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Sunday, 27 May 2018

A Sad Ending: wrongful dismissal, malicious prosecution and unlawful detention

My Arrest

Now that I have safely left Papua New Guinea, I feel free to write about what happened after my arrest at Jacksons Airport on 1 June coming into the country, and all those things that were not reported in the national media. 

Relief: safe arrival in Singapore in transit to Europe

As Vice Chancellor (President) for the PNG University of Technology appointed for 2 terms from 2012 to 2018, I worked with 7 Ministers of Higher Education, and 3 different Chancellors. It has been a tumultuous ride, because in the 5 years I was on campus, there were 4 attempts to dismiss me mostly orchestrated by members of the government and their allies in the University council.


My achievements as Vice Chancellor in this period speak for themselves. Most significantly, after an independent account went over all the university accounts, we achieved an unqualified, clean audit report by the Auditor General for the first time in over 2 decades, and became one of the handful of state agencies with this distinction. This has been my commitment to the UNITECH community from the outset.

We completed 13 major infrastructure projects on campus, restored the reputation of the University internationally by signing 23 agreements. This allowed us to send 77 PNGeans abroad for training of which 27 for doctoral programs, of a total of about 150. Despite this internationalisation and professional accreditation strategy which required our presence elsewhere, we sent over 10,000 emails per year, chaired over 60 meetings on campus per year, spent each year over 8 months on campus and in country. To be accused by former colleagues of being dishonest, lazy and incompetent is truly bizarre in the light of these facts. Might does not make right, and a lie does not become true the more you repeat it.

The 5 years I was on campus, however, there were 4 attempts to dismiss me, an almost yearly exercise. The first time was for disclosing confidential information, then for false pretence, then for inciting ethnic tensions, and finally again for false pretence. This last time, after receiving an infamous catalogues of bizarre and baseless allegations, my wife and I decided we had enough, and when the Council’s lawyer came with a proposal to settle the matter, I accepted this on 18 April 2018. I know when I am being insulted, and there is no point arguing with people who have closed their minds to reason.

Now this all came to a sad ending, where the childish instincts of "running the foreign VC out of the county" of a few hotheads overtook wiser considerations of the cooler heads. Here are the facts. On 1  May 2018, while RETURNING to the country on a tourist visa, I was detained at Jacksons airport in Port Moresby, not while attempting to exit the country as reported by the media. The police took my passport to assure I would turn up for an interview at the police station the next day, but then refused to return it and did not charge me with any crime within 24 hours as is required.

The next day on 2 May, the Honorary Consul of the Netherlands, Stan Joyce, came personally to demand the return of my passport which by international law must occur within 24 hours. The police waited him out, and held on to my passport until they charged me on 7 May for “false pretence” alleging I had presented a false doctorate with the purpose of obtaining employment in the country. I was processed as a suspect at the Boroko Police station, and let out the same day on a police bail of K2,000. I have never been charged for any crime, so it was a new experience for me.

The incident has cause a stir in the international press, most notably in the Australian and in Times Higher Education in the UK, a leading industry publication (see reference below). Prof. Stephen Howes of the Australian National University  who is one of the leaders for the governance precinct, the academic collaboration between Australian and PNG, wrote: "These developments are outrageous, damaging, and scary". In my home town in Verona Italy it was even front page news.

Translated: Professor from Verona captive in New Guinea


Verification of Academic Credentials

Supposedly only the production of an original doctorate would proof my innocence. That is nonsense. The verification of academic credentials, however, NEVER rests on the production of an original, but ALWAYS involves direct communication with the originating University and higher education agencies in the country. I produced a certified copy for the police which was sent directly sent to the Honorary Consul of the Netherlands. 

The current Secretary of the Department of Higher Education and his predecessor before him, went through a rigorous verification process communicating  by email, by speaking to the University and communicating with the professors members of the thesis committee who were present during my thesis defence. This should have put the matter to rest, but instead confusion was allowed to prevail.

Some journalists contacted these same professors, and in fact I published in 2014 one of their emails on this blog, hoping that would be the last word on the issue. I also published my book published with Cambridge University Press in 1997, which is refers to (on page viii) and is based on my doctoral thesis from 1994. I have answered all other questions raised regarding my doctorate, and none of those questions prove any wrongdoing. The police however refused to acknowledge any of this evidence, although they received it.

