“Scholarship termination and basic human right to political activity”. Letter to Editor 30 May 2014.
Letter to Editor (The Fiji Times, Fiji Sun, Ashwin Raj) (30 May 2014) (shorter version sent)
USP Scholarship termination and basic human right to political activity
In recent years the Bainimarama Government has been proclaiming proudly that by lowering the voting age to 18 they are strongly encouraging young people to be involved in the politics and governance of the country.
A necessary corollary of that must be that young people (including students) not just vote but be involved with political parties, policy issues and campaigning with voters to get their views across.
Indeed, the world over, students are at the forefront of political activity, and often radical activities, such as opposing wars, opposing racism, protecting the environment, and even being the youth arms of political parties.
The Bainimarama Government might even be hoping that the frequently and selectively maligned “old politicians” will be replaced by fresh young politicians, with fresh ideas.
The media has reported (FT 28 May 2014) that a student’s scholarship at USP has been terminated by the Tertiary Scholarship and Loans Board because he had been allegedly associating himself “in political agendas” (according to the letter from Secretary to the TSLB, Ms Tofinga).
The letter from TSLB made a number of other puzzling allegations implicating USP and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs:
2. “and as per clause five of your award letter, you are required to abide by your institute’s rules and regulations” (i.e. presumably USP’s rules and regulations)
3. “the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs has zero tolerance for behaviour contravening those aspects” and the “MTA reserves the right to terminate your scholarship if a report is received from your institute” (i.e. presumably from USP).
The student told the media that his actions had in no way contravened his bond agreement; he was not aware of any reports from off-campus that would put his scholarship at risk, nor of any report from the university; that as a youth, he had the right to make political choices as guaranteed under the Bainimarama Constitution; that his GPA was above the minimum required to retain the scholarship, and there was no mention from either the university or TSLB of rules against political involvement. All pretty reasonable, I would think.
But Mr Dixon Seeto (Chairman of TSLB) refused to respond to media questions by claiming that “all applicants’ information was confidential”. The Vice Chancellor of USP (who is also a member of the TSLB), referred all questions to the TSLB.
Very nice. For them.
But as a taxpayer whose taxes help pay for these scholarships, and to whom both the TSLB, USP and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs are accountable, I would request:
(a) the Chairman of the TSLB (Dixon Seeto) explain to the public exactly why they have terminated the scholarship.
(b) the Vice Chancellor of USP to explain whether his institution wrote any report on this particular student to either the TSLB or to the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs.
(c) the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs to explain what has been their role in this termination and on whose advice.
(d) the TSLB, USP and the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs explain whether scholarship holders are allowed to engage in lawful political activity, as a basic human right under all of our constitutions.
(e) the Students and Staff Associations at USP explain whether the basic human right of USP students to engage in political activity is a legitimate area of concern to them on which they should act?
Professor Wadan Narsey