The Honorable Minister
Head of Government in Parliament
RE: MATTERS OF CONCERN IN THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
Thank you for your immediate response on my request to raise some issues of concern in the Ministry of Education. You have asked me to summarize these issues. The following are some matters of concern:
As a senior civil servant and the acting Permanent Secretary of Education I am duty bound with a deep allegiance to the Banimarama government, to bring to your attention some issues of concern which has the potential to bring disrepute to the government. I have sought audience with the Prime Minister and with the Minister of Public Service but to date I have had no response.
The issues I have to raise have largely to do with the Minister for Education. At the outset let me point out that I have no personal grudges against the Minister. My concerns are purely professional and are intended to save guard the credibility and the integrity of the present government.
The concerns can be categorized under three major headings but you may find that the issues covered under these headings may overlap boundaries of categorization.
2. Breach of Civil Service procedures, Parochialism, Cronyism and Favoritism
Soon after the appointment of the Minister, he established several positions in the Accounts section, disbanded the Executive support unit and established an investigation unit which later became part of the Ethics committee. He set a new salary scale for all new appointees. The new appointees are his people either from FNU or Commerce commission or teachers who have been his campaigners during the election. This is widely known and seen to be an act of nepotism.
· Dharemendra Dayal a teacher from Rishikul College brought in to act as education officer ED4B. ( this appointment was reverted by me to regularize the position after the public outcry)
· Yogesh Krishna a teacher from Amhadiya Muslim College brought in to act as Education Officer ED4B. ( this appointment was reverted by me to regularize the position after the public outcry)
· Evelyn Sami an administrative officer from FNU and his Secretary whilst he was the Dean at FNU. He chose to jump her from the salary scale step 2 to step 8 which is very irregular for civil service appointments. (when HR section issued her a contract with step 2 salary, Eroni was threatened for termination in the full staff meeting. Rightfully she should have been appointed at the base salary of $22000 but she is receiving the step 8 salary at $28000. Our existing staff of the same grade are still struggling at the base salary and there is gossiping and bickering on the issue.
· Nikita Natasha Reddy was a temporary staff at Commerce Commission and was brought in as a research officer in our statistics unit. Position was created for her after de-establishing a very important post of the Principal Education Officer –Eastern. The district now has no PEO post and it is affecting the service delivery. The Divisional Education Officer is complaining as it is affecting the district transfers and others responsibilities allocated with post.
· Krishneel Sami was a temporary clerk at Bureau of Statistics and he has been appointed against our officers who had the merit and were acting on the post. I wasn’t aware that he was Evelyn Sami (Ministers’ EOS’ Brother until the information surfaced from FTA). One of our own TRCO (Kushal) who had the same qualification raised his concern by making a comparison. He was ordered for termination/ a transfer. He remains with us but in a different section. This is seen to be an obvious case of intimidation, suppression and victimization.
· A former employee of Commerce Commission, Donish Lal has been appointed as a Principal Accounts Officer, believed to be appointed on a Taylor made advertisement. We were not aware of this person till he began demanding for a $50,000 salary scale. A second PAO position was created to allow for his nominee.
There is a Human Resource Development Plan under which the Ministry’s succession plan is based. Our officers see this as their career path and line of promotion. We as the employers are duty bound to provide them the training and prepare them for the next position. Our officers who have already done their service exams and have the necessary experience were acting on the posts of responsibilities but they have been reverted to lower posts to make way for his people. My staff have been running to me looking to rescue them. I was helpless as the instructions were from the Minister. There is a lot of internal bickering and gossip making about the minister doing injustice.
The Minister was directly liaising with Eroni our HR personnel until I pointed out to him (Eroni) that under section 127 of the Constitution the PS had the authority. The constitution is interpreted by the Minister as giving him all the powers.
3. Appointment at Curriculum Development Unit (CDU)
The requirement is for all CDU officers to have the teacher training with relevant degree but the Minister changed it himself to a Masters Qualification in the respective subjects without any teacher training. His emphasis is that we have to dictate to the Universities what we need in their modules but the CDU is to make curriculum for our schools and those working must have the practical experience to understand the needs. He has already appointed people of his choice and most of them are from outside the teaching fraternity. As the Permanent Secretary, I have no knowledge of the promoted officers till today because the day these promotions took place majority of us were out of office attending to schools prize giving. The Minister himself chaired all the promotion board meetings. This is seen to be in conflict as the Minister is expected to play a political role only and to oversee the implementation of those policies.
4. Changing the Minimum Qualification Requirement (MQR)
The MQR is a legal document and it gets challenged in the Court of Law by way of judicial review. The Minister decided to change it for the posts which were already advertised in June under the old MQR. The consultation processes were not adhered to procedurally and my fear is that if gets challenged in the court we could lose the cases. We have not sought advice and endorsement from the Solicitor General’s Office on the implementation of a new matrix/ MQR. The Minister used inexperienced and junior teachers to make the matrix. The section head from the Post Processing Unit Mrs.Rose Chand was threatened for a transfer and termination when she started to advice. Rose is an efficient and high performing officer in our Ministry and knows the job well. The independence of the post processing unit is no longer the same.
