Asks for your support and prayers in this process of continued discernment
Cathedral of the Sacred heart crypt - 17th January, 2019.
By Professor Wadan Narsey
“Ashwin Raj pounces on Archbishop” (20 Jan. 2019)
[I had originally intended this to be a post-script in my previous post, but this incident is so typical of the deep cancerous malaise that currently afflicts Fiji, that I post this separately]
Ashwin Raj is not only the Director of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission (HRADC), but also Chairman of the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), all his salaries and perks paid for by taxpayers.
In the recent controversy, Raj pounced on the head of Roman Catholic Church in Fiji (Archbishop Peter Loy Chong) who had made the request that the Ministry of Education to reconsider having members of the faith to head its schools and that “faith” be an element of the Open Merit Recruitment Selection System (OMRSS) used for selecting the principals of the schools they owned.
Both requests are perfectly reasonable one would think (see the opinion pieces in the Fiji Times by Brother Fergus Garrett, John Pickering and myself) that the owners of a school be allowed to appoint a principal who they believed would best serve their faith in the administration of the school, its culture and ethos, in providing a “complete education” to the children willingly sent to their schools by their parents (not just Catholics).
But oh no.
Ashwin Raj came out (Fiji Sun 15 January 2019) all guns blazing, with grand “straw man” pronouncements which totally ignored the substance of the archbishop's request, such as (with my comments in parentheses):
“The right to religious orientation is not under threat because this is protected by the Constitution” (no one raised this at all)
“The call for faith-based schools to be led by principals of that particular faith will encourage racial profiling based not only on faith but other prohibited grounds of discrimination” (why would it?)
“was contrary to the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Soon there will be calls to have schools to be led by individuals from a particular ethnic community or indeed teachers of a preferred race or religion” (how ridiculous to draw this conclusion when there was clearly no such wish);
“it would oppress multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity that children should be encouraged to practice” (how utterly ridiculous given that the Catholic Education Society had historically fought for multiracialism in Fiji's education system and had been in the forefront of providing education to non-white children of Fiji).
Raj opposed the Archbishop's request for the inclusion of “faith” into the OMRS policy for their Catholic schools alleging “faith is arbitrary and subjective in nature” and that “its inclusion will only give credence to discrimination” (oh dear, so also subjective might be any number of characteristics required for a good principal)
Raj threw in another straw man into the works by demanding to know whether “Fiji was reverting to the old policy of affirmative action by giving into the call to include faith into the Open Merit Recruitment System”. (as if the policy of affirmative action was heresy in the first place. The need for affirmative action for indigenous Fijians in business or education may have been shoved out of out of sight for the moment, Ashwin, but have no fear that it is a festering cancer whose effects will be revealed one day).
But how utterly extraordinary that Ashwin Raj should trivialize a serious request by the Head of the Catholic Church that the owners of a school be allowed to appoint their own principal.
Can you imagine the Tappoos or R.C.Manubhais being told that they could not appoint their own Gujarati family members as CEOs of their family owned companies because they received some subsidy from taxpayers?
More ominous is what Raj refuses to see or act upon
While proudly revealing that his commission had last year defended the right of a high school student to wear a head scarf because of her “faith”, Ashwin Raj (the Director of HRADC) energetically pounces on the Head of the Catholic Church by alleging that his request to appoint Catholic Principals of schools owned by the Catholic Education Society on the basis of “faith”, is tantamount to “discrimination” banned by the Bainimarama Government's Constitution.
So why has this belligerent warrior against discrimination never publicly questioned:
the blatantly unfair discrimination practiced in the media which he is supposed to regulate as Head of MIDA: that the Fiji Sun is totally unfairly given a monopoly on government advertisements despite the fact that the Fiji Times has greater circulation;
the apparent lack of meritorious career police officers to head the Fiji Police Force (while a military officer is chosen);
the apparent lack of any meritorious prisons officers to head the Fiji Prisons Service (while a military naval officer is chosen);
the apparent lack of any meritorious Fiji citizen to appoint as President of Fiji, other than a former military officer or chief or an indigenous Fiji (or why no woman or a non-Christian has ever been qualified to be appointed as President- even if they are apparently qualified to serve on international bodies).
