The Head of the Catholic Church of Fiji, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong has welcomed the High Court ruling in relation to the appointments of heads of schools adding the ruling marks important progress on the current dialogue between the Ministry of Education and Faith-Based Organisations.
The Suva High Court ruled that the Ministry of Education has the lawful right to appoint a suitable head of a school and any acting position in terms of the Open Merit Recruitment Selection process and in a manner consistent with the constitutional right in section 22(4) of the Fiji Constitution.
This High Court ruling means that the proposed appointment must be acceptable to the Church.
The section states that every religious community or denomination, and every cultural or social community, has the right to establish, maintain and manage places of education whether or not it receives financial assistance from the State, provided that the educational institution maintains any standard prescribed by law.
The Archbishop says the faith based organizations have consistently requested the Ministry of Education that school heads should be able to support the special character or ethos of faith based schools.
Archbishop Chong says in other words, faith based schools request that the School Leader, the Principal or Head Teacher should be a member of their faith.
He further adds that consistent with the constitution and with Fijian tradition and customs, the Catholic Church requests five commitments from government when applying the Policy on Open Merit Recruitment and Selection.
Archbishop Chong says the first is the Ministry of Education appointments, promotions and transfers of school heads through the Open Merit Recruitment System include experience with demonstrated excellent quality performances, and the ability to uphold and foster the ethos of the school.
He says secondly, the Catholic Church requests the Ministry Of Education recognises that education is an equal partnership with faith-based organisations and communities and have strongly requested that appointments of the school heads be made in consultation with the school management committee rather than the unilateral approach experienced by some faith-based organisations.
The Catholic Church has also requested that a representative of the faith-based organisation should be a member of the recruiting panel for school heads.
Archibishop Chong says their third request is that Ministry of Education supports the special ethos of faith-based schools.
He says they believe that faith is essential to holistic education adding faith is a form of knowledge and practice that contribute to meaning and purpose in life.
He has therefore requested that a percentage of the teachers belong to the faith of the school.
The Catholic Church also requests the Ministry of Education give the school management committee the freedom to financially manage their schools as well as fundraise for their development projects.
They say faith-based organisations and communities are experiencing the Ministry of Education's absolute control and domineering the financial system leaving no room for the school management committee to use their resources and creativity.
The Catholic Church adds Education Ministry's directives on school fundraising will create a dependency syndrome and limit the school management committee’s contribution to the development projects of the school, hence, Ministry of Education does not respect the principle of subsidiarity.
The Archbishop adds they have also requested the agreement between the Education Ministry and faith-based organisations and communities on the above issues should be documented as part of the Education Act to ensure the stability and security of faith-based schools.
Archibishop Chong says Faith-Based Schools request that the agreement should be made as an Education Act.
He adds the Education Ministry has been verbally supportive of the commitments, however, the Ministry of Education insists that the agreement be made into a policy between the Education Ministry and Faith-Based Schools.
Meanwhile, Dr Nemani Tausere of the Seventh Day Adventist Church has told Fijivillage they will speak on the ruling after a meeting with their lawyers scheduled for today.
A representative of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Waisake Ravatu has said they will also speak on the ruling after consultations with their lawyers.
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