Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka (left) issued a formal apology to USP vice-chancellor Prof Pal Ahluwalia (second from left), who was exiled by the previous FijiFirst administration. Picture: USP COMMUNICATIONS & MARKETING
By GERALDINE PANAPASA
The University of the South Pacific is expected to receive the first instalment of the promised $10 million part payment of grants owing soon.
This, according to Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, was a show of the Coalition Government’s commitment to restoring Fiji’s outstanding grant contributions since 2019. It is understood that by June this year, the total grant to be paid to USP would reach $116m.
Mr Rabuka made the comment during a moving thanksgiving service at USP’s Laucala campus last night to mark the return of exiled Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Pal Ahluwalia to Fiji.
Since 2019, the previous government under FijiFirst remained steadfast in its decision to withhold grant contributions to USP until independent investigations into alleged mismanagement by current vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia were carried out, ultimately leading to Prof Ahluwalia and his wife, Sandra’s deportation from Fiji.
Prof Ahluwalia, who has since been operating in exile from USP’s Samoa campus, was offered an invitation by Mr Rabuka to return to Fiji, a move that has gained widespread support from USP students and staff.
“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,” Mr Rabuka said.
“I want to apologise to you, very simple. It doesn’t matter who did it. As far as the world is concerned, Fiji did it to you. Now, I am Fiji by the power of one vote. We’ve corrected that. Thank you for agreeing to come back. I reiterate the USP students’ apology, we were orphaned since you left; now we have our parents back.”
The PM said USP was the best example of regional cooperation, breaking new ground in bringing people together not only from the Pacific but within Fiji.
In accepting the apology, Prof Ahluwalia said the thanksgiving service was a day to celebrate and expressed his appreciation to the PM and Deputy PM for their support and commitment to the regional University.
“After 107 weeks of exile, I never thought I would see the day I get to thank my staff and students in person,” he said.
“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.
“Universities have to become beacons for education and to speak truth to power. I am here, I am here to serve you and the nation.”
USP Pro-Chancellor and chair of the USP Council, Hilda Heine, expressed her gratitude to Mr Rabuka for allowing Prof Ahluwalia to return to Fiji and for providing assurances and support towards the region’s premier institution.
She also acknowledged Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa for hosting the Vice-Chancellor and his family in Samoa since January last year, and Nauru’s Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and former president Lionel Aingimea and the Government of Nauru for hosting the VCP following his removal from Fiji in February 2021.