Education Minister takes ‘full responsibility’ for e-books fiasco

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After weeks of scrutiny and calls for the resignation of the Minister of Education, Science and Technology over the ongoing e-books saga, Michael Browne, for the first time, has publicly stated that he has taken full responsibility for the fallout.

While describing the situation as simply an “irregularity”, Browne – the parliamentary representative for All Saints West – made the admission during his contribution to the budget debate on Wednesday.

The saga surrounds a surprise revelation that the government is indebted to FortunaPix, the Indian firm that provided thousands of students here with the-books to the tune of $9 million.

Earlier in January, Prime Minister Gaston Browne warned of the serious implications for all individuals who were involved in the failure to follow the correct procedure in signing the contract for the provision of 6,000 e-books to the state.

During his presentation in Parliament, however, the minister of education gave his commitment to PM Browne and the public that his ministry will be working to rectify the matter.

“In reviewing the situation, both from my angle and from other angles [there were irregularities] and as the Minister of Education, Science and Technology, it is my responsibility to communicate between the ministry and Cabinet; and the oversight is what we have been in the process of rectifying; and as the minister, I bear full responsibility for whatever happens within the ministry. I accept that responsibility,” he said.

Browne also apologized to the prime minister and his colleagues, and assured them that there was no hidden agenda with the ‘irregularities’ surrounding the e-books’.

“I use this avenue and this platform to apologize to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet for not making them sufficiently aware of the license fee.

“The reality is there is no hanky panky, there are no kickbacks. There was no attempt to deceive, there was no attempt to cover up, there was no attempt to hide. Oftentimes when you look for instance at the e-books, the textbooks which were approved slipped an irregularity. It just wasn’t done and we should have,” he said.

Despite the public apology, Minister Browne has received no sympathy from the Democratic National Alliance’s candidate for St. John’s Rural East and spokesperson for Sports and Youth Affairs, Vere Cornelius.

Cornelius while speaking on the OBSERVER AM show yesterday joined the call from the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and the United Progressive Party’s MP for All Saints East and St. Luke — Jamale Pringle — for the immediate resignation of the education minister over the e-books controversy.

“We are calling on the Prime Minister to ask for the resignation of the honorable minister of education and the reason we are calling is because we had the Michael Freeland saga for $100,000 and the PM spared no effort in asking for his resignation. And so if he can ask for that resignation for just $100,000, then he can ask for the education minister’s resignation,” Cornelius said.

The DNA candidate also questioned the education minister’s oversight for certain aspects of the e-books agreement.

“When I look at it, the minister, I think, has a Master’s degree in education so I would think, I would expect when it comes to reading and comprehension of a document that they should not have any problems with reading and comprehension.

“I would also think that when it comes to a word problem being solved inside of a contract like that our finance minister, our minister of education who should be very astute in comprehension and in solving word problems that they should not have had a problem,” Cornelius stated.

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