Why is it that this belligerent warrior for basic human rights (or the Director of Public Prosecutions) has never publicly questioned why there have been no prosecutions for horrible violations of the basic human right to life (forget the right to wear a head-scarf):
such as in a well publicized case of a prominent public individual causing death by dangerous driving (case quietly tucked away under the carpet: is the police investigating anyone at all? Or the DPP?)
the many unlawful deaths of persons in the custody of the armed forces and police which have all be shoved under Ashwin Raj's massive carpet (these unlawful deaths will never go away even if Fiji reps are appointed to world bodies supposed to protect human rights).
It is ominous for Fiji that despite being paid by taxpayers' funds, Ashwin Raj chooses to investigate not what his professional, ethical and moral responsibilities most urgently require him to, but what his political masters require him to, however trivial the matter.
The public can judge for themselves whether Ashwin Raj himself was appointed by the Bainimarama Government purely on “meritorious” grounds that he aggressively trumpets.
Unfortunately, Ashwin Raj is not the “one swallow” in the “Bainimarama/Khaiyum summer” of civil servants in responsible positions, paid for by taxpayers's funds, choosing to serve their political masters rather than the public interest.
It is similarly an utter tragedy that one can similarly see the Fiji Police Force devoting scarce public resources on pursuing dubious cases, such as that associated with Leader of Opposition, Sitiveni Rabuka).
It is an utter tragedy when one reads the comments by the highly paid PS Education that because Fiji is a secular state, the principal of a school owned by Catholics, should not be required to be Catholic? Apparently not a problem in Australia, or NZ or South Africa.
Indeed, on what “meritorious” grounds was this particular PS appointed;
Indeed has Aswin Raj ever questioned why Fiji citizens or many suitably qualified (“meritorious”?) senior public servants have been bypassed and many foreigners appoint to high places, even though they apparently belong to that class of people (“foreigners”) who Constitution Review Chairman Yash Ghai should never have consulted, according to Raj's Prime Minister, Bainimarama, when using that as his justification for burning the Ghai Draft Constitution (forgetting that there were Fiji citizens on that Commission as well, like Professor Satendra Nandan, Taufa Vakatale and the late Peni Moore).
Post by Josaia Naulumatua Rayawa
19 January, 2019
Allow me to present this from a different angle. Put aside for the moment that we are also taxpayers and just consider yourself as bible believing and faith-based individual for now.
As a faith-based institution we just need to be gently reminded, and jolted if need be, that the "ball is really in our court". If the answer to the Education policy dilemma is to pursue privatization to ensure that the next generation contribute effectively to a society better than today, then have the faith to stand on it and build up on that vision. A faith driven approach allows us to "render only to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is truly God's". Without the faith to stand up, we only have ourselves to question and not the state. We can't blame the state for being the state. To use a referencing from the Bible, for us to rely on the state to carry a faith driven vision, will be like 'putting new wine into old wineskin', knowing it will burst anyway.
St Paul aptly reminds us, " Without faith, No man can please God". When God is pleased, He moves mountains, even moving the heart of Caesar . But only when our faith is put into action.
Governments all over the world, in general, only understand the power of voting blocs. The voice of the voting bloc can only be heard clearly through faith. They will respond when that voice of faith is heard in the form of a voting bloc. Other than that, everything else is mixed messages out there in the real world.
Put faith into action. And yes, I do support the Archbishop's view but it is not his view alone that will get things done. The body needs to carry its own vision and not expect the state to do so, irrespective of the fact that we may be deemed loyal taxpayers. Regardless of your political afilliation, our paying taxes is a responsibility of a citizen. You render it to Caesar anyway.
As followers of Christ, lets ask ourselves, do we really believe God can do it? My take is that if we believe then we will see. Our dilemma is perhaps we want see first, then believe. As we can see, the "new wine" is already spilling because we are pouring our trust into the state.
We need wisdom too.
Education PS defends policy
LITIA CAVA19 January, 2019, 3:35 pm
Catholic School's heads and administrators present during their meeting at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Picture: JONA KONATACI
A HEATED argument broke out between Education Ministry permanent secretary Alison Burchell and stakeholders of Catholic schools during a meeting at the Sacred Heart Cathedral crypt in Suva on Thursday night.
