FOR THE SECOND TIME in a month, I was deported from Papua New Guinea on Saturday. It was like watching the same movie twice.
Not the same excitement, but a gloomy certainty about the ending, In this case not a happy one.
I felt sad for all those that had worked so hard to avoid this, and I felt disappointed. My exile has taken a lot out of me and my family, and we were all hoping it would end happily.
Again I was not given a reason for refusal of entry, just that there was "a referral".
I was not issued any document, nor was any remark made about my current visa or why it is not adequate. I was simply turned away.
This time there was one change in the script: I was advised by the same migration officer to request a new visa in Brisbane.
But why request for a new visa, if my current one is still valid and I have used it for over a year now?
Would it solve the matter more quickly, or set a trap to refuse my application and finally have a real reason not to allow me in?
Admittedly, my current visa and work permit is rather funny. It states "multiple entries" and "permitted to work at the University of Technology" but the category is wrong. It says "religious worker".
In the management team we joked that maybe this was because I was expected to perform miracles at Unitech. Anyway, for more than a year the visa had never been a problem, why now?
For three long weeks after my first deportation not much happened. No one asked migration for an explanation, no one went to court to ask for a reversal, or any other action that could have gotten me back.
The judge who was supposed to lead the inquiry into Unitech did not communicate with me, nor did any other government official. Nothing happened to facilitate my re-entry. I was left high and dry to cater for myself.
Would this have happened if I were Papua New Guinean? Should this really make any difference?
Then in the fourth week a Unitech delegation went to Port Moresby to explain the situation to the various authorities: that I had never been dismissed, that I had been reconfirmed by the Interim Council and that I was expected back to do my job and serve the students and staff of Unitech.
They got assurances that I was allowed back in; but nothing in writing.
Now that I was not allowed back to return to PNG for a second time, a very confusing situation has been created with too many parties involved and too many Unitech staff using too much time to solve the problem.
To Unitech students it appears no one is doing anything positive, and those who want the vice-chancellor out and away seem to be calling all the shots. We have always told the student not to boycott classes and let the management and the Interim Council solve the issue.
We know that student unrest in PNG can quickly spin out of control.
My employment status and deportation is getting attention from different ministries, but their response is not always coordinated. Nobody seems to be informed about the proceedings in the court. Even government ministers, frustrated by the stream of publicity about the Unitech conflict are making well-intentioned efforts to solve the riddle. So far to no avail.
Where is the failure to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion? There is an element of bureaucratic slowness, a lack of political coordination between ministries, ignorance about ongoing court proceedings, lack of flow of proper information to the Ministers, and a mysterious factor X which somehow brings every attempt to move forward to a grinding halt.
The solution is simple if we just stick to doing the right thing. If the prime minister suspended me and wants an inquiry report by 14 March, then let it be so, and let the terms of reference reflect this.
If Cabinet dissolves the Council, let it be so, and thank former Council members for their contribution and invite them to move on to other things. They have no longer any standing on university matters.
Their decisions in meetings constrained by a court order should simply be ignored. Some egos may be ruffled, but they will get over it.
Instead the terms of reference suffered heavy editing for political and personal reasons, as I explained in my blog. We proposed a more balanced set of objectives which will assure the inquiry will be conclusive and form a basis for redrafting the Act. Instead some members of the former Council continue to be attended by government officials and allowed to influence the drafting of documents.
Regarding the visa issue, my first and second deportation were based on mistakes in procedures and the application of rules that can easily and quickly be corrected. Where there is a will there is a way.
The key question now for the future of Unitech is this: will the powers that be allow me to do my job as vice-chancellor or will some members of the dissolved Council and the retired management continue to harass us through the media, the court and other channels?
The students are right when they insist that these issues need to be addressed before I can return.
Dear honourable prime minister Peter O'Neill, I know you occasionally read this blog- please allow me to sit with the principal Unitech stakeholders and your advisors to write a simple script for you to succeed in your attempt to bring a lasting peace to Unitech.
Please envisage me as part of the solution – as most Unitech staff and students seem to think, and not as part of the problem, as some of the deposed Council members seem to think.
There is no need for this to become a never-ending tragic saga, or a story of illegal deportations, public unrest and revolt. Thank you.
You can keep up to date with this issue through Dr Schram's blog here