Over the past 2-3 weeks, many of you may have been addressed by some staff on matters supposedly pertaining to SINU. I have been privy to some of this, as relayed to me by the Chairman of SINU Council who has asked me to respond to allegations made by two staff purporting to be speaking on your behalf. Within the perimeters of protocol, I now wish to set some of the record straight on the affairs of SINU.
Let me preface this: all has not been well at SINU. Fraud, corruption, incompetence, and inefficiencies have been costing SINU millions of dollars, which has direct bearing on not only students and taxpayers, but also on staff in terms of availability of funds for staff betterment.
I. Matters raised in 2019
1. Some of the same people who have been talking to you had written to the Council Chair around August 2019, on mostly similar issues.
2. I had responded to each of those, point by point on 13 September 2019. I expected a response from the letter writers. But none has come so far
3. I presume you have been given access of my response by the letter writers. That would have been the ethical thing to do. But I would not be surprised if the response has not been tabled in your meeting, since each and every allegation made was found to be untrue, and indeed malicious and defamatory. It is important that you read that response to assess the facts and the motives of a handful of staff in misleading you.
4. In Appendix 1, I outline 2 matters only: one pertaining to procurement, and another pertaining to engagement of TAs.
II. June 2020 Letter
5. The June 2020 letter, written presumably on your instruction to the two writers, contains the following allegations:
· Spying of emails of staff.
· Abuses of Recruitment/Conflict of interest: EOVC, Internal Auditor, Manager CNP, Associate Prof Physics, Assist Professor in Library and Information Systems, Legal Officer, and Director of Properties & Facilities.
· Changes to Programme without proper procedure
· Payment of consultants with incomplete work
· Copy and paste of FNU policies, and
· Financial mismanagement — Abuse of procurement processes
6. I shall be addressing each of these allegations in detail and submit the same to the Council Chair later this week. Protocol requires that the response be provided to the Chair. Suffice to say here that the allegations are false, malicious, and defamatory. You will get an opportunity to view the facts and evidences once the Chair examines them. As University staff, you need to let that process be completed.
7. What I wish to address here is something more fundamental to SINU: Fraud, Corruption, and Financial abuse.
8. In 2018, the University Council decided to create an internal audit section at SINU to ensure that, inter alia, all processes and activities were compliant with law and policies. HR was tasked to implement this decision.
9. HR advertised the position of Internal Auditor on 14 August 2018. No application was received. HR took no further action to implement the decision of the Council from thereon.
10. The new Management team began implementing all decisions of the Council which were pending. It advertised the IA position on 24 June 2019. 4 applications were received, of which, according to the analysis done by the HR itself, only 1 met the MQR. That person was interviewed by 2 Directors and a Project Manager, and duly recommended for appointment, which was accepted by the VC. But prior to taking up his position, a few staff in HR began to investigate the appointee, and came up with an email correspondence with a previous employer of the appointee and made allegations of forgery. I examined this document, and adduced further information from that employer which established that each and every content of the letter was factual or verifiable, and that the letter alleged to be forged was actually sent by that institution’s HR department using formal communication channel of the HR department of the Institution.
11. Media was utilised to defame the appointee, at the instigation by the same group.
12. That no concrete action was taken to implement Council decision, and that once an appointment was made some HR staff began undermining the appointee, raises the serious issue of the reasons behind this.
13. The reasons became apparent when a payroll audit was carried out. This audit showed that all staff in HR in 2018 awarded themselves massive pay increments, as well as promoted themselves in blatant breach of processes and procedures. Here are the details:
14. While all other staff at SINU slogged and went through performance appraisal processes to claim increments and promotions, all HR staff in post in Mid 2018 gave themselves salary rises of between 29% and 82%. Accompanying this was massive “backpays”, which were also fraudulently calculated and obtained. The backpays ranged from $8,539 to a massive $30,826.
15. The guilty staff know that the report of the Payroll audit has been submitted to the Audit Committee of the Council, and it would be going to the Human Resources Committee of the Council for its deliberation. The report has revealed a number of other – totalling 16 in all – cases of abuse, fraud, and incompetence relating to Payroll.