5. The restructuring of the government departments
The Prime Minister has announced that the re-structure of the government departments will be done by the World Bank with the actual process to be implemented in 2016 with a thorough consultation to begin next year. The Minister has already started it at our Ministry without a holistic understanding of the entire civil service which the World Bank would have done. The Minister has already announced the following:
· There will be no Deputy Secretaries (the Deputy Secretary Corporate Services fell vacant after the post holder retired in June. Mr. Sulasi Turgabeci was acting and now he has gone on pre-retirement leave but the Minister has asked not to appoint anyone to act on the established post)
· There will be no Divisional Education Officers (we have 4 posts, 2 are now vacant due to resignations and retirement, the DEO-Central has resigned to join AQEP and the DEO-North who was due to retire in February has resigned to join FNU. The DEO-West has been sent on leave awaiting his termination for no crime by him. There are no leaders/ divisional heads in 3 divisions. He has ordered these will not be filled.
· There will be no Principal Education officers in the Districts. I requested him to allow them acting till 31st December 2014 after which they will be going away to schools. The Principal Education Officers posts were advertised and PPU was ready with schedule for interviews and processing, the Minister has asked that all that be put to rest.
· Our post processing unit has always been an independent section. They would receive applications and draw up the schedule. These schedules will only be accessed by the senior staff (Directors and above) to discuss and process the vacancies, The PPUS’ role is now being interfered with by the inclusion of the Ministers nominees who are junior staff. Post Processing requires administrative duties but recently a post has been advertised (Taylor made for his choice).
NOTE – this has already begun to de-stabilize the Ministry of education.
6. Termination, without due processes, intimidation and harassment
Some school teachers have been terminated and suspended without following the due disciplinary processes of the government. The terminated teachers have taken the matter to court and my advise to the Minister was to follow the due process which was ignored.
· Mr, Sulasi Turagabeci acting DSCS raised in a staff briefing the Minister’s unbecoming actions and decisions. There was long discussion but his suggestions were not taken well by the Minister. He also made comments about the Minister at the Education Forum but he was stopped by the chair. The pain and anguish of the staff was brought to the members of the forum but their frustration needs to be understood.
· Lorima Voravora a very senior officer and Divisional Education Officer West was not happy with the manner in which a teacher was terminated by the Minister in early October. He raised his concern about the government’s disciplinary process and asked if the procedures had changed. He had emailed it in to some Principals and Head teachers asking that advise be provided to the leaders. The Minister wasn’t happy and ordered that he be terminated. I had to send Lorima on leave pending the advice by the Solicitor General’s Office
· Satya Nand Shandil the Divisional Education Officer North (with a masters qualification) only provided his advise in writing on a Head Teachers case in Labasa. The Minister ordered that the head teacher be transferred and demoted because he had some heated arguments with him whilst he was campaigning in North. The Minister made everything unworkable for Shandil. I was asked by the Minister to get him to resign. Disheartened and unhappy, Shandil found a job at FNU and resigned last month.
· Mrs. Lusiana Fotofilli the Director Exams with masters qualification in evaluation which is right qualifications for the post. her area spoke at one of the senior staff meetings and said that the Ministers leadership was scary and that the staffs were feeling insecure has been transferred from the Exams section to the culture department. She is contesting her unceremonious removal. She was trained by the ministry for the post. Money was spent on her overseas training.
· Seci Waqabaca has a master’s qualification in curriculum and was acting as Director CAS (Curriculum Advisory Section) has been removed from his position because he was in the team doing the cabinet paper on the removal of the scaling in external examination. They provided an alternate to scaling stating that it is a national issue and has to be treaded on carefully. I was asked by the Minister to revert him from his acting position and transfer him to Nausori Education office.
· Seruppepeli Udre the Acting Divisional Education Officer Central is a very committed and dedicated officer of our Ministry. He was the most meritorious officer for the post and would have been confirmed on it. Minister stopped the processing stating that the post will be de-established. Udre show a bleak future for himself in the Ministry so he resigned to join AQEP.
· Mr. Narain Sharma was acting PEO- Primary and was an excellent unit. The Minister openly and blatantly accused him of planning a mutiny against him with the Head teachers. Sharma gracefully resigned and has joined AQEP.
· Saimoni Waibuta Director Asset Monitoring Unit and the acting Deputy Secretary was asked to be reverted to his post even though he was acting on my post. I wrote to explain to him the HR policy of our ministry that someone should act on a temporary vacancy. He was extended till 31st December but his morale and self-esteem fell. He came to me on several occasions and asked me to inform the higher authorities of the wrong in our ministry. I continued to console my staff because I knew without them I couldn’t function.
