UPNG staff continue protest

The University of PNG’s sit-in protest, which started yesterday, continues today as staff voluntarily ‘lay down their tools’ in protest of recent decisions.

Since this morning, academics, support staff and students gathered at the Drill Hall to await a response from the Prime Minister’s office regarding their grievances.

The National Academic Staff Association (NASA) requested the Prime Minister to intervene and immediately:

  1. Install Dr Frank Griffin as the duly-appointed vice chancellor of UPNG;
  2. Reinstate the duly-appointed registrar, Dr Peter Petsul; 
  3. Remove the interim council, especially chancellor Jeffrey Kennedy, pro-chancellor Jerry Wemin and acting vice chancellor Dr Kenneth Sumbuk; and
  4. The Minister to institute a new, interim neutral council manned by Papua New Guineans of high standing and reputation and know how to run universities. Furthermore, such individuals must not have a conflict of interest or allegations against them.

NASA queried the changes made by the Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, believing them to be driven by malice and self-interest.

NASA said Dr Griffin, an eminently qualified Papua New Guinean, was appointed through a “rigorous four-stage vetting process” which has involved all senior staff of the university.

After a legally-binding contract was signed between Dr Griffin and UPNG, he resigned from his job overseas and was about to commute to take his post when the Minister took the decision to appoint Dr Sumbuk.

DHERST Minister Pila Niningi said he had to act following allegations of mismanagement and malpractice, among others, at UPNG.

NASA working committee member and head of anthropology, Dr Linus Digim’Rina, described the allegations leveled against UPNG staff as a ‘red herring’.

“Why don’t the minister come out clearly and pointedly to the spot where the mistake is? I think it’s quite unfair to the image of the university for the minister to continue to peddle that generalisation across the board.”

Regarding claims of sexual favours by lecturers, Dr Digim’Rina said moves were underway by end of last year to start the investigation process.

“If he is so concerned, as the minister responsible, he should have come down straight to the point. It’s not difficult, it’s not far away. Waigani office down to Waigani campus is not that far. Just drive down and pull out the culprit.”

NASA further said Dr Sumbuk has applied twice for the VC post but was unsuccessful on both counts because during his stint as the Pro Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development, he was in charge of various capital works projects that resulted in “abysmal failure”.

Furthermore, Dr Digim’Rina said since January 2019, the so-called interim council…only gave directions through the media but little to nothing through circulars and relevant university governance mechanisms, "as per the by-laws and statutes of UPNG”.

“So far, the university academic community have only received three circulars: One from the suspended registrar issued on January 29th, and which got him suspended, and two others from February 11th, alas, from the office of the Interim Chancellor.

“Two circulars were issued relating to their belated controversial appointment, and the suspension of the registrar, and we might add, at a worst time – beginning of an academic calendar!”

The voluntary withdrawal of services will continue until their grievances are addressed.

(Some of the staff members at the meeting this morning at Drill Hall, UPNG main campus)

Carmella Gware