The arguments from the stakeholders were based on the fact that the appointment of a school leader must not only be based on the applicant's ability to satisfy the knowledge, experience, skills and abilities that were identified in the ministry's open merit recruitment and selection (OMRS) system, but the word ?faith' must also be embedded in the selection criteria of school heads.
Corpus Christi Teachers College principal Remesio Rogovakalali argued that the policy does not state any faith, beliefs or values.
He said faith-based schools not only looked after the interest of students' physical well-being, but also their spiritual wellbeing.
He said having such a principal would help ensure that students' wellbeing were well looked after.
Catholic educationist Mere Fong said they were aware that faith could never be mentioned in the interview process nor in the documentation.
?We can leave out the word faith and refer instead to attitudes that reflect universal values (love, dedication, respect, peace, kindness, courtesy, etc) to which we all espouse; this should be added to the requirements in the job description,? Ms Fong said.
In her response, Ms Burchell said the Constitution clearly stated that all schools would be open to students from all faiths and that teachers would also be included.
?We note students of different religions in your Catholic schools, we have teachers of all religions and that to me enriches technicality, the different views, the outlook of the school and in particular the students,? Ms Burchell said.
?The fact is that we are a secular state and we need to understand what that means when we operate, so the religious instruction component is different from the issue of appointing a head of school.
?The rich diversity in Fiji and each of our schools ? we need to make sure that we are feeding their thirst for knowledge and should not be restricted to a particular faith, but taking in the value that could be added and should be added and must be added by the different faith.
?It is an added value to the process as we see it,? she said.
Churches attack Government's open merit practice in faith-based schools
LITIA CAVA19 January, 2019, 1:03 pm
Catholic School's heads and administrators present during their meeting at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Thursday, January 17, 2019. Picture: JONA KONATACI
TWO major faith-based organisations which run a number of schools in the country have joined forces to openly criticise Government on its decision to appoint school heads based on open merit recruitment and selection (O MRS) guidelines.
Methodist Church in Fiji president the Rev Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa and the head of the Catholic Church of Fiji, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said the Education Ministry must add faith-based merit criteria to its OMRS system.
Mr Vakadewavosa said the displacement of preferred candidates for leadership positions prevented church schools from providing quality education and undermined human and constitutional rights.
?We have lost key school positions held previously by our own members, along with the expected diligence in our institutions for Methodist education and nurturing.
?The school system already fails to sustain students in their faith, the society's ills highlighted by the police, corrections and health services are testimony to the harm ultimately caused.
?The school leaders are the ones who decide what is done in school in religious matters,? he said.
Archbishop Chong said as part of the consultation with his advisers, the Archdiocese considered civil disobedience which would include an open-air mass; and to close their 44 primary and 19 secondary schools.
Archbishop Chong said during a meeting with Catholic school educationists on Thursday, the participants offered the following courses of action for the Bishop to discern as he planned his next strategy.
He said a recommendation to initiate a critical self-reflection and an organisational review on Catholic education in the areas of identity, character, quality of teachers was proposed, the selection criteria of the principal must include the responsibility of supporting and promoting the ethos and values of faith-based schools.
?To take an aggressive and urgent stand on the church's request to consider faith as a merit when considering appointments of heads of schools.?
The Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji in a statement stated it had always maintained that the head of its schools be a teacher of merit.
?As much as it is desired that the head of its schools should be a teacher who belongs to our faith, the Sabha is and has been of the view that this may not be possible in every case given the social circumstance.
?The Sabha, however, maintains that the ministry must consult the management on the appointment of the school head to ensure that the incumbent fits in and upholds the school's culture along with academic requirements.?
Archbishop Peter Chong, after consultation with his advisors decided that he would initiate a discernment process to further reflect on the issue of the OMRS. This was to be a consultative process that will include prayer, critical reflection and a strategic plan of action, informed by the data, recognising the feelings of education leaders, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. The process was to help the Archbishop develop strategies on how the Church would continue to systematically and spiritually respond to OMRS.
This discernment was part of the process that began with a meeting of Faith-based schools with the Permanent Secretary, Education Alison Burchell and the Consultant to the reform, Jane Curran.