· Jai Narayan the Director Secondary education is looking exhausted with the excessive pressure. The Minister finds that Jai Narayan meets the deadline through sacrifice of his personal time so he is loaded with work. Jai discuses with me as his supervisor and tells me that one day he will push the table upside down and walk away. He asked me for mercy. I rang the PS-PSC, the Prime Minister’s office and spoke to Kisoko and the PS-PMO and verbally asked them for advise.
NOTE The Minister blatantly intimidates senior officers and if he sees an element of explanation, suggestion or advice to revisit the Ministers decision, he orders for termination or transfer.
7. Disregard for Cabinet collective decision and unilateral decision making
To introduce the policies announced in the manifesto is the prerogative of the government and all staff are supportive of the reforms. Where the policies are not in the manifesto and were introduced by the previous Bainimarama government would require re-endorsement of the cabinet. Otherwise some radical reforms in contradiction to the policies of the previous government could prove embarrassing. The duty of the civil servant is to ensure that the present government does not face any embarrassment. The manner in which the reforms have been announced in our Ministry is alarming and some in breach of accepted protocol. The following reforms were announced:
· Re-claiming the teachers (returning to the core functions of the teacher)
· Reducing the teacher work load by 60%
· Reducing the teacher pupil ratio
· Opening of Technical colleges
· Re-introducing exams in year 6 & 10
· Standardizing exams in years 7,8,9 and 11
· Review the curriculum
· Distribution of milk to class 1 students
· Removal scaling of marks
· 2.5 GPA for teacher recruitment
· Experienced and trained teachers for year one
· Closing of tvet centers in various secondary schools
Except for the opening of the Technical Colleges and the distribution of the milk, all other matters are outside the manifesto and would protocol wise require cabinet collective decision.
In normal circumstances two types of cabinet papers are prepared, one for information and the other for discussion and approval.
We have informed the Minister that the government machinery requires cabinet decisions and papers are to be prepared which requires planning, research and consultations. He gives one day timeframe to write and present to him a cabinet paper. This is impossible and I understand the other work pressures that my staff endure but for the Minister it is inability and poor performance. The Director working on the Technical paper has been keeping herself in the office till very late but couldn’t finish and submit the paper due to the requirement from the Solicitor General’s office. He is seeing this as non – cooperation and not supporting his reforms.
The re-introduction of examinations - The abolishment of examination was concerted policy of the previous Bainimarama government. The advise to take the new policy to cabinet was not taken very well. I explained and produced to him a cabinet paper of 2009 for the abolishment of the exams by the same government. The decision that exams will be re-introduced has been formalized without the cabinet endorsement. The Minister felt I was sabotaging his reform.
The Minister wanted to immediately remove the scaling system and give out raw marks for year 12 and 13 external examinations. We were invited to the press conference which was abruptly called on a Sunday. I advised him that it was a political decision implemented in 1978 and we can’t announce the removal without a cabinet decision. The Director Exams Luisa Fotofilli also expressed her view stating it was an internationally tested formula and we will have to follow procedures angered him. He made up his mind that we were not supporting him.
The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) was approved by the Cabinet in 2012 and it is being piloted in schools. The Minister has asked that it be put on hold. I as an experience teacher see a lot of difficulties with the reduction of teacher load, without a commensurate increase in schools staffing to manage the administrative load. Teachers need to know their student’s very well thus some administrative duty is a must. The teachers’ terms and conditions are different from other civil servants because their extra work is accounted for and they enjoy a lot of holidays with the children. However, Minister still wants them freed from administrative responsibilities. He hasn’t consulted me or the staff for our inputs as we would have advised him that it is in the process of training them for the leadership roles.
8. Non-participative, self-accrediting micro-management style – undermining collegiality, quality and productivity
The Minister has been with us for more than 3 months and till today he has not shown any appreciation for the work done at the Ministry. He has publicly rubbished the good work done by our predecessors and the existing staff. He shows no respect to any senior staff. Most of us have been ridiculed in front the school managements and outsiders. At one particular Senior Management meeting he openly and vehemently accused me of doing nepotism and favoritism. This allegation was wild and unsubstantiated and it caused restlessness in staff as they witnessed no respect by the Minister for the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Education.
The Minister is a micro-manager. This delays service delivery and leads to duplication of duties. For example he wants to himself approve the transfers, teacher appointments, promotions and everything that is happening in the Ministry. We have 10,300 teachers, 735 Primary schools, 178 Secondary schools and 17 special schools. We have Deputy Secretaries and Directors to manage these duties with their staff. Every senior manager has their position description and they are accountable for their roles thus unwarranted interference in their duties is seen as undermining their job description, lack of trust, poor customer service and delayed service delivery. The Deputies and the Directors are demoralized with loss of respect for their positions and themselves.
