Vishal Jaunky: “My fight is not just for myself but for meritocracy and justice.”

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“‘An examination of the respective experience, qualities as well as the required qualifications of the applicant and the co-respondent to meet the requirements of the criteria prescribed…confirms the manifest unreasonableness of the respondent’s decision in selection and appointing the co-respondent to the post’.

According to the Supreme Court judges, choosing Praveena Cooshna to fill the post of lecturer at the Mauritius Institute of Education over Vishal Jaunky was “manifestly unreasonable and ‘so outrageous in its defiance of logic’ that no reasonable person could have reached a decision for appointing” her instead of him. Yet, the MIE is still turning a deaf ear to his calls for justice. We speak to Vishal Jaunky about this journey and the tribulations it entails.

This interview is about a job you interviewed for and which you didn’t get, after which you took the case to court and won. Let’s first talk about the position itself. What is it about?
The job is that of lecturer in economics at the Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE). The post was advertised in 2017. The interviews were held in February 2018. The interview went well and went I looked at the list of candidates who came for the interview, I felt I was the most qualified.

How many candidates were there?
Four were selected and three came. One of these was a lecturer at the Charles Telfair Institute, where I was also working as a part-time lecturer. So I knew her quite well. I know she doesn’t have a Master’s in economics but in project management. This is the first anomaly.

What about your own qualifications?
I hold a Bachelor’s, Master’s and a PhD in economics from the University of Mauritius. I also did a teaching and learning module which is a requirement for becoming a lecturer at the university and the MIE.

What was the advertisement for the post asking for?
A post graduate qualification in economics and a pedagogical qualification or two years’ working experience.

And did the candidate who ended up getting the job fulfil these requirements?
No. I don’t think Mrs Cooshna, who was selected for the job, has either the postgraduate or the pedagogical qualifications required. Nor does she have the two years’ experience required in lieu of that.

What do you mean you don’t think? Do you know or don’t you?
The thing is that she didn’t produce any qualifications in court to defend her case.

On the basis of what did you go to court?
I suspected that she wasn’t qualified and that was confirmed during a conversation I had with her while waiting to be called in for the interview. I was the only candidate on the list with a PhD.

“I was a full-time lecturer at the University of Mauritius after my PhD. Then I got a two-year scholarship to do post-doctoral research at the ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, where Einstein did his PhD. I was able to publish in top international journals.”

But the position didn’t require a PhD, did it?
No, it didn’t but if you look at the scheme of duties, it is clear that a PhD is required because there is research involved.

So what did you do before you took the case to court?
I contacted the MIE several times and they kept telling me that the head of department would get back to me but no one did. Then in June, I happened to learn that Mrs Pravina Cooshna had got the job. So I wrote to the MIE asking on the basis of what the selection was made. I followed that with a letter to the Ministry of Labour.

And nothing came out of that?
Well, the MIE did not reply to me but the Ministry of Labour asked me to come for mediation and reconciliation but no one from the MIE came. Then I was told the only way now is to lodge a case at the Supreme Court. Which I did.

How long did the court take to reach a verdict?
Over three years!

And the verdict was clearly in your favour. The judges had in fact very strong words for the selection process, didn’t they?
Very strong.

Could you please read us the relevant part of the judgment?
“An examination of the respective experience, qualities as well as the required qualifications of the applicant and the co-respondent to meet the requirements of the criteria prescribed…confirms the manifest unreasonableness of the respondent’s decision in selection and appointing the co-respondent to the post.”

What happened after this?
I have been waiting since August. For two months, nothing has happened. I contacted the MIE through my attorney and copied everyone concerned in the correspondence. Nothing. My attorney has advised me to send another reminder, which I will do this week.

Is the lady still in post?
No. she was dismissed but they haven’t filled the position yet.

And what is your state of mind?
I am permanently stressed and so is my family. Besides, the judicial process is very costly. The uncertainty is also very hard.

If you feel so qualified, why don’t you try other avenues?
My fight is not just for myself but for meritocracy and justice. I am working as a teacher now. So what do I tell my pupils? That you have to work hard but your hard work will not pay off? That you need political backing first and foremost. I can’t do that.

How do you know the lady who got the job has political backing?
I don’t know but look at the facts: the lady didn’t produce any qualifications. Even the judge said that “no certificate produced on record” during the exchange of affidavits. Shouldn’t the MIE have checked the qualifications? The only thing she produced is a transcript – not a certificate – of a Postgraduate diploma in Educational Administration from India. Even the transcript was incomplete as it included only four modules.

How many do you need?
You need at least 10. And what is worse is that that qualification is not recognised by the Tertiary Education Commission. I also had a look at her contract. Immediately after signing the contract, she was given five increments. Five! Without any qualifications or experience!

What other avenues did you explore since the court verdict?
I met the president of the Republic. In fact, he invited a student who had just had a PhD at the age of 81. I happen to be her supervisor at the University of Mauritius where I am working part-time as supervisor. So I took the opportunity to talk to the president. I showed him all my qualifications and the court judgment and I was hoping that he would at least make a phone call and enquire. I was very surprised that he wasn’t interested. He told me the MIE has their own board and that the only person who can help is my lawyer. I really thought he had a moral obligation to see that a code of ethics is respected and justice is done.

In the meantime, what are you doing?
I am working part-time at the University of Mauritius and the Open University as supervisor and teaching in a secondary school.

So what are you complaining about?
I am complaining about the fact that my qualifications are not recognised. Why am I getting part-time and not entering the system? And why are those in the system not producing the results I am producing? When you look at the level of research and publications coming out of the university, I am sorry to say that they are not able to keep up to date. And look at the ranking of the university?  Eighty-nine in Africa!

And why do you want to join a university that you think is that bad?
Because I want to be able to help the university. I have a lot of experience abroad and I am still affiliated with universities there. I was a full-time lecturer at the University of Mauritius after my PhD. Then I got a two-year scholarship to do post-doctoral research at the ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, where Einstein did his PhD. I was able to publish in top international journals. Then I had another two-year scholarship in Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. After four years in Europe, I came back. I really want to help my country. I tried to get back to the University of Mauritius but all the positions have been frozen.

How are you keeping up with research?
I am still publishing in the name of ETH and Luleå University and I am supervising research papers. I must also add that on the day of the verdict, I received so many calls and messages from people who are also victims of the system in the same way, asking me to help. Many of them were victimised because of their affiliation to opposition parties. Because of a political opinion, your juniors get promotions you are more qualified for. I am also going to dedicate my time to that. I now have a long list of such cases. And it is also for them that I am fighting.

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