‘USP application delays court case’

The old main enterance of University of South Pacific at Laucala Bay. Picture: RAMA

The Employment Relations Court has found the University of the South Pacific’s application seeking “further and better particulars” from a former senior staff member who was terminated had delayed his court case against the institution.

Former South Pacific Technical and Further Education CEO Hasmukh Lal is suing the USP for his termination on May 22, 2020 and for the leaking of a report prepared by USP vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia titled “Issues, Concerns and Breaches of Past Management and Financial Decisions” that contained allegations against Mr Lal.

The USP had applied to the court seeking “further and better particulars” from Mr Lal on various parts and aspects of his claim, including what words were used by VC Ahluwalia when he allegedly tried to blackmail and coerce Mr Lal.

“The plaintiff’s (Mr Lal) position is clear that since there are no minutes of the meeting, the exact words spoken cannot be identified,” stated Justice Anjala Wati in her October 20 ruling.

“I do not think it is possible for anyone to remember the exact words of every communication or conversation unless there is an audio or other form of accurate recording.

“Why is there a need for the exact words spoken? I do not see that it will make a difference to the defendant’s ability to present its defence.”

The USP had also wanted to know from Mr Lal details of the aspersions against him in the report. “If the VCP is the author of the report, which is not denied by the defendant (USP), then it is for the defendant to see whether any matters stated therein is an aspersion on the plaintiff’s character.

“It is not necessary for the plaintiff (Mr Lal) to point out what contains aspersions and what does not.

“Further, the matter is largely for the court to decide on whether any comments in the report casts aspersions on the plaintiff.”

On the leakage of the report, Justice Wati said Mr Lal was not able to answer whether the VCP leaked the report as he had no knowledge of who did it.

“All that he knows is that the report was leaked. The VCP should know how it was leaked as he was the person who had the report.

“He has the authority to call for that investigation as to who leaked the report.”

The USP was ordered to pay Mr Lal $1500 in court costs and the case will be called again before Justice Wati after the discovery of documents.

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