16. For a discerning SINU staff, it would now be clear why certain staff who have been vocal in getting you agitated, have been trying to sabotage the implementation of the recommendations of the Internal Auditor on SINU’s payroll, and to defame the good name and work of the Internal Auditor.
17. It is for you to make up your mind whether you will be used by such fraudsters to hide their fraud.
18. There is another staff, from another section of SINU, who has been active in getting you agitated. This staff has had a habit of treating SINU as a gravy train, which has now been halted. He wants ‘business as usual’ where no one will question his abuse of SINU employment status, and financial abuse, causing SINU loss of funds.
19. There are a few others who have been vocal in your meetings. One such is a person from a section where a number of newly donated equipment have gone missing, presumed stolen; surcharge of the section heads is now under consideration by Management. The staff has motivation to mislead you.
20. Audits reveal a number of other weaknesses, as well as outright fraud at SINU.
21. Some years back, SINU invested heavily in an IT system, which was not functioning as expected. You all have been victims of the incompetence and gross negligence at the hands of some staff in managing this project. SINU has not been able to get its financial statements audited for 2017, 2018, and 2019 largely because of the problem caused by this. The audit by the Internal Auditor has identified the issues; the matter was successfully brought to a conclusion after the audit, with good relations again being established between the supplier and SINU, with changes on the project management team both at SINU’s end as well as at the side of the supplier.
22. In another case dealt with by the Internal Auditor, it was found that a very senior staff of SINU, with the support of some junior staff, was ordering goods using SINU documents, but receiving goods for his personal purposes. The concerned officer has been dismissed from the University following due processes. I dare advise you that there are many other similar cases.
23. Another investigation is ongoing where there are suspicions that some SINU staff have been collaborating with outside entities to defraud the Government of Solomon Islands of significant sums, estimated to run into millions of dollars, in duty.
24. At the start of the 2020 academic year, reports reached management that there were cases of fraud and corruption at the student services section. Management set up a Committee to investigate the reports. The investigation revealed fraud and corruption, involving staff as well as a few senior Student Union office holders; the immediate perpetrator was dismissed following due processes. The investigation also revealed alarming evidences of corruption and fraud, which Management is now dealing with.
25. Earlier during this year, the MEHRD carried out an investigation on SIG scholarship awards. This investigation revealed that fake scholarship letters were issued, which defrauded the SIG of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. Investigations revealed that over the last two years over 60 students were attending SINU with fake scholarships. Amongst others, the report has implicated SINU students and staff. SINU is in the process of dealing with this fraud and corruption.
26. A number of other matters of grave concern are being dealt with now. Needless to say, these involve some staff, who have been carrying out unethical, corrupt and fraudulent practices at SINU for a number of years. Management is obliged to deal with these and put an end to such practices, which harm SINU students, the SIG, parents, and the tax payers. These also bring significant disrepute to SINU as a University.
Let me advise you that it has been the intention of Management to deal with corruption, fraud, etc., firmly but quietly, without shaking the confidence of the public in SINU as an institution. But given the recent spate of mis-information going out to you, by a few staff at SINU, here I have provided you a small dossier of the massive fraud, corruption, and abuse that has been going on at SINU for a while now.
It is now upon each and every one of you to examine the facts, and the underlying motivation of the staff agitating you to participate in illegal actions.
Ultimately, in any organisation where such rampant fraud, corruption and incompetence prevail, only a handful are involved, but they are the vocal handful, who do everything possible to use all other staff to cause upheaval to keep their crimes hidden.
Each one of you will need to decide, at the personal level, whether you want a SINU that becomes a good quality University, bringing pride to you as an employee, to the students of SINU, and to the citizens as owners of the University, or one which will remain for long an institution fraught with corruption, fraud, nepotism, incompetence, and abuse, bringing continuing disrepute to the institution and to you as an employee of the institution.