Since there were strong reactions in social and mainstream media, to the sudden appointments of non-Catholic principals to Catholic schools, particularly to Xavier College and St. Thomas’ High School, Archbishop Chong wrote a letter to the Minister for Education, Hon. Rosy Akbar, requesting that the two Monfort Brothers remain in their positions. He did not a get a favourable answer to his request, and felt that he had to find other ways of approaching the issue, thus the discernment process with Catholic education leaders.
Ms Burchell and Ms Jane Curran were invited to speak on the OMRS to the group of fifty Catholic education leaders. Below is the summary from their presentations and question and answer session.
1. Education is about the future of the children, so the government needs to identify where we want to go and ensure that we have the ability to move forward.
2. OMRS is a sensitive issue because it is about change and challenges; but it is always for good. It aims to develop a high ranking unit to implement efficient government services.
3. OMRS is an organisational framework that is part of the Civil Service Reform; and has a history and is grounded in the constitution. It aims at higher performance.
4. OMRS is a process that includes selecting the best applicants for the leadership positions. The process is about opening things up – right person right job and qualification knowledge and ability. It is about open transparency and offers guidelines for reforms while maintaining consistency across all ministries.
5. OMRS recognise that there should always be partnership and consultation with School Managements so that open dialogue can contribute to the success of the school, and sustain a healthy working relationship with the wider community.
The Open Merit Recruitment and Selection (Education) framework is the government’s effort to armour our children for the challenges in the future. It offers a framework that includes processes that will ensure the selection of the best applicants for the leadership positions. However, it is evident that in order to ensure a trusting partnership, there needs to be better consultation amongst all stakeholders.
The Archbishop presented his ideas on the close relationship of Catholic Schools and the Church.
The participants were then asked to go into 6 Groups and reflect on the following questions:
1. How do you feel as you look into the future of the church and its moral obligation in preserving and promoting the identity/character of the catholic schools?
2. What is the Holy Spirit telling us to pass on to the Archbishop about Open Merit Recruitment and Selection (OMRS)?
3. Name one practical action that would respond question 1 and 2
At the end, each Group presented their answers. These were analysed and synthesised. Below is a synthesis of this discernment process:
It was evident that many of the participants had strong emotions and feelings about the issue, during the Q &A and the group discussions. There was a mixture of feelings from being threatened and betrayed to feelings of hope and being energised. At the end of the exercise, it was clear that the group felt challenged but they were “fired up” by the Holy Spirit to continue to join the Archbishop in carrying out his moral obligation in preserving and promoting the identity/character of the Catholic schools.
Course of Action
The participants offered several different courses of action for the Bishop to discern as he plans his next strategy. see Archbishop’s notes
Action Plan One
To initiate a critical self-reflection and an organisational review on Catholic education in the areas of identity, character, quality of teachers and planning; e.g. the plan to upgrade Corpus Christi to a Catholic university.
Action Plan Two
To continue partnership with faith-based communities and work towards partnership with the government.
To strongly insist on a structure of consultation that would ensure trust and respect for the management of the school. The job description to include the following merit criteria ‘the candidate must be able to uphold the ethos and values of faith-based and community owned schools’
Action Plan Three
To take an aggressive and urgent stand on the Church’s request to consider faith as a merit when considering appointments of Heads of Schools.
Action Plan Four
The Archdiocese considers civil disobedience which would include an open-air Mass; and to close the 44 primary and 19 secondary schools.
Archbishop concluded the discernment process by thanking the participants for their discernment and advice. He will take their advice into prayer, further consultation and discernment to arrive at the most effective response.
MINISTER ROSY AND ASHWIN RAJ SHOW ARROGANCE AND SHALLOW UNDERSTANDING IN RESPONSE TO ARCHBISHOP LOY CHONG'S REQUEST
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION LACKS UNDERSTANDING AND SENSITIVITY
OF THE CONTRIBUTION OF RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS TO EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN FIJI
16 January 2019
The following statement was issued today by Sitiveni Rabuka, the Leader of Opposition & Party Leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party.