Those insisting on production of an original in the University Council or police are either terribly ignorant and happy to live in a world of incorrect information and delusion, or acting in bad faith. PNG Universities know very well how verification of academic credentials work, since they produce those copies for all graduates who lost their original. I lost my original and the University in Florence keeps the only original. I obtained a certified copy of this original, in November 2012 when Council requests, in January 2013 for the Sevua Investigation, in March 2015 a hard copy when Council requested (which was subsequently removed of my personnel file, which I was not allowed to access), and in May 2018 when police charged me for false pretence. In addition, the official record of the University shows I defended and obtained my PhD on 24 November 1994.

The National Court Has Spoken

After the hearing in the National Court on 22 May we received the headline that we needed: “Schram allowed temporarily to leave the country”. We did not get the headline we deserved, however, which is “Schram first wrongfully dismissed and then unlawfully charged for false pretence”.

In his judgement on 22 May on the bail conditions, the judge in the National Court – the second highest court in the country - was deliberately explicit on the substantive case. He said that there is not a shred of primary evidence suggesting I have falsified anything, while there is overwhelming evidence that in fact my doctorate is genuine. Finally, an independent judge has said what any adult with common sense could have concluded since the complaints were made in 2012. Why did it take so long?

The judge blasted the police and the complainant Ralph Saulep, and wrote in his judgement: "In spite of this overwhelming evidence (presented by Dr. Schram) Mr. Saulep continues to dispute the authenticity of the applicant's doctorate degree. I find this ridiculous and difficult to fathom especially when neither he or the police are in receipt of evidence from the European University Institute in Florence Italy, confirming their allegations and suspicions". The judge continues: "The current charge, with respect, lacks the primary evidence to prove the elements of falsity. Whether they will have such evidence by the 12th of June 2018 (the next hearing) is anyone's guess. The reality is that they have failed to do so when the allegations were raised in 2012".

In fact this happened earlier: the late judge Mark Sevua who headed the official investigation into the former and deposed Council practices, concluded the same and said my appointment as Vice Chancellor had been "lawful". It is clear that the complaint from 2012 had been superseded by later investigations, and should have been withdrawn. You can not be charge with false pretence and lawfully appointed at the same time, that is a logical impossibility.

Since the police since 2012 when the complaint was filed by the former Pro Chancellor Ralph Saulep have failed to produce any evidence, and in fact can not do so because there is no basis for it in fact and in truth. In a state of law it is not up to the accused to prove his innocence, but for the police to prove substantial primary evidence of a crime and proof guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The judge regretted I had been put in a position to prove my innocence, but pragmatically accepted the situation and my commitment to proof my innocence: "The refusal by Mr. Saulep and the police will now cause the appliance to use his own expense to prove his innocence". It stand to reason therefore the case will be thrown out at some point in time, and my innocence will be established. There will probably be no reason  for me to return to the country, if I send the legalized documents and the case proceeds without further diversions.

Before I am charged with “disclosing state secrets” here, I am not disclosing any secrete information, the full text of the judgement will soon be available like all judgements on PACLII and the draft was given to the journalists present at the hearing, who apparently were too scared to publish it.

All this is of course damaging for police and the complainant - former Pro Chancellor Ralph Saulep, dismissed with the former Council member for mismanagement by the Minister in 2012 - and the University Council, which dismissed me for no valid reason. The lack of evidence had already indicated earlier by Keith Jackson. Since the conditions for the settlement with the Council, which included no criminal prosecution, have now been violated, I do not consider myself bound to this agreement. In any case, for justice to prevail and the people of PNG to be liberated from police abuse, I must describe all facts and matters as they are.

In a time when PNG is looking to attract more tourists and host numerous delegations for APEC meetings, this case is hugely damaging for the country. Numerous and continuous violations of human rights by the police force are severely criticised in the recent report form Human Rights Watch in New York. If any tourist can be arrested for not being able to prove anything about his/her identity (birth, credentials etc.) and subsequently charged on "false pretence", and then having to incur costs and waste time to prove his/her innocence at their own expense, we must warn all tourists and visitors to visit PNG at their own risk. What happened to me, can happen to anyone, and it can easily become a shake-down scam for police without scruples.

Joys

From 2014 to 2016, though I had 3 wonderful years when Sir Nagora Bogan, a wise Chancellor (Chairman) who kept the politicians out of my hair, and focused all our collective energies on the development and efficient, transparent accountable management of the University. 

Despite these recent experiences of politically driven persecution, my wife and I love the wonderful people of Papua New Guinea. We did not come to PNG to get rich and worked on local salaries paid in the national currency, but we came to make a difference. Although many things we tried, failed, our records of achievements speak for themselves.

