PM must set uni on right path

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday March 5th, 2014

 THE controversy surrounding reinstated PNG University of Technology vice-chancellor Dr Albert Schram is far from over.

It took a new twist this week when the Unitech student body petitioned the O’Neill Government to honour the recommendations of the Sevua commission of inquiry report.

It seems Schram has been blacklisted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration and cannot re-enter the country until he gets clearance from the Government.

The Students’ Representative Council has demanded that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill immediately intervene and ensure the way is cleared for their vice chancellor to return by the end of this month. The student leaders issued a 48-hour ultimatum starting yesterday to the prime minister to guarantee Schram’s safety by granting him the right of safe passage from overseas to the Unitech campus in Lae.

The SRC says the new university council can move to terminate Schram’s employment contract if he fails to resume duties as the vice-chancellor before March 31.

The student leaders allege Schram is being blocked from re-entering the country by political influences and individuals against him. They say that despite the recommendations of the Sevua report, there is a likely ploy to prevent Schram from returning to Unitech.

Furthermore, the university council’s overwhelming decision to reinstate Schram has been conveyed to the ap­propriate immigration au­thorities to process his employment visa and other necessary requirements but there is still no evidence of developments to date.

With less than a month before the deadline, the Unitech students are becoming very concerned and anxious about the final outcome of this issue that has been most disruptive to their studies and academic performances in the past year.

Following the appointment of the new council headed by Sir Nagora Bogan and the commission of inquiry led by former National Court judge Mark Sevua, the students felt that the worst was over.

However, Schram’s absence at the start of the academic year and the delay in his return are starting to worry the students, hence their first move to demand a rapid response from O’Neill. 

They are entitled to an ex­planation by the relevant government authorities a­bout the prolonged delay in processing Schram’s employment visa and other necessary requirements. 

The prime minister needs to reassure the students that there is no ploy within political and bureaucratic circles to prevent Schram from returning before March 31.

It is imperative O’Neill and his Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato give the green light as further delays are likely to raise serious doubts about the transparency of PNG’s immigration process. The prime minister must realise that a no-show by Schram before March 31 will make a complete mockery of his decision to resolve the Unitech debacle by appointing the new university council and the Sevua commission of inquiry.

As far as Sir Nagora and his council members are concerned, the reinstated vice-chancellor is no longer persona non grata and his presence at the university is crucial for a smooth start to the academic year.

There is little or no doubt about Schram’s popularity among Unitech students who have been pushing fervently for his return and have been at loggerheads with the former university council over their decision to remove him.

Commission of inquiry chairman Sevua cleared doubts about Schram by blasting the former council and administration for using him as a smokescreen to cover up for their wrongdoings. 

Sevua said several serious allegations were contained in his report and the onus was on the Government to act on its recommendations. 

“The prime minister and the government should do the right thing by the students, by the staff, by the parents and by the country by referring to the recommendations to the relevant government authorities that we have.”

As the former judge said, the onus is on the O’Neill Government to get the university back on track and that should include bringing back its popular vice-chancellor before the deadline expires.