May 24, 2015

Will FICAC Investigate the USP Vice Chancellor or is Political Persecution their only priority?

An email was sent to USP Council Members and various Fiji Government and Opposition members highlighting the concerns of alleged abuse of office, corruption and mismanagement by the Vice Chancellor by "Concerned Pacific Islanders".

It will be very interesting to see whether FICAC will take this up with as much gusto as they have shown for FNU or whether they are content to only carry out Gestapo type political persecution tactics of the Bainimarama Governments bidding. 

Moreoever, it will be interesting to see whether key donor countries of the USP Council like Australia and New Zealand are happy to let their taxpayer funds continue pour down the gurgler by Chandra.

The covering note reads:
Dear Council members,
As pacific islanders and stakeholders in the University we are concerned about serious problems of management, abuse of office and deteriorating standards at USP under the leadership of VC Chandra. We have highlighted this before and once again we provide a summary of the problems which is attached. We trust that this time council members would take this seriously and institute at least an independent investigation. We have included in this email the Hon Attorney General of Fiji, the Hon Minister for education of Fiji and PMs office and some key opposition members as Fiji provides the bulk of government grants.
Concerned Pacific Islanders

The summary of the issues raised is reproduced below.


Corruption, abuse of office, dictatorship and Mismanagement at the University of the South Pacific- under the leadership of Vice Chancellor - Rajesh Chandra

A. Introduction
We as concerned Pacific Islanders who are proud of USP have serious concerns about the future of the University under the leadership of Rajesh Chandra. We know there have been several complaints in the past but these have been conveniently ignored and Rajesh Chandra has been cleared and he got his contract renewed. We also know that the investigations were in-house by the former Chair of Council, Mr. Ikbal Janif who was elected under dubious circumstances and engineered by the VC himself. He only won on a casting vote by the Chair of the Council. Ikbal Janif was also supported by Filipe Bole, Former Minister who is VC Chandra’s good friend and VC Chandra was cleared without any independent investigation. Since then there have been more issues and we cannot ignore this anymore.

Some of us who complained last time by putting our names were sued in the court in Fiji and hence we are not putting our names on this issue. Most of us who complained against harassment continue to face harassment by the hands of the thugs that VC keeps in each section on the university. These thugs have become so brave that they even verbally harass us in corridors and nothing is done about it.

But the issues we want to highlight are more serious and a lot of what was happening has accumulated to a point where it is now a crisis. We humbly request the USP Council and other stakeholders to have an independent investigation at USP.

1. There was much hype about the strategic plan for 2013- 2018 which was used as a transformation document to renew VC Chandra’s contract. A closer look would suggest a big failure. An honest assessment for the last two years- 2013-2014 would suggest that more than 60% of what was to be achieved has not been achieved, for example the STAR review, campus development and appointment of professors etc. An independent audit would spell all this out.

2. STAR project has also been a failure and again the review done by USP through a consultant hired by the VC does not provide a true picture.

3. The ‘good to excellent’ is a dream which will never be realized under the leadership of VC Chandra as espoused in the strategic plan. Leadership of the University at all levels has been wanting and that is why the objectives of the strategic plan will not be realized.

4. There has been lack of leadership at the SMT level and one would have to ask the following questions: Why have so many SMT members left under VC Chandra:

i. Greg Arrowsmith - HR Director – soon after joining USP

ii. Munish Malik  - Director Finance - left prematurely

iii. Susan Kelly - Deputy VC - left after dispute. She was paid a large sum by USP as compensation for the left over contract. Susan Kelly’s only fault was that she raised the issue of the murder-suicide of a student (Joytika) and the role of some senior staff who were close buddies of the VC (professor Sudesh Mishra). This matter has only been superficially investigated and swept under the carpet.

iv. Michael Gregory - Pro VC Planning and Quality - left in frustration. In this case VC Chandra committed abuse of office - where he authorized payment including tax paid on his behalf. This issue has also been swept under the carpet as well.

v. Biman Prasad - Dean FBE - Resigned early in his second term. The acting Dean appointed is just a senior lecturer has been there for the last 3 years. VC has not been able to recruit a dean for FBE in the last 3 years.

vi. Heather Stadel - new HR Director left early. No director and hardly any senior staff left.

vii. Professor John Bythell - just left his DVC position. Privately John Bythell was very upset with the dictatorial style of the VC. To cover up, he hurriedly got an old man appointed as Acting DVC for a year and we think the University beached Fiji government immigration policy.

viii. Mr. Adish Naidu - one of the best Director of Physical Planning and Facilities. He was wrongfully suspended. The first preliminary committee did not find anything against him but VC instituted another round of investigation (abuse of power and office) but still could not find anything. Adish Naidu was reinstated but after a while decided to leave the University and we believe a civil court action is underway and University will end up paying him compensation. We here now that VC has forced a appointment of a foreigner who is not even qualified over regional candidates.

ix. We are told that there are serious cracks in the SMT and it is likely that two senior SMT members could leave in frustration sooner than later. One of them is highly qualified regional Vice President from Tonga.

x. The Vice Chancellor has adopted and increasingly dictatorial style of management and in the process has made several blunders and has hidden them from the council. The case of the promotion of Dr. Anjeela Jokhan to Associate Professor is a scandal and has been swept under the carpet. The Vice Chancellor reportedly manipulated the procedure, changed rules and forced his way to promote her despite objection by SMT members like Deputy Vice Chancellor Susan Kelly - who provided a written objection. THIS IS A MAJOR SCANDAL- IN ANY UNIVERSITY THE VICE CHANCELLOR WOULD HAVE BEEN SACKED. (all the papers should be in the HR office)

xi. Apart from SMT members many senior professors have left the University in frustration. Tourism professor, psychology professor, geography professor, mathematics professor, economics head and professor and several others. Officially they will appear like they have normally left but many of them left in frustration. In the strategic plan, the target was to get 60 professors- we hardly have 20 full-time professors in the university and it is almost impossible for the University to recruit more professors in the next few years.

xii. It would be interesting to account for all the reviews that have been undertaken by consultants under VC Chandra. Every time he makes a blunder in a section such as HR, Finance etc. he orders a review and the recommendations of the review are never implemented. Just take the case of the HR section. Since his appointment as VC in 2008 VC Chandra has not been able to sort out that section. Recently he has decided again to review the HR section when many reviews and consultants have already done the review, made money and have left. Donors have happily funded these reviews in good faith but the results have been disappointing.

