Authored by Grace Konrote, Shalom Tehillati, Maria Yavala and Samu Walosio on behalf of YOUTHS FOR INTEGRITY FIJI.
Professor Pal Ahluwalia, the whistleblowing Vice Chancellor of the prestigious University of the South Pacific (USP), has a courageous story that seems like it came out of a popular Netflix thriller movie. In November 2018, he was appointed Vice Chancellor after an international head-hunting search found him to be the best candidate for the position.
In March 2019 (after whistleblowers from within the University approached him) he prepared a confidential report alleging widespread financial irregularities under his predecessor, including allegations of massive salary increases, misappropriation of allowances and unearned promotions.
The Vanuatu Daily Post (11/9/2019) reported that the auditor BDO Auckland provided a damning report largely vindicating Ahluwalia. Some of Ahluwalia’s allegations were not possible to verify “due to the level and/or quality of documentation retained by the USP”, it highlighted. The BDO report stated that concerns about financial irregularities had been raised during three consecutive audits and were still unaddressed.
In 2020, Professor Ahluwalia was suspended by the USP’s Executive Committee made up of appointees of his predecessor. There were massive protests from students and staff and his suspension was overturned by the University Council.
ABC news reported on February 4th, 2021 that about 13 police and immigration officers raided Professor Ahluwalia’s on-campus home just before midnight. He and his wife were given a few minutes to pack and then driven at high speed in a three-car convoy to Nadi, where they were placed under police guard and then bundled off on a flight to Brisbane.
In a statement, the Fijian Government said Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were ordered to leave Fiji after continuous breaches of the Immigration Act. "No foreigner is permitted to conduct themselves in a manner prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, security or good government of Fiji," the statement reported on ABC news on 4/2/2021 noted.
Professor Ahluwalia admits in a report in FBC news on 25/11/2019 that as a whistleblower, “it has been a year of hell. I have suffered enormously and so has my family for doing the right thing. There have been many days I have contemplated why I have come to Fiji but I felt there was a calling, that I had to give back and as God is my witness that you know what I did was the right thing. And I think at the end of it once we get over all the emotions the best thing is that this will never happen again.”
He emphasised that his motive for writing the report was due to the fact that he was a new Vice-Chancellor and was constantly receiving information from whistleblowers within the university.
The University of the South Pacific is a shining light of higher education in the region, and over the years it has mentored the best and brightest students. Professor Ahluwalia’s courageous whistleblowing action has upheld the culture of integrity with region wide support from other key stakeholders – Pacific leaders, civil society organisations, media and Pacific youth. For this we are very deeply grateful.
On the occasion of World Whistleblower Day, Youths for Integrity Fiji has chosen Professor Pal Ahluwalia as PACIFIC INTEGRITY CHAMPION 2021.
YFI is a national online network of 3,800 youths who are part of CLCT INTEGRITY FIJI (accredited National Contact for Transparency International.) The network was set up for high school, tertiary students, school leavers, young adults, youth leaders and young professionals interested in advocating for Integrity and Anti-Corruption in their schools, communities, sports groups, social web networks etc.