FIJI WANTS TO SET UP RIVAL LAW SCHOOL TO VANUATU'S

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PORT VILA, Vanuatu (June 3, 1998 - Vanuatu Trading Post/Pasifik Nius/ Niuswire)---The Fijian government is looking at pulling Fijian students out of the Law School in Vanuatu following a Cabinet decision on Tuesday after Fijian Law students here have reportedly grossly exaggerated claims of problems in Vila following an incident outside Le Flamingo nightclub a few weeks ago, Trading Post reports.

It has been known for a while that lobbying had increased in Fiji to move the regional USP Law School back to Fiji because of the large number of Fijians studying in Vanuatu.

Students had been complaining of the cost of living and insufficient facilities.

After Trading Post broke the news following reports received from Fiji in April, the government voiced their concern that USP was a regional university and not a Fijian university.

Dr. Wadan Nardey, a Fijian MP, wrote a scathing criticism on why the law school should be moved from Vanuatu to Fiji in an article in the Trading Post on April 1 which was subsequently attacked by the Law School students.

Dr. Nardey said that the Law School was too expensive for Vanuatu to maintain and that as Fiji funded 70 percent of USP and had the majority of law students here it should be based in Fiji. He stated that the Fiji government must take a firm stand on the issue.

The Fiji Government seems to have already taken a decision to support the relocation of the Law School based on an official statement from the government on Tuesday following a Cabinet decision.

The statement clearly shows that Fijian students in Vanuatu have exaggerated problems to government officials back in Fiji and have distorted claims of the lack of facilities and harassment by locals in Vila towards Fijians.

The press statement from the Fijian Government dated June 2 stated: "After receiving a report from the Minister for Education, Hon. Taufa Vakatale on the situation of Fiji students studying at the USP Law Campus in Vanuatu, the Fiji Cabinet has decided today that Government should explore with the Central University of Queensland which has a campus in Suva, the possibility of including in its Fiji courses a law degree program.

"In that event, the Fiji government will redirect its students to this Law Degree Program to be undertaken in Fiji.

"In taking this decision, Ministers in Cabinet have been very concerned at reports of inadequate security provided by the USP authorities for the campus at Port Vila, and in particular for the personal safety and security of students studying there.

"There have been reports of law students being constantly harassed by local residents. Clearly, from reports received from Fiji students, the overall environment at the Port Vila campus is not considered conducive to law students there, especially those from overseas.

"Another problem that has been experienced by our law students is the lack of availability from within Port Vila of enough law firms where students can be attached for practical experience. Much of the problem is that in many cases, the French language has to be spoken in these law firms, and are therefore of little help to the students.

"In order to take up Fiji's concerns, the Cabinet has asked the Minister for Education, Hon. Taufa Vakatale to travel to Vanuatu to have discussions with the Minister of Education there. She is also to take up the Fiji Government's concern with USP authorities."

The Fijian minister is due to arrive in Vanuatu with the Vice Chancellor of USP this week to discuss the issue with Education Minister Joe Natuman.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the University of South Pacific Council, Mr. S. Siwatibau confirmed to the Trading Post this week that the Law School will remain in Vanuatu despite pressure from Fiji to relocate.

He advised that the question of the Law School was not discussed at the USP council meeting in Tonga last week and "was not an issue, so will remain in Vanuatu as long as Vanuatu chooses."

Reports from Fiji newspapers highlighted a recent incident at Le Flamingo nightclub which made headlines in Fiji after a student was hospitalized.

Trading Post was advised by Le Flamingo manager François that the incident took place a few weeks ago and was started by the Fijian students who were trying to cause problems with former Public Prosecutor and a High Chief on Emae Island, John Timakata, who had been seeing a married Fijian woman which had resulted in her marriage breaking up and her husband returning to Fiji.

Three or four students were involved. When a fight broke out in the nightclub, security stepped in and got the students outside where punches were exchanged. Timakata and a former security guard at Le Flamingo were also told to leave the club. They had all been drinking.

The fight escalated outside in the Centrepoint car park opposite the nightclub where more ni-Vanuatu joined in and one local was knocked out by a Fijian and taken to the hospital.

The Fijians started walking down the street when a group of ni-Vanuatu, angered over the injury to one of them, set upon the Fijians near La Cave du Gourmet and put one of them in hospital.

In a strange twist to the story, Chief John Timakata, who caused the problem in the first place, went to help the students and picked them up in a bus to escape the growing crowd who were calling for blood against the heavily outnumbered students. None of this other side of the story was mentioned in the Fiji press reports at the time.

Local lawyers agree that there is a problem for law students wanting practical experience as in Vila there are eight legal firms of which three are small single lawyer firms only and the other five employ 12 lawyers between them.

The university has allowed for this in its training and has run legal clinics as well as attachments to the Public Prosecutor and Public Solicitors office to help alleviate the problem. The criticism of the use of French language is not correct as only two of the legal firms employ French-speaking lawyers and only Roger Derobillard who works by himself and is only in Vanuatu occasionally is predominantly French-speaking.

The Trading Post understands that the University of Queensland does not have a law program so it would have to be set up from scratch at great expense and it would not be supported by USP.

Currently there are approximately 59 students from Fiji at the law school out of a total of 142 law students from around the Pacific, of which 24 are sponsored by the government in Fiji. According to Chancellor Lynch the Law school would still be viable even if Fiji pulled out as long as other governments continued to support USP in the region.

Professor Lynch has welcomed the visit to Vanuatu by the Fijian Minister for Education saying: "We are confident that she will ascertain the true facts of the situation and advise government accordingly"

Title -- 1423 EDUCATION: Fiji wants to set up rival law school Date -- 3 June 1998 Byline -- None Origin -- niusedita@pactok.net.au" target="_blank">Pasifik Nius Source -- Vanuatu Trading Post, tpost@vanuatu.com.vu, 3/6/98 Copyright -- VTP Status – Unabridged This document is for educational and personal use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source for reprinting. This PASIFIK NIUS service is provided by the niusedita via the Journalism Program, University of the South Pacific, and Journalism Studies, University of PNG. Please acknowledge Niuswire: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.pactok.net.au/docs/nius/

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