Opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Richard Lewis is demanding the immediate resignation of Education Minister Michael Browne over what he (Lewis) terms the electronic text books or E-books scandal.
Lewis also called on Prime Minister Gaston Browne to fire the education minister, should he refuse to resign. The opposition senator and UPP leadership contender demanded the sacking following pronouncements by Prime Minister Browne that “several procedural breaches” occurred during the procurement of over 6,000 e-book devices in 2017.
Lewis’s view on the matter was expressed via his personal social media page on which he regularly shares his perspectives on issues of national or public interest.
The opposition senator stated that the E-books saga started back in February 2016 with ever-changing rollout dates of September 2016, November 2016, February 2017, September 2017, then September 2018. Three years later, he noted, the planned rollout remains a dream.
He added that the government has racked up a bill of $14 million borne by the taxpayers of Antigua and Barbuda. Lewis said it would have been seamless and far less costly had the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration utilised the existing E-books version of the current physical textbooks used in schools – published by such well-known imprints as Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Macmillan, etc.
“Given the announced termination of the current ill-advised agreement, and in the interest of general good governance for Antigua and Barbuda, I additionally make the following calls: The Ministry of Education (MOE) must make public all documents – contracts and otherwise – relating to the E-book Project,” Lewis said.
He asked how and why two senior Ministry of Education officials signed a contract they didn’t fully read or understand, why wasn’t the contract vetted by the Office of the Solicitor General before signing, why did the Permanent Secretary and Director of Education within the ministry sign on behalf of the Board of Education, and why the project agreement was never brought before Cabinet for approval?
Lewis also suggested that a full study and disclosure must be made on the impact of information, shared by the Prime Minister over a week ago, about the quality of education of students who own the E-books, and the additional costs required to either maintain use of the tablets or revert to physical textbooks.
A week ago the PM warned of consequences for those involved in signing the agreement for the E-books. Since the statement on his radio station it remains unknown if any action has been taken.