Students and staff of the University of the South Pacific (USP) were all smiles earlier this evening as they flocked in numbers to celebrate the return of their Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandy Price to Fiji.
The welcoming ceremony at USP’s Japan Pacific ICT Multipurpose Theatre has been labelled ‘one for the books’ as it marked the dawn of a new learning era for students in the region.
A Fijian traditional welcome ceremony was accorded to the Vice Chancellor Professor Ahluwalia and his wife by the USP Fijian Students Association.
This is the first time that the head of USP is back in Fiji after the Bainimarama-led government issued a prohibition order against him and his wife in 2021 and deported them out of the country.
But following the outcome of the election of Prime Minister on the floor of Parliament on 24th December, 2022, the Head of the Coalition Government Honourable Sitiveni Rabuka moved quickly to remove the prohibition order to ensure that exiled Professor Ahluwalia was free to return to Fiji.
While delivering his address, Prime Minister Rabuka shared how very powerful that “one vote in Parliament on the eve of Christmas, last year”, allowed the Vice Chancellor back into the country.
“Imagine how much has been achieved with the power of that one vote, the one vote has made it possible for me to get back and sit at the Prime Minister’s chair,” he said.
“That one vote has allowed Fiji to say for Professor Aluwahila to come back home. It also gave me the authority to ask President Taneti Maamau and its leaders of our neighbours in Kiribati to come back to the Pacific Islands Forum.”
Prime Minister Rabuka, at the same time, apologised to Professor Ahluwalia and his wife for the way they were treated following the issuance of the prohibition order.
“I want to apologize, it doesn’t matter who did it, for as far as the world was concerned, Fiji, did it to you. Thank you for agreeing to come back. To quote the words in the Fijian ceremony, we’ve been orphans since you left, now we have our parents back,” Prime Minister Rabuka told Professor Ahluwalia.
“I want to encourage you Professor and your team to break new grounds in bringing people together here in Fiji and the Pacific and continue to promote regional cooperation.
“This is a great occasion to celebrate and I am glad to be here tonight.”
Professor Ahluwalia, in his address, thanked the Prime Minister and the Coalition Government for their unwavering support.
“I personally want to thank the Prime Minister for he has really transformed the nation with the power of one vote, what an accomplishment,” he stated.
“That also shows the power of humility. With his humility and his capacity for forgiveness, he has not only moved this nation but other nations which we hold dear to our university.
“Our university will do our best to work with the Government.”
Professor Ahluwalia was exiled for 107 weeks.
“I never thought that this day would come. Today is the day to celebrate. From the USP Council and me, we are deeply appreciative to be here,” he added.
“I also thank the staff and students for their undying support. Over 16 years, academic freedom in this institution did not exist. I have always carried academic freedom and our university will stand by that principle. We will continue to fight for the right things here at USP and I am here to serve you and the nation.”