For me, as the Vice Chancellor, there is no compromise on the matter: I and our senior leaders at SINU have been tasked to transform SINU into a credible university; we shall do this, and clean out corruption, fraud and incompetence. I know of the entrenched interests and corruption perpetrated by a handful of staff at SINU. I took up the Vice Chancellor’s position to help build SINU into a clean and credible University, not to roll in the same business-as-usual environment. I hope that you will support this endeavour. Ultimately, however, the choice is yours.
Appendix 1: Partial response to the allegations made in August 2019.
a. I paraphrase the allegation made in italics, and my response, on the matter of procurement:
i. The Constance pressure to purchase materials which are provided locally, from Fiji, which poses the question, ‘which country do we intend in developing its economy”.
SINU is, by law, required to ensure efficient use of its resources. All SINU staff are obliged to procure materials at the lowest price for the same quality. The above allegation, I believe, comes from the case of office holders at SINU asking the VC to procure the following materials at a price of over SBD110,000; the same items were obtained from Bondwell in Fiji for less than SBD30,000 (including all freight etc., costs). As is now on SINU’s official record, one small transaction saved SINU over SBD80,000, representing a savings of 70% on the recommended purchase.
It is, possibly unknown to most employees of SINU, but abundantly clear to me and staff in my office, that SINU has been losing, under the past procurement practices, millions of dollars in bad procurement practices and decisions. There are certain office holders at SINU who are entrusted to ensure that SINU funds are not wasted. These office holders have remained negligent, possibly even criminally negligent.
It should now be also placed on record that under S5(5)(c) of the SINU Act, SINU is “exempt from liability to pay any tax, levy, duties or rates under any law”. Yet, under the leadership of officers who champion the status quo, SINU has been procuring a large percentage of goods and services at post-tax rates. This has cost SINU significant sums of money, which I estimate to be over $30-50m over the past 6 years. The ‘business as usual’ approach, which the letter signatories are apparently promoting, is responsible for such massive losses.
b. I paraphrase the allegation made in italics, and my response, on the matter of engaging TAs:
i. No advertising and only self-approval of TA positions and mandating all to follow suite once he has given approval and appointment of the TAs.
This statement is patently untrue; see Appendix I as an example countering the statement made by the letter writers. [I note that one of the letter signatories is the person who herself placed the ads for public consumption. The fact that she signed a letter which contains statements which she should herself have known to be untrue is a matter of concern. It is clear that either the person mislead the other signatories, or she was placed under duress to place her signature on statements which are untrue.]
For the record, please note that TAs are relied on when an institution needs the services of experts to carry out specific activities which cannot be done at all, or to a satisfactory standard, by the existing workforce. SINU is bound by the policy on TAs; I refer you to the policy document ‘Technical Assistance Procurement Guidelines’. This makes provision for direct appointment of TAs. On examination of this policy document, you will find that no policy breach has occurred in procuring the TAs. If you still feel that there has been a breach, I invite you to submit the section of this policy, or for that matter any policy, which has been breached in the recruitment of TAs. …
[Some staff in HR engaged, without any authority, a person to carry out SINU staff on ‘minute taking’ at SBD5,000 per day. Queries made on this engagement have still not been addressed by HR. The question asked of HR was: SINU offers courses relating to secretarial studies, including minute taking; why were SINU staff not engaged. A memo was sent by DHR, which stated that SINU staff did not want to offer the minute taking training for other SINU staff, and that SINU staff would not attend training when local SINU experts are engaged to do this training. Requests for documentation on both these have still not been complied with. The cardinal logic of engaging TAs is: engage TAs when there is no expert within, or when the expert within is incapable of carrying out the required work. In this case, HR engaged an outside expert when SINU experts were and are still available. The payment of $5,000 is just $250 per day short of the absolute maximum of the premium rate for “TAs with out-standing performance history or for scarce skills” + over 15 years of experience in the role. No documentation giving support to any of these criteria was provided when the document was returned for want of documentation. I believe such documents do not exist. This is abuse of office. It is also an abuse of trust in a union which, instead of questioning such abuse by staff at SINU, actually support such breach of policy and abuse of office.
Vice Chancellor, Ganesh Chand