Senate minority leader gives PM 14 days to say sorry

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne is being asked to apologise to the minority leader of the Senate, Richard Lewis, or face a lawsuit if he does not comply soon.

Lewis’s legal representative, Charlesworth Tabor, issued the notice letter to the PM yesterday afternoon, indicating, “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.”

The attorney also stated, “I expect to hear from you within fourteen (14) days of today’s date. Your failure to do so will inevitably result in legal proceedings instituted against you immediately for defamation.”

The letter, initially intended for delivery on February 7, was instead served yesterday at the Office of the Prime Minister.

According to Tabor’s letter, he has been instructed by his client that the prime minister made the “false” statement on “Radio Pointe FM 99.1 on the Programme Browne & Browne.”

To be specific so that the prime minister would know which comment of his on Point FM was being referred to, attorney Tabor transcribed the statement which his client (Lewis) had earlier refuted on social media and on radio.

The prime minister had then stated thus: “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 Mr. 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 outlining 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.”

He continued, “More importantly, you have made this allegation knowing fully well that the allegation is false, or you were reckless as to whether it was true or not. Moreover, were you not so reckless, you could have easily ascertained from the Board of Education or the Principal from FortunaPix, who appeared with you on Pointe FM Radio on 2nd February, 2019 that my client was never a provider of content to FortunaPix in the E-Book Project.”

Over the weekend, Lewis said he would continue to press for the “resignation of the Minister of Education, Michael Browne, and for a full investigation into the E-Book scandal.”

Followers on his page and other social media pages where the statement was first shared, immediately began encouraging Lewis to take legal action.

The e-book project has been harshly criticised by many, including Lewis who is a member of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP).

He has gone on record saying he is not against the project for students, but remains concerned about whether the digitised content for secondary school students is on par with CXC standards.

Lewis also expressed concern about the (alleged) exclusion of the technical officers within the Ministry of Education from the project when it got started.

The latest issue to arise was the annual user fee to FortunPix of US $250 per student, which the prime minister said was not properly contracted.

The education minister later accepted blame and so did the Director of Education, Clare Browne, who have both publicly apologised.

The government recently said it had renegotiated the deal so that instead of paying nine million dollars now owed in user fees going back about 18 months, it would pay half of that.

PM Browne explained that that’s because the Cabinet was able to get the contractor to cut the cost from US $250 to US $125 per student for the user fee for the period already gone, and going forward, the fee would be US $80 per student.

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