PM says no apology for Lewis

Prime Minister Gaston Browne (File photo)

The head of government in Antigua and Barbuda has promised that he will be responding personally to minority leader in the Senate, Richard Lewis. Prime Minister Gaston Browne has however indicated that his response will not be in the form of an apology. Lewis gave the Prime Minister 14 days, from February 7th, to apologise publicly for statements he made on Pointe FM Radio during the programme Browne & Browne regarding the Electronic textbooks matter orface a lawsuit if he does not comply.

Lewis’s legal representative, Charlesworth Tabor, was the one to issue the notice letter to the PM, indicating that “My client has categorically denied the allegation you made on Radio Pointe FM on 2nd February 2019 and demands that you publicly apologize for your false and damaging statement.”

In his letter, Tabor outlined that what he termed are the exact quotes of Prime Minister Browne as follows: “My understanding is that a lot of the content from these textbooks actually comes from local Antiguans and Barbudans, and I believe that FortunaPix actually pays them for the content. In fact, I’m told that one Richard Lewis, as an example, has been providing content for an information technology text, and I believe to date he would have earned about 1.3 or 1.4 million dollars from the Board of Education.”

After highlighting the comment, Tabor wrote, “I am instructed that your allegation is patently false and is intended to tarnish the reputation of my client, particularly since he is the one at the forefront calling for the resignation of the Minister of Education, Michael Browne, and also for a full investigation into the sordid E-Book scandal in which the Minister is seriously implicated.”

But, in an interview on the same programme on the weekend, the nation’s leader said he sees no justification for legal action and maintains that his statements in no way defamed Lewis’s character. “I listened to what I said and I know I did not have any intention to defame the good gentleman. I listened to it on several occasions and from all indication and there is absolutely nothing defamatory about what I said. “I made a point that he was paid 1.4 million dollars for an Information Technology text.

I have subsequently provided all of the payments that were made to him, so that’s a matter of fact. Now for some reason, he [Lewis] is trying to conflate the issues and to suggest that I was trying to implicate him in some E-books scandal,” Browne said. The PM went on to state that no claim was made that Lewis was involved with FortunaPix, the company which the government has engaged for the E-Books, and no claim was made that he provided any content for the devices.

He also suggested that the Senate minority leader and his legal representative “probably lacks comprehension and needs classes in comprehension or are both seeking attention”. “It’s evident that Tabor has a lot of time on his hands because I can’t see that any attorney would entertain that kind of frivolous claim and to literally sit down to write a waste-of-time letter that is not going anywhere. I am going to be dealing with him very harsh and that is why I want to answer him myself…. I want to tell Tabor that he needs to go back to school and that he needs some classes in comprehension,” the PM stated.

Lewis, like many others, has been pressing for the “resignation of the Minister of Education, Michael Browne, and for a full investigation into the E-Book scandal.” The latest issue about the project surrounds the annual user fee to FortunaPix of US $250 per student, which the prime minister said was not properly contracted.

The education minister later accepted blame, as did the Director of Education, Clare Browne, and both have publicly apologised. The government recently said it had renegotiated the deal, so that instead of paying the $9 million owed in user fees for the past 18 months, it would pay half of that amount.

Additionally, the initial user fee of US $250 per student has also been successfully renegotiated to US $80 per student. PM Browne told the media a week ago that the calls for removal of the education minister were baseless.