E-book Scandal Exposed, PM Warns Of Consequences

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Education Minister Michael Browne recently took responsibility for the "irregularities'

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 honoured we will have to spend an additional five million dollars a year in licensing fees.”

“It could have been an oversight,” the prime minister said.

“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.

46 COMMENTS

  1. It is clear that the Director of Education and the permanent Secretary in Ministry of Education fail to read the most important part of this contract i.e. the small print. While this might not have been deliberate on their part it shows carelessness and naiveness on their path.

    • Nothing is clear until all the facts are unearthed. Don’t give in to this ABLP game of deflecting the blame from where it belongs. Treat Max Hurst as a provider of skewed information and nothing else.

    • The PM is right. It’s time to get all of these people under control. The People’s Government is issuing some heavy manners. So be it.

  2. The last man that signed because they told him to do so spent time in 1735…. Beware of unexplained favors…..

  3. Wow! The very sad part of this story is that it will eventually be swept under the rug and no one would be held accountable for it. Recently in Jamaica the minister in charge of Petrojam Dr Andrew Wheatley resigned when strange things happened under his watch as minister of Energy. The buck stops with the minister and he should do the right thing……… The PM must demand more from his ministers and where they fail they must be made to feel the consequences. Can you imagine now the burden on government to pay this millions of dollars annually . The minister should have known and it is not enough to say that he didn’t know. That is why you are minister………….RESIGN now or be fired.

    • Wait a ma pickney future a get salt now…..
      It is clear tht this was nt a mistake
      High officials in a Ministry such as education making million dollar mistake.P.M thts pure b.s.
      U n the rest wise ppl of Antigua knw this….
      But if a 1 thing tht nigga can smile thru any storm…….
      Pray 4 Antigua
      This is very Serious Antigua

      • Why use the “n” word. You demean the People and put down the citizen of this Great Land. Sorry, that’s not acceptable. You say to “Pray 4 Antigua”. I say “Pray for Pickney Future”. You need to rise up a little higher my friend.

  4. Gaston some body must go jail ,gaston if you believe it was an accident not to even let it go to the tenders board ……there are phone messages and recordings coming soon ……questions to minister ….which company was formed to provide the ebooks …2 which government minister is a family member of the puss chest minister .3 which minister benefitted from this venture …..some of them ……the lady and clare browne that sign off on this had to have had directives ,they cant just sign something that is worth over 10 million dollars and here the funny part to keep the e books working u have to pay $250 ,000 a year each for warranty can you make these stuff

  5. This lack of team spirit must end. Made no sense that Education handled this matter without the major involvement of the ministry which deals with IT. Many questions which went to the IT deportment on this issue were met with the response that they had no knowledge. Its a bad idea to try to reinvent the wheel since efforts to do such will tend to result in a higher risk of failure when a working framework already exists. Minister Browne, there is no I in team. It also saddens me that we have yet another scandal showing we have not learnt from past ones (eg overspending by the ministry of sports “fencing scandal” where proper procedures were not followed).

      • Zacky, how so (spinning)? A company (FortunaPix-) with an established track record was chosen. Said company has won at least one award in the US for its product. Would you prefer if I argued the proper procedure was followed? Should I not compare it to what went down with the labelled fencing scandal where there too proper procedure was not followed? Oh yes I forget, in your eyes the UPP tenure was perfect. Is it wrong to expect that we would have learned from these former scandals?

        • Why do you always seek to use UPPs tenure as atonement for ABLP sins? UPP has long gone! Both present and previous government are now ABLP.
          By the way, you claim to know that the Indian company Fortuna-Pix is has some kind of established track record so how come it is stated, “Little is known of the Indian Company that provided the e-books at an initial cost of EC$ 5 million.” . I know you have some IT ‘savyness’ so I just hope, for your sake, you have nothing to do with this.

          • The reason why you learn history is to make sure you learn from it and to never make the same mistake again. Otherwise shame on you. never forget your history and teach it to your children so that they know. And we should not only remember the faults of the UPP but that of the ALP as well.

