The Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Fijian Government are to face off in Court after the church accused the Fijian Government for using “dirty tactics” following the court injunction by government to block the church from privatizing Vatuvonu College.
In a copycat, SDA also locked horns with the education ministry after threatening to shutdown Vatuvonu Adventist College if Ministry didn’t provide them with ‘Adventist only’ teachers.
The demand followed through weeks after the Catholic Church of Fiji also insisted that all Catholic schools in Fiji should have a Catholic head teacher or principal.
The Catholic Church saga was resolved after weeks of deliberations between the faith based school and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry assured the faith based schools that it will see into the demands while making future appointments.
But things took a new turn when the SDA Church accused the government of dirty tactics over church’s decision to fully privatise the college and slapped legal action.
While speaking to RadioNZ, the church’s general secretary, Joe Talemaitoga, said students returned to the school this week for the second term under the interim management of the ministry.
“We are going to court because of the court injunction. All we know is that the school has started yesterday (Monday) and I’m sure the result of that – it’s going to be the first hearing about the government and the church.”
The school began normal for the second term with only one change – the word “Adventist” on board at the entrance of the school was painted over with white paint.
The interim Committee set-up by Ministry of education is headed by manager Samu Samumatua who is also a District Officer of Tukavesi and Lemeki Leve who is the landowner on which Vatuvonu College is built upon. Other members are not known yet.
Meanwhile the government has also started formal investigations over SDA Church for mismanagement and abuse of funds by the college trustees.
How it all began?
The issue began earlier last month after the Church’s Executive Committee announced that it would be closing Vatuvonu Adventist High School—on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island—at the end of Term 1, due to the Fiji Ministry of Education’s refusal to appoint Adventist staff to the school.
A few days later, the Executive Committee announced that the school would remain open, and a Seventh-day Adventist principal and teachers would be appointed. To achieve this outcome, the Church would privatize the school, which meant that it would need to introduce student fees as the Fiji government would be withdrawing the Free Education Grant.
On April 15, High Court proceedings were commenced by the Attorney-General’s office against Vatuvonu school and the Adventist Church.
The government was successful in obtaining court order to block the closure of the school since it wasn’t sanctioned by the Permanent Secretary of Education.
The Fiji government operates a universal free education system where it pays staff wages and funds schools around the country. Under its Open Merit Recruitment Selection System, the government chooses principals and teaching staff to fill school vacancies.
The government refuses to match appointees with the school’s religious orientation. Schools in Fiji are almost entirely (more than 95 per cent) owned and operated by faith-based organizations.