By GERALDINE PANAPASA
The University of the South Pacific’s vice-chancellor and president, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, received a warm welcome at the Nadi International Airport this morning, returning to Fiji two years after he and wife Sandra Price were detained and deported by the previous government for allegedly breaching certain provisions of the Immigration Act.
“We have arrived in Nadi. What a fabulous reception. USP staff, students and so many well wishers to meet us fills out hearts with joy. Beautiful singing and prayer. Thank you Fiji,” he wrote on Twitter, as the couple were received by USP deputy vice-chancellors and vice-presidents, Professor Jito Vanualailai and Dr Giulio Paunga.
USP Council Secretariat representative, Totivi Bokini-Ratu, Lautoka Campus director Pramila Devi, and representatives from the USP Students Association, USP Staff Association and Association of the USP Staff were also at the airport to greet Prof Ahluwalia.
“I’m so humbled to see everyone. It is an absolute joy to be back and an opportunity for us to continue serving USP,” he said in a statement.
“The support from staff, students and regional governments has just been incredible.
“It was so beautiful to see how much our staff fought. The fight wasn’t just for me; it was for a bigger cause and I’m just a catalyst for the bigger change they wanted to see.”
Prof Ahluwalia said the next step was to work with his senior management team to ensure they got the best out of their students and the region.
He is expected to visit the USP Pacific TAFE Centre in Namaka and Lautoka Campus today with other events and meetings scheduled for the coming week including the launch of the Alumni Relationship Management Service, and the welcoming of international students.
Prof Ahluwalia and his wife’s controversial exile from Fiji followed months of increased tensions between USP and the previous government over allegations of financial mismanagement and corruption.
With the new Coalition Government in power after ousting the FijiFirst administration in the 2022 General Election, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka has vowed to right the wrongs of the past administration, indicating in December last year that Prof Ahluwalia and Dr Padma Lal, widow of another exiled academic, the late Professor Brij Lal, were free to enter the country.
“I am ready to meet Dr Lal and Professor Ahluwalia personally. I will apologise on behalf of the people of Fiji for the way they were treated,” Mr Rabuka had said.
He said prohibition orders against Prof Ahluwalia, Dr Lal and the late Prof Lal, were unreasonable and inhumane, and ‘should never have been made’.
Prof Ahluwalia has been working out of USP’s Samoa campus since 2021, and said he looked forward to working with the new Coalition Government to strengthen the relationship between USP and Fiji.
“As a regional institution, USP will continue to serve its island countries, particularly Fiji and work hard to shape Pacific futures,” Prof Ahluwalia had said.
Meanwhile, USP and the Fijian Government are expected to conduct a joint traditional welcome ceremony for Prof Ahluwalia, followed by a thanksgiving service at the Japan-Pacific ICT Multipurpose Theatre, Laucala campus next Tuesday.
This article was first published as “‘I’m just a catalyst for the bigger change’, says USP vice-chancellor as he returns to Fiji” in Wansolwara News. Republished here with their kind permission.