  6. Incompetence, malfeasance, waste, money down the drain

    This party need to rename themself the can’t be trusted with money Party

  7. Even if this was an “oversight”, (hmmmm?!) people need to be held responsible and face severe consequences. Irresponsible stewardship is not acceptable at this level and they should resign, or be relieved of their duties. If these fees were ,mentioned in the contract then how can the government void the contract. We would be the laughing stock and how could any reputable company have interest in dealing with us. SMH. Bunch of JOKERS!

  8. Education Minister Michael Browne said he wanted to re-energise learning…….yeah… this guy needs to be investigated but guess what gaston would not there to do that …..or he will spill the $200,000 dollar talk ……gaston investigate the e books

  9. THE PRIME MINISTER SPEAKS

    When a Prime Minister speaks, all Ministers, including Chiefs of Staff listen.

    When he so speaks, he shall not only do so authoritatively, but also uncompromisingly.

    When they speak to the media, they shall know what not to divulge to the media. This is contained in the Oath of Office [CO: 1981: Page 79].

    A Prime Minister shall always be in control, not only of the prime ministerial position, but also of his Ministers.

    One might be reminded of the Mighty Sparrow’s famous quote, of a tough talking former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams.

    In Cabinet, he reportedly told his Ministers, ‘…When I talk, no damn dogs bark; …I defy anyone who try to dictate to me; …When I pass an order; …It must go no further; …My word is law; …If you don’t like it; …Get to hell out of here’ [Dr. Solomon Affair].

    Likened to ‘…Truth,’ responsibility is neither ‘…Transferable or Divisible.’

    Those that are charged with ‘…Responsibility,’ are not only responsible, but at all material times, act responsibly.

    When the Education Minister, took the Oath of office, he was assigned full responsibility for the Education Ministry. Therefore, he shares no responsibility, and shall take full responsibility.

    To a responsible person, anything that goes wrong, he is responsible.

  10. “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.”. How could this be an oversight? And, where in this is the Minister who should have provided such ‘oversight’ and ensured that the law is followed?

  11. What is all the fuss about a few million dollars for the youths IMMATERIAL……

    Antigua has a billion dollar budget what’s a few millions.

  12. Pull the other one. How did they think content would magically be provided ? At no cost? Surely the PS knows how contracts work.
    Hope the Indian company gets good legal advice.
    As for the Minister’s involvement SMH.

  13. I hope that this can be swiftly corrected. We don’t need another Wadadli Power Can’t mess on our hands. Seems like they are trying to copy that scenario: no parliamentary approval sought by Baldwin Spencer, no Tenders Board approval sought by the MoE.

  14. Mr Pompey, you are absolutely correct. The buck stops with the Minister and he must accept responsibility when it succeeds and when it flops. It flops bigtime and he must shoulder the blame.

  15. Just as he did with Asot, the Prime Minister must be seen to be taking action. The Ministers are the custodians of the ministries. When they goof, they must go. The PM was correct in dismissing Asot, he must immediately take action to remove minister Browne.

  16. eBooks are software platforms, and one of the first question they should have asked the vendor is how updates will be handled during their initial presentation to the Board of Education. Does the Board of Ed.has an office of legal counsel that reviews all the legal documents before they sign them? If this contract went to the Tenders Board, why did they not raised the red flag? $250 US per books a year seem to be an absorbent about of money. For EC 9 mill error the Ed. Minister should resigned, that’s the honorable thing to do.

  17. let me be pellucidly clear.THE STUDENTS ARE NOT USING THE EBOOKS.They are distributed to the students;Persons were actually employed by the BOE to distribute these.My children has never used them.Just as they are given in the box at thge beginning of the year,they are returned in the box at the end of the school year.WE DONT NEED THEM,THE REQUIRED CONTENTS OF THE CURRICULUM ARE NOT ON THEM.
    Students are already swamped with technology..MEK dem use the text books,nothing wrong with the texts.
    Actually the person who is suppose to head the program was asked to recuse herself as she was sabotaging the program.They couldnt wait on her,she told them Antigua was not ready for the.A retired person was contracted to replace her.