So far, I have lived in 7 different countries in Latin America and Europe, but the people of PNG are the most warm, welcoming and generous people I have had the honour of meeting. After 6 years, for example, we have 6 wonderful young men who call us father and mother, 3 babies named after us, and I have 4 new brothers subsistence farmer or fishermen living in villages like 80% of the population. In addition, we have been adopted as Chiefs (for external affairs) in the Busama Village, which is arguably a greater achievement than being appointed Vice Chancellor. Though  quite penniless, this new family is not after our money, but genuinely included us in their families, and communities.

Sorrows

Regrettably, politics crept into the University governance in 2016 with a deadly combination of external meddling and toxic internal administrative internal politics, when Sir Nagora Bogan resigned as Chancellor (Chairman) of the University Council (Board) of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology at the end of 2016. 

In 2016, we dealt as best as we could with major shortages in funding, and a terrible student crisis instigated from outside the university. The University crisis in 2016, which lead to the students wounding and killing each other on the campus of the PNG University of Technology, and the shooting of students on the campus of the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby was a direct consequences of politicians and aspiring politicians using students to fight their proxy fights before the elections in 2017. A similar thing happened on the campuses in 2011 the year before the 2012 election, and let's hope it does not repeat itself in 2021.

In 2017, it got worse with a battle for the control of the development rights of Uni-City on campus land, and land held by the University Development & Consulting Ltd. the commercial arm of the University, now chaired by Sam Koim. First the two Australian consultants, the urban planner and the financial consultant were pushed out, and then apparently it was my turn. The transparency in the expression of interest process has now been lost, and it is rumoured that the development of this "prime real estate" will now occur with the support of Chinese government companies.

The Need for Truth Telling

The feeling of being object of political prosecution is strangely familiar to me and my wife, after my earlier experience of being deported  3 times from Papua New Guinea in 2013. There is nothing quite like it. Entering a parallel world where lies are truth, and all people are blind, deaf and mute. In this world, you are completely along because there is no point in trying to have a reasonable conversation with anyone. A truly terrifying world, but the truth will set us free.

In 2013, while holding a current work visa for Papua New Guinea, I was denied entry twice on 8 March and 9 May and deported to Australia. Only the third time, was my visa finally cancelled and was I allowed entry on a 7 day business visa for a specific purpose. My deportation was done with the consent of someone at the highest level government, and given the circumstances at the time may actually have enhanced my personal safety considerably, or possibly even have saved my life. While we must recognise each country has the sovereign right to deny anyone entry, there must be a process in place, and the visa must be cancelled formally.

We all have two eyes to see reality and two ears to hear what others say, but only one mouth to speak the truth. If one eyes, or one ear fails, we can still be part of the world around us and work hard to make a positive difference. When our only mouth fails, however, we are condemned to live in a world created for us by others, and unable to control anything. Only the truth will make us free.


Telling the truth for me is not about revenge, nor is it not about an individual case. A world where those in leadership position are in a state of delusion and denial, and base their decision on incorrect information, the rule of law can not possibly be upheld. A world with no consistently applied rules is bound to descend into chaos and anarchy. As a higher education leader, such a world makes higher education unnecessary and redundant because qualification and competence do not matter, and academic credentials have no meaning.

What’s next?

As I mentioned above, my wife and I are educators and we did not come to the country to get rich, but neither did we expect the financial ruin we are facing now. The lawyers even though they gave large discounts, spent many hours preparing drafting matters for the courts. There have been a total of 9 hearings. The legal fight with the Council for wrongful dismissal first and now the fight for my malicious prosecution by the police has drained all of our resources we needed to sustain ourselves while I am still unemployed. I missed two job interviews because of my arrest. Our lives have been turned upside down. We seem to be the only one’s to pay the price for the fight for good governance at the PNG University of Technology and for a police that upholds the rule of law. Why?

Because I gave my word to the court, I will go through he costly process of having a public notary in Italy legalise my original doctorate and send it through the appropriate diplomatic channels to the committal court in Waigani. This should clear all charges for ever. Afterwards I will claim damages for all the financial losses, opportunity costs and defamation of character I suffered. Some people will loose face, be demoted or loose their jobs, but without accountability there is no justice, and without justice there is no peace, healing and the opportunity to advance.

It is anybody’s guess what happens next. Given the serices of incidents of abuse of ministerial authority and police power, and the recent publication of the Human Rights Watch annual report, in my view it seems a parliamentary inquiry into police abuse is warranted.

