Drs Mahendra Reddy (l) and Ganesh Chand (r) in happier days
STOP PRESS. Mrs Kumar's letter to Col.Tikoduadua added at the end.
It's difficult (if not impossible from New Zealand) to determine the 'real' reasons for the flood of accusations, resignations and calls for resignations currently besetting Fiji but with the local media now reporting different interpretations, the Fiji public is in a slightly better position to make up its own mind from the information reported.
This, and other overseas based, blogs, no longer need to report such controversial matters. I think their most useful role now would be to publish informed, fair minded, balanced assessments of the 'news' published by the media: the sort of thing written by the likes of Victor Lal in Fiji Leaks and Waden Narsey on his webpage but with more objectivity and no political point scoring. Ideally, of course, the lead should come from investigative journalism by the mainstream media but for the present few local journalists have the knowledge and skills to write in-depth analytical reports.
In the absence of independent critiques, I am left disturbed and puzzled by the resignation of former FNU Vice-Chancellor Dr Ganesh Chand. Was it truly by mutual agreement or was it forced, and what were the reasons for the resignation however it came to be?
Mrs Basundra Kumar
Equally disturbing are the circumstances leading to the resignation (and later the withdrawal of the resignation and then the refusal to accept the withdrawal) of Acting Permanent Secretary of Education Ms Basundra Kumar and the nature of her accusations about the (mis)management of the education portfolio by Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy that is copied below from the Fiji Times.
Are these happenings examples of the removal of people who are impeding needed reforms in Fiji education, or are they, as Mrs Kumar claims in relation to her own experiences, examples of breaches of procedures, cronyism and non-participative behaviour?
Where is that grog bowl around which Fijians reputedly sit to talk and resolve their differences in a traditional and modern manner?
One looks to FijiFirst's parliamentary leader Col. Pio Tikoduadua for full disclosure and transparency on the issues involved and to Opposition Shadow Minister of Education Ro Teimumu Kepa not to aggravate the situation. One looks also for an independent investigative report of the events and issues involved by a competent local researcher. I'd like to think Wadan is up to the challenge.
Happy New Year everyone. I will be publishing less regularly this year but will try to comment or draw readers' attention to major issues, mainly those involving principles of governance. -- Croz
In Hot Water
Monday, January 05, 2015
AN 11-page report detailing allegations against Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy has been put forward to Government members in Parliament.
The report, which was seen by The Fiji Times yesterday, detailed concerns within the Education Ministry and numerous allegations against Dr Reddy, which included among other things the possibility of bringing disrepute to the Government.
Dr Reddy, who had earlier said he was fed up of the issues raised by former Education Ministry acting permanent secretary Basundra Kumar, could not be reached for comments concerning the allegations yesterday.
Acting permanent secretary for Ministry of Education Kelera Taloga, who Dr Reddy referred to for comments on Saturday relating to Mrs Kumar's suspension, could not be reached for comments as well yesterday.
When contacted yesterday, Mrs Kumar confirmed filing a report to the head of Government in Parliament, Colonel Pio Tikoduadua, and which was copied to other members as well.
The report related to the alleged matters of concern in the Education Ministry and regarding the minister following a request by Colonel Tikoduadua for Mrs Kumar to summarise the issues.
Mrs Kumar alleged breaches of civil service procedures, parochialism, cronyism and favouritism by Dr Reddy, changes to appointment criteria of officials at the ministry's Curriculum Development Unit and changing of the minimum qualification requirements within the ministry.
In her report, she also alleged that the minister had started making structural changes within the ministry without the Government's approval, termination of some school teachers without following proper disciplinary processes and disregard of Cabinet's collective decision and unilateral decision-making.
Mrs Kumar also claimed the abolishment of some external examinations was a concerted policy of the Bainimarama Government in 2009 which the minister disregarded and decided to reintroduce this year.
She also alleged the minister was non-participative, had a self-accrediting micro-management style and undermined collegiality, quality and productivity.
Mrs Kumar alleged in her report that the minister had failed to deal properly with school managements as they had gone back sad and dissatisfied after seeking an audience with him.
She claimed in her report that the morale of senior officials in the ministry was low as some were frightened to say or do things under the minister's leadership.
Basundra Kumar's letter to Tikoduadua Pio IN –CONFIDENCE
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.
concerns can be categorized under three major headings but you may find
that the issues covered under these headings may overlap boundaries of
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
· 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
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
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
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
· 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.
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
· 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
· 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
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.
circumstances two types of cabinet papers are prepared, one for
information and the other for discussion and approval.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.