Prime Minister Gaston Browne is warning of consequences for officials and others who signed a contract for the provision of e-books to the state but did not follow the correct procedures.
“The Minister of Education is ultimately responsible and even though there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part, the reality is he would have to bear some of the responsibility.”
At the heart of the matter is a US$ 250 licensing or user fee the company is now demanding from the government for each e-book user annually.
Browne says the “problem” was unearthed three weeks ago and could cost the state US$ 5 million annually.
There have long been concerns over the lack of transparency with the programme, piloted through schools in between 2017-18.
Little is known of the Indian Company that provided the e-books at an initial cost of EC$ 5 million. It is not certain how the Ministry of Education came about its decision to award this company the contract to help transition from hard copy textbooks to e-books.
Browne who is also minister of finance says the Indian company is now asking for an additional EC$ 9 million.
He said the government has instructed the Board of Education to suspend all further payments to the firm on the basis that the proper procedure was not followed in the acquisition of the e-learning material.
“There are some clear breaches there,” Browne told Pointe FM over the weekend.
The contract was signed by the Director of Education and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Browne revealed.
He said, “the ministry of education should not have signed on behalf of the board (of education).”
Browne said the people who signed the contract did not appear to read it carefully enough.
“And that in itself creates a problem. It would mean if this contract is to be
“It could have been an oversight,”
“I have to admit that there is no evidence of any kickback to anyone and the individuals who signed. I mean I had the opportunity to speak to them and they were perhaps not paying the type of attention that they ought to.
“I have no evidence that they deliberately looked in a different direction or they deliberately overlooked the issue,” he said.
I think in their enthusiasm to have the e-books initiative come on stream that perhaps, let’s say they would not have looked at the details in the contract…carefully,” the prime minister added.
Additionally, Browne said the Cabinet and the Tenders Board were left in the dark about the user fee.
“Nobody knew it was never disclosed, the cabinet had no knowledge, to my knowledge the tenders board had no knowledge so there were some procedural breaches,” Browne disclosed.
According to him “the process that we have in place is that all contracts in excess of $100,000 must go to the tenders board for approval or a waiver of tender.”
Prior to going to the Tenders Board Browne said Cabinet approval must be obtained.
The firm was invited to Cabinet last week and Browne said he informed that that the contract is “null and void.”
No mention was made of the scandal when the Chief of Staff reported on the e-books to the media last week following Cabinet.
“We called in the principals of the Indian firm to Cabinet last Wednesday and we made it abundantly clear to them that under no circumstances will my government be paying a licensing fee,” the prime minister said.
6,499 devices were reportedly distributed to students in March 2017. Education Minister Michael Browne said he wanted to re-energise learning.