In the interests of transparency, I have already informed the public of the membership of the new Interim Council of the University of Papua New Guinea, together with its Terms of Reference.
Further, I wish to state that in drawing together the membership of the Council, I have given careful attention to ensuring an appropriate skills mix for the sound governance of this major public university. The membership comprises lawyers, accountants, auditors, experts in governance, human resources and business, and senior academics.
Members have been selected on the basis of their expertise and, particularly, their independence of any previous involvement in UPNG governance or management.
However, there are now sceptics trying to undermine the positive and long overdue changes that have been put in place at UPNG. As the Minister responsible for the Higher Education Sector I have made my decisions based what is the best for our Higher Education Institutions. I am not motivated by political desires or ambitions and, therefore, for the benefit of public understanding, I wish to point out some of the reasons why change was urgently required.
A series of disturbing documents presented to my office forced me to take action as the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology caring for UPNG and all other HEIs in the country. Examples drawn from the documents appear below:
- serious allegations concerning the questionable use of funds relating to the National Home Ownership Scheme and the purchasing of properties as reported in the Special Audit Report on the UPNG Home Ownership Scheme of 2002 appear never to have been satisfactorily addressed either by the University’s Council or Management;
- neither the University Council or Management responded to the recommendations of an External Quality Assessment Report for UPNG undertaken in March 2014;
- the UPNG Audit Committee Minutes #35 (4/2018) reveal that no action was taken by the University Council or Management to address the serious academic and financial concerns cited in the report of the Audit Sub-Committee;
- there is, as yet, no evidence of a University Council or Management response with regard to allegations of sexual harassment against a senior member of UPNG staff and students, comprehensively detailed in a letter of complaint received by my Office on 20 August, 2018;
- I am aware that some people are making negative statements concerning my decision but critics are encouraged to visit the UPNG to see for themselves the physical infrastructure of the University, for example the students’ dormitories where some are closed and others are in a deplorable condition. As a Minister who cares for our students, I want them to have better living conditions. These are our children and we must offer them the best we can in terms of their learning, teaching and living environments; and
- Very little was done by the previous government for the University. Even when we had so-called strong leaders, they did not take the necessary steps to address the many issues existing at the University. Therefore, I made the decision to do what others in the past had decided not to do. Rest assured, I am doing this not only for the current staff and students but also for those who will come after them to the University.
The list of concerns is long and the above examples represent just a few of the many serious issues the previous UPNG’s Council and Management have failed to address. Anyone in my position would act to protect the integrity of UPNG, its staff and students.
Let us not be blind to the fact that under the previous leadership of the University the learning and teaching environment had been compromised; our female staff and students were at risk and that public funds were improperly managed.
I am confident the Interim Council will reset the vision and mission of the University of Papua New Guinea as it acts to restore accountability and a culture of integrity at the University, essential steps in its reestablishment as a premier tertiary institution.
God bless Papua New Guinea!
HON PILA NININGI, LLB, MP
Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology