No plans to return to PNG for former Unitech head

The former head of Papua New Guinea‘s University of Technology, charged with obtaining employment through false pretence, says he won‘t return to PNG any time soon.

Empty chair: Albert Schram has been dismissed from his role as vice-chancellor of PNG‘s University of Technology. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Last Tuesday Albert Schram was granted leave on his bail conditions by PNG‘s National Court to travel to Italy to retrieve his PhD certificate. PNG police alleged Dr Schram used a fake PhD certificate when he got the job of Unitech vice-chancellor in 2012.

His lawyer successfully asked the court to overturn bail conditions preventing him from leaving the country to fetch evidence of his academic credentials for his case

Dr Schram was required by the court to return to PNG by June 12, but last night confirmed he didn‘t plan to return “until major changes occur in the country”.

The Dutch-born academic said he had been the subject of a “politically driven prosecution” and would forego bail rather than return to an uncertain legal future in PNG.

In his five years in the job at Unitech, Dr Schram had been the subject of a series of attempts to dismiss him, and he claimed his arrest represented a serious abuse of police powers.

Albert Schram said he would continue with “the costly process” of getting his original doctorate legalised and send it to the court in PNG, so his name could eventually be cleared.

Unitech vice-chancellor Albert Schram (right) talks to a colleague on the institution‘s Lae campus Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Earlier this month, Dr Schram was arrested after entering PNG on a tourist visa from Australia. Unitech‘s council said it had nothing to do with the arrest.

Dr Schram had sought a review of his sacking earlier this year by the council which alleged he breached his contract by failing to present verified academic credentials.

This is despite a letter from PNG‘s Department of Higher Education confirming Dr Schram‘s qualification, and a court decision earlier finding Dr Schram‘s appointment to the Unitech job as being lawful.

Writing on his last night, Dr Schram took stock of what he described as “a parallel world where lies are truth and all people are blind, deaf and mute,” in relation to the charge against him.

During his time in charge at Unitech in Lae, Dr Schram introduced a number of reform plans and efforts to tidy up the finances of the university.

However he suggested these moves didn‘t go down well with elements of the University council, some of whom he described as “political appointees”.

“In 2016, we dealt as best as we could with major shortages in funding, and a terrible student crisis instigated from outside the university,” Dr Schram explained.

A facility at Papua New Guinea‘s University of Technology in Lae which was damaged by unrest around student protests in 2016 Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

“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 PNG in Port Moresby was a direct consequences of politicians and aspiring politicians using students to fight their proxy fights before the elections in 2017.”

Dr Schram said the feeling of being an object of political prosecution had become strangely familiar to him and his wife in PNG, after his “earlier experience of being deported 3 times from Papua New Guinea in 2013”.

“There is nothing quite like it… a truly terrifying world, but the truth will set us free.”

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