B. UGC Submission 2016-2018 - LIES AND EXAGGERATION

1. The University Council and stakeholders must scrutinize this document carefully because our analysis shows that it is actually a fraud on the University. Most of the responses are massaged to portray a good picture without any tangible outcomes. In some cases there are outputs but the outcome is still nowhere to be seen. Some key points to note and which needs further clarification and interrogation. They are as follows:

i. The projected surplus of $22.5 million over the next three years is an exaggeration and unachievable.

ii. For example recommendation 2.6 in the last UGC report on campus expansion. The response of the University is somewhat of a lie. The business plans for Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Lautoka and Labasa have all been exaggerated. While Kiribati campus is progressing - it had to go through new requests for funding. Solomon Islands campus site was not properly done and University pushed for an unrealistic location and is shifting the blame on the Solomon Islands Government when it should have known that the location was unrealistic. Lautoka campus land was traded for bigger land but the price for the new one was not negotiated well and USP now finds that the FSC wants a higher price. This project would be dead. So the response of the University to the last UGC recommendation has not been an honest one. This pattern of response is found in all the responses to the last UGC report.

iii. UGC and council members would remember that VC Chandra pushed for government contribution reduction over the last six years, playing politics with the regional governments. Having asked for the reduction in government funding for the last several years- he now comes up with the request that government contribution be increased by 10% for the next three years. This is an absolute blunder. Governments will now be burdened to increase their contribution in a big way. This shows poor planning and management of finances by VC Chandra.

iv. More worrying is his insistence that University could save $15 million dollars over the next three years. This is again exaggerated and design to hoodwink the council members. Our analysis shows that even a $5 million dollar saving in the next three years would be near impossible. In 2014 the surplus was only $300,000 - how he can save $15 million or even $5 million over three years is mindboggling.

v. Careful analysis of the budgets and surpluses for the last several years shows that the University actually misled the council on surpluses, income and expenditure.

vi. There seems to be confusion with the deferred revenue, projects funds and surpluses. These have not been clearly presented.

vii. On the expenditure side, under VC Chandra, expenditure has been poorly managed. Large amounts have been paid as legal fees to lawyers (John Apted, Munro Leys operates from USP), and compensation paid to staff who have taken the University to court - a thorough investigation on this aspect will reveal poor management and leadership.

viii. Several expenditures relating to buildings, repair and maintenance is done without careful planning and there are always over expenditures. Expatriates get the favour from the VC. Recently he has authorized a new flat for an expatriate Vice President as a special favour to him.

Project fund management. The biggest blunder USP made is with respect to the PICPA project and others. PICPA project had a budget of about $45-50 million but lack of leadership by USP and Vice Chancellor saw the Australian government withdrawing most of it (roughly F$40million). It is run by a small complement of staff who does consultancies at high rates and also receive pay. Arvind Patel – who is VC’s favourite (‘it needs to be noted that this academic had sexual, professional harassment cases, he even was investigated by FICAC for taking undeclared cash at the airport. He has never allowed anyone to be appointed/promoted.) His HoS appointment itself is against the staff policy

ix. is now acting Director and we are told – he receives close to $400,000 per year in addition to in-house consultancies he is getting.

x. Payment of inflated salaries to certain favourite staff - Husmuk Lal - Director TVET; Jai Karan, receiving commission we here - Arvind Patel and others who are close to VC.

xi. Engagement of foreign consultants - some of them are known personally to the Vice Chancellor. Some of them are retired people with not much to offer have been hired as consultants in a consistent manner and without any tender process. A fellow from Melbourne, called Frank Larkins travels business class on a regular basis to offer advice and on an astounding daily consultancy package.

xii. Value for money for these consultants is a key question and how much the University has spent on them and what value it has added or how it has led to any tangible benefits.

C. Concluding Comments
The University is at the crossroads. IN MANY WAYS IT HAS REACHED A CRISIS POINT. It could end up being a big failure if the Council and the UGC and governments do not scrutinize the financial, academic and governance aspects of the University. We could be heading towards a sustainable decline of the University. Only and independent inquiry into the operations of the University would bring out the real mismanagement and decline of the university in the last several years.

The council should investigate why the VC has a rule that no staff can take any complaint to the Council level. What if a senior SMT is being discriminated and the VC has an issue. Where does this SMT member go to?

For several years the Vice Chancellor has managed to feed exaggerated outputs and achievements of the University to the council and donors especially Australia and New Zealand. They need to raise some critical questions in an independent manner.

The Council may have been reduced to a rubber stamp by the VC because of the communication and his reporting to the Council based on what he wants from different sections to report.

An independent inquiry is the only way to resolve and find out the extent of the rot in the University.

Fiji government which is a largest contributor to the budget should ask Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) to investigate the abuse of office by the Vice Chancellor.

The Council must take charge after its meeting in June so that a proper evaluation is taken before the funding commitment for the next 3 years.