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Council Stands With Archbishop Chong

The Fiji Council of Churches has shown its support for Archbishop Peter Loy Chong for the selection of qualified teachers of the same faith to lead their respective educational institutions.
24 Jan 2019 10:31
Council Stands With Archbishop Chong
Reverend Tevita Bainivanua

The Fiji Council of Churches has shown its support for Archbishop Peter Loy Chong for the selection of qualified teachers of the same faith to lead their respective educational institutions.

Council president Reverend Tevita Banivanua wrote a letter to the Permanent Secretary for Education, Heritage and Arts, Alison Burchell, saying the Archbishop’s statement was not only based on consultation within the Archdiocese of Suva, but with the wider faith-based organisations involved in education in the country since 1835.

“Our collective consultations highlighted the complications caused by the ministry mainly because of the changes brought about under the open merit recruitment and selection system,” Reverend Banivanua said.

“In the past 50 years, the Christian and other faith-based organisations, with the help of the ministry, selected suitable head teachers and principals who would ensure that the ethos of the Christian and other faith-based educational institutions have been core to the moral and value foundation of Fijians who attended them, regardless of ethnicity or religious background.”

Calls and emails sent to Ms Burchell to comment on the letter were unanswered.

The row surfaced after Archbishop Chong questioned the appointment of non-Catholics to head two schools in the Western Division – Xavier College and Saint Thomas High School.

The church wants the two principals retained. It is also pushing for faith to be included in the Open Merit Selection System because all faith-based schools hold a character, which is important to the students.

However, Government argues that the two heads appointed were based on the Open Merit Recruitment System – an organisational framework that was part of the Civil Service Reform and was grounded in the Constitution.

It stressed that it aimed at higher performance and was a process that included selecting the best applicant for leadership positions.

Last week, Archbishop Chong and 50 Catholic education leaders, met Ms Burchell and reform consultant Jane Curran at the Sacred Heart Cathedral. At the meeting they discussed the consideration of faith as a merit for appointing heads of Catholic schools.

Four recommendations were tabled by the participants as a course of action for the Head of the Catholic Church to discern as he plans his next strategy.

One of the actions was to close 44 primary schools and 19 secondary schools, which has created a lot of interest from the public and critics.

Reverend Banivanua, in the letter, is calling on Ms Burchell to consider the church’s request because close to 90 per cent of schools in the country are owned by faith-based organisations.

“Management boards of these schools have toiled over the years in instilling spiritual values and moral virtues to produce hundreds of thousands of best qualified students to become good citizens of this nation,” the reverend said.

“Ms Burchell’s argument to retain the recruitment selection system because Fiji is a secular state as enshrined in the Constitution is based on a very narrow and biased interpretation.

“When this issue was raised in 2013, we were told this was primarily to address nepotism.

“The religious background of a potential head of school is not about favouritism or nepotism, but an added value in terms of understanding and subscribing to the ethos, principles and values, which the Fijian Government has acknowledged many times, as articulated in the language and expression of faith.”

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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