There are increasing calls for the immediate resignation of Education Minister Michael Browne over what is now being called the e-textbook scandal.
Opposition Leader Jamale Pringle made the call on Monday during his first official response to a budget debate.
At the heart of the matter is a US$230 licensing or user fee that Indian company Fortuna Pix is now demanding from the government for each eBook user annually.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne disclosed details of the agreement earlier this month when he warned of the consequences for officials and others who signed a contract for the provision of 6,000 eBooks to the state, but did not follow the correct procedures. In fact, he made it clear that the Education Minister Michael Browne would have to bear some responsibility.
On Monday, Pringle suggested that the education system in Antigua and Barbuda must be improved and significant changes should be made from the leadership of the ministry to the bottom-level staff.
“I trust that the Prime Minister will just have to do some reshuffling in terms of relocating people within the education sector to ensure that our children have a brighter future. No matter how the Prime Minister tries to play it down, it is a scandal. It is taxpayer’s money which they are using to fund this initiative and no one can see the benefit,” Pringle asserted.
He also explained that Minister Michael should be called upon to provide some clarity on the agreement that was negotiated for the eBooks.
“The best person to clear up this is the minister. It is strange to me that this e-book initiative was a flagship programme for the government, and I am baffled that at no time did the Cabinet have any information about the eBooks. It appears to me that there is a Cabinet for everything else and then there is a Cabinet for education,” Pringle said.
Weeks ago, former education minister Dr. Jacqui Quinn called for the resignation of her successor over the eBook scandal. Opposition Senator Richard Lewis also sounded a similar call.
Lewis also called for an independent body to investigate the matter.
Meanwhile, Information Minister Melford Nicholas brushed aside the call for Minister Browne to resign, suggesting that members of the United Progressive Party (UPP) are attempting to score cheap political points.
Nicholas was speaking during a recent interview with the media.
“On the face of it, the call for the resignation of the minister is a bit politically adventurous. He [Richard Lewis] would want something to croak about,” Nicholas stated.
The minister also stated that the government should be meeting with Fortuna Pix to arrive at and, hopefully, reach a consensus on the way forward.
“I would say during the month of February we should be pretty close to concluding those discussions, and if we cannot agree, we won’t be afraid to break the contract,” Nicholas said.
Two years ago, the Ministry of Education embarked on an initiative to acquire eBooks for secondary school students in Antigua and Barbuda. The initial cost of $5 million covered the tablets and books needed to programme the devices, among other things.