Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch has appealed to Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to restrain the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology from further disrupting operations at the University of Papua New Guinea.

“The actions of the Minister have led to the development of a problem where there was none,” he said.

The Minister for HERST Mr Pila Niniga claimed in an advertorial on Friday 1st March that, “very little was done by previous governments for the University”, but forgot that the PNC government, of which he is a minister, has been the government for the last seven years. So who is he blaming?

Mr Pruaitch said the Minister’s proposal to terminate the Council and change the senior management of the University at the start of the semester was totally uncalled for and has now created an even worse problem of staff revolt and refusal to go to work.

Mr Pruaitch said the Higher Education Minister had frozen funding at levels that do not recognise the many thousands of additional students these universities now enrol.

“The Minister recently rejected plans by UPNG to minimise financial problems by increasing student fees and left the university’s finances in a precarious situation with declining education standards,” he said.

Mr Pruaitch said financial problems facing PNG’s tertiary institutions bore similarities to the difficulties facing primary and secondary schools throughout the country because of the government’s failed Tuition Fee Free Policy.

Schools in virtually every province have been forced to survive without adequate government funding, which is almost never dispatched on time. The government has threatened to sack school principals who raise project fees to run their schools in a normal manner.

He said: “I appeal to the Prime Minister not to turn a blind eye to the funding woes of universities and tertiary institutions, whilst demanding performance and quality output from them.

“Minister Nininga’s explanations are an attempt to cover up the failings of his much-publicised online student selection strategy and his failure to address the funding plight of all tertiary institutions.

“Reasons used by the Minister to justify his action clearly show his contradictory approach to managing Higher Education. The Ministers claimed that Council members were selected based on their expertise and independence from previous involvement in UPNG governance and management.

“Yet he appointed a council member who was in the previous council, and in fact has been a council member for the last 14 years. This individual is understood to have violated ethical standards and academic processes to integrate a Human Resource organisation he owned with the School of Business and Public Policy. The Minister cannot claim to be ignorant of this situation.”

The Opposition leader said the newly appointed Vice Chancellor was a political appointment whose application for the job had been rejected as “unsuitable” by the Search Committee.

Mr Pruaitch further questioned the high moral ground the Minister was claiming for his actions, when he accused the previous Council of not dealing with allegations of sexual harassment, while turning a blind eye to the appointment of a senior manager in another university, who has been involved in serious sexual harassment.

“The Minister’s so-called reform agenda in higher education is hypocritical and has little to do with good governance.

“The heavy-handed manner with which the Minister intervened and removed the UPNG Council,terminated the duly appointed Registrar, and left stranded the duly appointed Vice Chancellor, Prof Frank Griffin., are not signs of good governance. Prof Griffin was replaced with a person who was an unsuccessful candidate for the post – an action that is the exact opposite of the good governance the Minister claims to be pursuing.

“The Minister has now created unnecessary and costly litigation problems as well as uncalled for instability among staff and students and the wider university community.

“The fact that there is no representation from academic and technical staff and students in decision-making in the current UPNG Council goes against the spirit of good governance that the minister claims to be putting in place.

The opposition leader called on the Prime Minister and the government to put a halt to bullying tactics and to place the national interest ahead of political expediency.  

March 5, 2019