I am disappointed by the refusal of the Minister of Education to consider the request from the Head of the Catholic Church in Fiji Archbishop Peter Loy Chong for dialogue on the appointment of school-heads for faith based schools.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong with children of Tamavua Parish at their confirmation
Hon. Akbar has been supported by misguided commentary from the Director of Human Rights. The actions and pronouncements of Hon. Akbar and Ashwin Raj show their arrogance and shallow understanding of the education system in Fiji.
The request by Archbishop Loy Chong for dialogue and consultation with the government to reconsider its decision on the open merit in the recruitment of head of schools is a genuine one which needs to be addressed with sensitivity and in good faith.
Archbishop Loy Chong and Minister Rosy Akbar
The request is nothing to do with human rights or discrimination against any person. It is a matter of principle and genuine occupational requirement given the nature of these schools, which are faith based.
The current Minister of Education under the Bainimarama Regime, should learn from history and appreciate backgrounds and origin of education in Fiji. Most importantly, she should realise that 95% of the schools in Fiji are not owned by government, but rather, are built and operated by different civil society organizations, including religious bodies. Majority of the schools in Fiji are owned and operated by different religious bodies including the Christian faith, Hinduism, Muslims and other faith based groups.
As a former student of Xavier College, and given both the PM and learned AG are also products of Catholic schools, Hon. Akbar ought to know better.
Personal ego should not override national interest.
These schools have produced many national leaders and citizens who have contributed to national development, wherever they serve - in homes, in communities, civil society, corporate sector, in all levels of Government, and in international and regional fora.
St. Thomas High School, Lautoka, also owned by the Catholic Church
In January 2013, after consultationswith St.Thomas School Board Members and His Grace Archbishop Peter Mataca and Catholic Education of Fiji, St. Thomas High School was entrusted to the Montfort Brothers of St.Gabriel Bro Sahayaraj, took over as the first Principal for the academic year 2013.
The Catholic Church through its missionaries together with the Methodist missionaries introduced formal education to Fiji as an integral part of their mission.
Successive governments since independence have had a mutually productive, cooperative and cordial relationship with religious bodies running educational institutions through dialogue, mutual respect and understanding. This is one of the main reason why education in Fiji has been very successful, and Fiji had one of the highest literacy rates in the world as a result.
8 QVS and nine St John's College students studied at Marist Brothers High School following the severe damage St John's and QVS suffered when Cyclone Winston hit the country in 2016.
The marginalization of faith based institution started when government removed ethnicity from names of schools.
The regime meddled further during the interim period after 2006 when it removed external examinations from schools for a few years - this misguided action had a far more detrimental and far-reaching effect on students, families, and communities, than having schools with ethnic based names, or school heads of the same faith being appointed to head particular faith-based schools, ever will.
Like the rest of Fiji, faith-based organisations were also oppressed by the Public Emergency Regulations and the Public Order Decrees - annual religious conventions were banned, even weekly prayer meetings for Methodists, Hindus, Catholics required meeting permits from the Police during those dark days.
Unfortunately the oppression and discrimination for religious bodies and civil society in Fiji is not over, given this latest saga.
Communities who built their own schools and named the school based on ethnicity to show pride and achievement because they value the importance of education in their own respective communities. Such initiative within the community created a sense of unity, inclusiveness and self-sufficiency.
Marist Brothers High School students in a jubilant mood during the Marist Brothers bicentennial celebrations in Suva (Source)
This incident should be a wake-up call for the Bainimarama government to be sensitive to the role of religious bodies, civil society and non profit organizations in the development of education in Fiji.
The Government cannot provide all services, including education, for our growing population.
The Ministry of Education must work with, and dialogue with religious bodies who own faith-based schools, with a view to a win-win result.
Education, for the good of our future generations, is the key to our national development. It is not a zero-sum game where winner takes all, as the FFP like to “win” every battle it picks. No-man is an island, we must all work together for the good of our children.
The dismal state of our education sector demands a bipartisan approach. SODELPA recommends a National Education Commission to conduct a holistic review and listen to all stakeholders on the best way forward for our education system taking into account the demand and dynamics of the labour market.
I hope and pray that the government should take a more consultative approach and engage in robust dialogue approach in addressing all issues of national interest and those that affects the daily lives of the people of Fiji.