The Minister has changed the name of the meetings that were taking place in the Ministry from the senior staff meeting (SSM) to (SMG) senior management meeting which is a borrowed concept from FNU. This has brought about disruptions in our operations as there used to be two meetings and well scheduled one for the Minister where the policies were made and endorsed by the Minister together with the cabinet papers presented and discussed thoroughly before being taken to the cabinet. It used to be very professional, well organized and well conducted with high respect being accorded to all the senior staff. This would then follow the Permanent Secretarys meeting where ministry’s operational and the policy matters would be discussed in a dignified and professional manner. Under the new leadership the staff have forgotten their roles. Meetings are called on ad hoc basis and the Minister reaches out to the senior staff without following protocols. Under a Parliamentary and a cabinet system the Minister deals with policy issues and ensures that the political promises made by the government of the day are carried out. The decisions that have budgetary implications have to be provided for in the budget before public money can be utilized. Little regard is paid to this essential feature of accountability.
The cases of apparent cronyism and favoritism have already been pointed out earlier. There has already been public outcry on some of these issues. The Minister has never met me alone to discuss the way forward for this Ministry. His executive officer sitting beside him all the time keeps a recorder on. Everybody including me as the acting PS have not been able to share openly our concerns, suggestions and views.
Dealing with school management
The school managements who have sought audience with him regarding appointment of their school heads have gone out sad and dissatisfied. Our schools are private –public partnership and we have noted that the non-government schools are doing very well. The school managements have spent their time through voluntary services to provide this great service to the nation. They deserve our appreciation.
The Bhawani Dayal Arya College investigations proved that the Principal had committed a criminal offence. The teachers who gave evidences against the Principal were transferred out by the Minister and the Principal was returned to the school to complete the year and retire. As a Minister he should have reported the matter to Police but he chose to conceal a crime. The Principal is a known friend of the Minister. He has aided and abetted a perpetrator.
The Minister was making a case against me because I had spoken to a head of department and advised him to play a stronger supervisory role. The students were suffering including my own daughter because of a poor math’s teacher. The Minister entertained a CD being made and put to circulation. He wanted to use the same case to discipline me. His good boys went around gossiping about it in their circles stating the Minister had taken away all the powers from me.
My office (the Permanent Secretary’s) was broken into on 21st December 2014. The Police came and took the reports. Nothing was damaged except for the two laptops and the desk top computer was interfered with. The desk top screen had two pads (mensuration) pasted on the screen with vulgar words. The Assistant Ministers office adjacent to mine with the connecting door was safe with no interference. The laptop was carried out of the office and thrown some distance away. Obviously someone was searching for information. I went up to his office and reported to the Minister who merely laughed it off.
The Minister wrote to the Minister of Public Service explaining a case against one of my relatives. He wrote without any investigation and discussion with me stating that I had “over exercised my power as the acting PS”. This was all fabricated and misleading information disseminated to another Minister on me. The officer who had been reverted from his acting position to substantive grade was promoted in 2010 under the leadership of the former PS Dr. Brij Lal.
The staff morale at the Ministry is very low and everybody is frightened to say or do any work. The senior staffs have been quietly taking leave and staying away from work. We have to fulfill major initiatives like the milk delivery, opening of Technical Colleges in 2015. I strongly feel that qualification alone cannot replace experience. We need both. Our existing staff have worked hard to earn them the position and they need to be accorded respect and dignity. We have to bring back life in them and use their expertise to run this large Ministry. Termination, suspension and sending officers on leave is no answer to this silent protest by our officers, this is bringing a bad name to the government.
The Minister had announced an Education Commission but there is no budgetary provision. An Education Commission would have provided a more holistic view on desirable reforms to be introduced.
The Minister is an academic and his experience is related to University Teaching. He has come in with a pre-conceived idea that this Ministry is hopeless and people have not been working. This seriously undermines the morale of the staff. He fails to realize that the Ministry has implemented 75 reforms out of which 42 are ongoing and the rest have been completed in the last 8 years introduced by the Banimarama government.
The dissatisfaction by the teachers has led to the Fijian Teachers Association filing a writ against our processors. The questions are targeted at me for not being able to assist the teachers.
I have been unceremoniously asked to revert to the position of Deputy Secretary. I am aware that there are differences of approach between the Minister and me but these are not irreconcilable. My concerns are professional. There is nothing personal.
My plea is that I be allowed to stay on in office until a substantive appointment is made or alternatively I be transferred to a suitable Ministry. I am also an applicant for diplomatic positions. A summary decision to revert me to my previous position will undermine my promotional prospects.
I hope common sense will prevail.
Sir, I still seek an audience with you to explain many other issues that I have not captured in this mail.
Basundra Kumar (Mrs.)