The current debacle shows that the performance of the University council also fails to impress, and it seems time now to implement the long awaited reform and create independent university council of no more than 13 members, rather than the current councils of 30+ members filled with political appointees. It is too easy for the University Council to simply distance itself from my arrest, while it failed to clear me of those charges after the Sevua Investigation in 2014. In 2018 brought these same trumped up charges based on the identical materials from 2012, and failed to see there was no evidence.

For me personally, my case should be thrown out for lack of primary evidence, and then it may not be necessary for me to return for a hearing on 12 June, if a hearing will even take place at all. It is also likely my government will file an official protest and not allow me to travel back to PNG given the abuse of police power and the state of lawlessness this has produced in the country. There is no limit to madness once it takes root: will I be charged for indecent exposure for having lost a few buttons on my shirt during the flight? Just saying, anything seems to go now.

Negative travel advisories for tourists from different countries may be issued, and universities will be unable to recruit qualified academics. It does not help PNG became one of only 4 countries in the world where polio is still endemic. Last week the PNGUoT, for example, already lost a head of department, who is now back int he USA, and another respected academic, because of what happened to me. Negative reviews in Glassdoor of former employees will start to multiply, since I am not the only one who has been bullied and harassed by former colleagues at this University.

Like for all of us academic, journalists and other knowledge workers who can not return to the country, it makes us sad that until amends are made and the police has been restructured and under control, we will not be able to see our friends and our new and beloved family in PNG.

The natural reaction with lack of leadership
 
I lead the PNG University of Technology since 2012 on a journey of transformation and living up to its potential as a contributor to nation building. The old mindset, however, has triumphed and they loudly slammed the door shut. My efforts to restore its reputation with industry and academic partners in PNG and abroad have been undone.

The focus on students' success, the learning experience and employability has now been shifted again towards the university serving the interest of a small number of staff and Council members. The parents and students will pay the price. The first  graduate survey in 2015, for example, showed that only 40% of students were employed. This was gradually moving in the right direction with the prospect of obtaining provisional accreditation of two engineering programs in 2019 as being the game changer. In 2018, however, the survey was not held and the problem is again being ignored. The students' voice has now been silenced with all students representatives Councils having been suspended, made toothless, or abolished.

I was the last independent Vice Chancellor in PNG regularly appointed by council. All Vice Chancellors now have been appointed by government. It is like being the last of the dodo's. It is a sad ending, but for me it has been an immense privilege to serve the students of the PNG University of Technology in the good years, when I was protected from political interference by a Chancellor who understood his role and acted wisely. My only hope is that the centre can not hold, and that this University council which is manifestly incapable of responsibly governing the University, and this management which has been so dishonest in its commitment to students' success and transformation will be gone in less than 2 years. Recently, one night, I dreamt that a highly competent PNgeans academic with executive competences and leadership abilities took over as Vice Chancellor and took up the batton which was now so sadly dropped.


References

Australian National University, Development Policy Blog “The Outrageous & Unfounded Arrest of Dr. Albert Schram” (13 May 2018, Canberra, Australia) http://www.devpolicy.org/albert-schrams-arrest/

The Australian, Tim Dodd “PNG Vice Chancellor Albert Schram Charged with False Pretence” (16 May 2018 - Melbourne, Australia) https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/png-vicechancellor-albert-schram-charged-with-false-pretence/news-story/27f51e82a24e9f67fddaa294dce40174

Times Higher Education, Chris Havergal “Former V-C Arrested upon Return to Papua New Guinea” (16 May 2018 - London, UK) https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/former-v-c-arrested-return-papua-new-guinea

PNG Attitude blog, Keith Jackson “National Court Mulls Albert Schram’s Application to Leave PNG” (18 May 2018 – Noosa, Australia) http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2018/05/national-court-mulls-albert-schrams-application-to-leave-png.html


7 comments:

  1. Good on you, I wish you all the best and can't wait to see the people behind all this to be punished.

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    1. Thank you for your support. As the scholar said: "God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which belongs to us."

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  2. Very sorry to hear your story. I hope you can restore some financial security for yourselves and that there can be big positive changes ahead for PNG to divert from the impending abyss.

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    1. The government borrowing money for finance Pacific Games and APEC, and then borrowing again to pay the interest on these previous loans. In a country without functioning hospitals or rural clinics and schools for the rural population, which is where 80+% of PNGeans live. That is obscene. I am afraid the big picture is that it needs to get worse before it gets better.

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  3. Sad for the learning institution as the very people suppose to be promoting had destroyed a very good visionary positive change that was seen forthcoming under your care. Hoping to see these very narrow minded and selfish people to be punished.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The students' voice can not be silenced. The centre can not hold and this university council and management will disappear within 2 year, I predict.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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