staff, and students, “I am here, I am here to serve you and the nation.”