The art of confusing people

Tertiary students waiting in line to enquire about their loans and scholarships at the Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Board headquarters in Suva. Picture: JOVESA NAISUA/FILE

Health and education are two social pillars dear to our hearts. The two issues have dominated the news headlines in the last few months. In watching the show, I saw the FijiFirst government put on a brilliant display of the art of confusing the people.

Lives in danger

The loss of life of a wife and mother in Savusavu because of the absence of medical care at the hospital was shocking. The reports from around the country of the lack of essential medical supplies for treatment at hospitals and health centres around the country is real. Yet, we hear the Government covering up and essentially denying the shortage of supplies and downplaying the loss of a precious life.

Education in chaos

On education, the technical colleges have closed. The children’s education and the teachers’ future are uncertain. There has been a mighty uproar and condemnation, here and in the region, on the inhumane deportation of the vice-chancellor (VC) who exposed the rot at the USP. He was charged for undermining national security. This Government’s oppressive move will have deep and long-lasting ramifications on regional relationships, trade, foreign investment, jobs, and the economy. It will endanger the education of our children. Yet with complete disgust and amazement, we heard the Speaker ruled in Parliament last week that this was not an urgent issue and was not of national interest. It got me mightily confused whether I was in the same planet as the Speaker let alone the same country. When some women in Parliament wore blue in support of the students and staff members of the USP, the spin doctor said he also supported good governance at USP. The spin doctor has mastered the art of confusing the people. These events should confirm yet again to everyone that either this Government has completely lost touch with the people or it simply do not care.

Suspension of MBBS intake

Then came the scholarship confusion. The Tertiary Scholarship & Loans Board (TSLB) announced that the scholarship on medical studies will be discontinued. When the country went up in arms concerned about the future of their children, the spin doctor stepped in to play his confusing tactics. The A-G gave a press statement before speaking on the topic in the Parliament sitting. He very conveniently accused the TSLB of taking a unilateral and hasty decision without consulting the Government. He shifted all the blame to the TSLB. He made it looked like he was the knight in shining armour on a mission to rescue the parents and their children. The A-G ordered the students suspended from TELS to go back on scholarship at the probation level where they will have a fair shot at working their way back up to the GPA threshold of three. The A-G said the policy announced by the TSLB was poorly and inconsistently enforced and that Government were ambushed by the news of the students’ suspensions. Shifting the blame is a tactic used a lot by the A-G and this Government. So, this got me to undertake a small research to find out who was twisting the truth. The 2020/2021 National Budget in July last year announced measures to streamline spending. These measures included what it called “belt-tightening” measures for the National Toppers and Tertiary Education Loan Scheme, suspension of civil service scholarship and local postgraduate scholarship program and the temporary suspension of the Parenthood Assistance Program. According to the 2020/2021 Government budget:

  • q130 new National Toppers Scholarships for MBBS, oral health and surgery will be suspended along with 20 new national toppers overseas scholarships;
  • For TELS, 130 new awards for MBBS, oral and dental, and 10 new awards for the Pilot Training Program will be suspended;
  • The TELS qualifying marks based on Year 13 results has been raised from 200 to 250; and
  • TELS technical college students’ entry age will also be increased from 15 years to 17 years.

So, who is telling the truth? It is obvious that the Government suspended 130 MBBS toppers scholarship scheme and 130 MBBS TELS students for the year 2021. TSLB was simply following the government decision yet the board was castigated for insubordination and being hasty. The game of confusion was being played. The TSLB carries the can. The A-G rides out to the sunset, a hero.

The confusion on the GPA

The next confusing issue is the minimum grade for scholarship holders. Should it be 3 or 3.5? The A-G said in Parliament and his press statement that it should be 3. Again let us check out who is not telling the truth. Section 19.3 (i) of the Students Handbook states that “TSLB may suspend/terminate your sponsorship if you fail to meet the required pass rate, which is a minimum of 50 per cent in the first term and a minimum of 75 per cent thereafter per academic term under TELS, or a GPA of
3.0/4.5 or 3.3/5.0 for the first academic term under the scholarships and 3.5/4.5 or 3.9/5.0 or its equivalence per academic
term thereafter under any scholarship scheme”. It is therefore crystal clear that the GPA for both new and continuing students after the first academic term is 3.5 out of 4.5 and 3.9 out of five and not three as A-G announced in Parliament. It is only in the first academic term that the accepted GPA is three. The TSLB has kept to its handbook. Rakesh Ram, the recently appointed chairman of TSLB, said the new board has not changed any requirements or policies. Has the A-G misinformed Parliament? If the lower grade of 3 was a change in policy, then the A-G should have explained in Parliament that he had shifted the goalpost.
So, who is confusing the people? It is the master of spin himself.

Where is the Minister of Education?

Scholarships are normally under the Ministry of Education. But where was the Minister of Education in this scholarship saga. Was she not capable of answering thequestions that A-G had to step in? This was also the case in the meeting of the USP Council. The A-G is not a member of the Council. The Minister for Education is a member. But the A-G was the one speaking
on behalf of the Fiji Government. We all know the oversized ego of the A-G. He loves the front seat. He thrives on being seen as the messiah. The other ministers may just be making up the numbers. We are witnessing the confusing impact of this behaviour in the education policies of our children.

Control but no accountability

The A-G has thrown the TSLB under the bus. As he has done on a several occasions like in the FNPF board, the Fiji Airways and many others, the A-G dictates to the board who carries the accountability while he walks away“scot-free”.

We are not confused nor amused

The A-G and the Government should know by now that we are not confused. We know the score. We can clearly seethe truth of what is unfolding in the important areas of health and education. Government is there only for themselves. They have sacrificed the people that voted them in. And we are not amused. Every road ultimately leads to money. What we are seeing and hearing in health and education is the sight and sound of the Government scratching an empty barrel. Government will have no choice but to borrow a lot more cash just to keep us afloat. God help us if there is another cyclone!

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