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).