    • I think you said it all and the absence of the correct curriculum should not be a surprise to anyone with a functioning brain. This exorbitantly expensive nonsensical faux pas appears to add up to yet another case of upper echelon corruption…will anything meaningful be done, I very much doubt it. We can only hope that the ones that appear to be set up to take the fall open their mouths and tell the truth.

  18. EXTREME SUGGESTION- STEADY JJ

    Though the matter is one of ‘ …financial accountability and has triggered public disquiet, one may not necessarily voluntary of called upon to resign. They cannot escape sanction either.

    Within the Police Service, back then, when an officer is charged with responsibility, and he was found to be negligent, particularly as it affects Government property, though he faces a disciplinary punishment of dismissal, if the omission constituted grossness.

    He may be given an option to ‘… replace or resign.’ This was necessary for him to develop a keener sense of responsibility.

    Dependent upon the replacement cost, most had opted for the former.

    What could reasonably be inferred in the comments attributed to Prime Minister Browne?

    He knows that when ‘…kinks of incompetence or ignorance,’ surfaced in governance, in avoiding negative public perceptions, (i) ‘…Integrity in public life; (ii) …Transparency and (iii) …Accountability,’ eliminate any form of defence.

    In the Police service as in any other service-public or private, ‘…Gross Negligence’ has a price.

    This is the juncture where ‘…Accountability’ comes into play. This also, cannot be transferred.

    A simple illustration, If ‘Steady JJ’ gave a known person ‘…Box Money’ to deliver to the Box holder and through his negligence, lost it, he cannot say to JJ, ‘…It was your fault; …You should not have asked me to carry it.’ Invariably, such response had provoked the inevitable- trouble.

    Biblical accounts revealed that ‘…Jesus Christ’ never transferred His Cross to anyone.’ He not only carried it, but was also nailed to it. Why should any Minister of Education think differently?

  19. Perhaps ” made in India” is not as affordable as “made in China”. In don’t believe there were any small prints in this contract and all who saw the documents knew. I wonder if an issue like this is covered by WTO?.

  20. The government with all the answers and financial wizards get charge 250000 every year for some empty tablet in box that don’t work
    Dem get bamboozled Again!!!!
    Is school children running our affairs?
    First YIDA
    Then Chinese
    Now Indians
    Who next go take advantage a poor Antiguans

  21. This scandal is regrettably far bigger than anyone realize and the implications are greater. For even as we sort through the rights and wrongs of the contract and who have the right to sign etc, the expenditure has already taken place and government must pay. Even worse, while the ebook system is far from up and working, the children in many secondary schools are issued with ebooks every term even though they do not use them. Tell me…..what sense does that make? My son who is a student at the Princess Margaret Secondary School, brings his home and it is nicely placed under the bed, and at the end of the school year when they are required to return all books, it is returned. Tell me please, what in the world is going on and why is Government funds so recklessly used. I am calling on the Ministry of Education to immediately recover all ebooks issues to children since they are NOT using them in schools. Clearly, heads need to roll and this might very well be the biggest scandal in Antigua’s history.

    • I will try to make the same point again.
      In the private sector anytime you do something against company policies and procedures it has consequences. This could be as drastic as termination or leave without pay. Workers in the public sector need to be held to some accountability as well. Regardless of who they are. As you guys say the box stops with the minister. However the minister is not the one executing the policy he is the one setting the policy. And collectively with cabinet they determine these policies to be followed. The minister therefore has to take responsibility and put things right. He need to investigate where it is that the policy and procedure failed and recommend to the PS the actions he wish to be taken against those involved. We such understand the PS is the head of these department. In any corporation anyone that is authorized to sign contracts and make the company liable must have some legal backing. In other words contracts need to be vetted by the company’s legal representative. The Government Legal Department is the only office that will vet any and every contract. Even when a consultant is hired by a particular ministry it is the Legal Department that will vet the document to ensure it is in compliance with government practices and legal standard. Therefore the fact that this contract, as large as it is did nit go through the Legal Department is mind bugling and troubling. These are seasoned public servants. Not juniors that don’t know better. And the Treasury will and should never execute a payment that doesn’t have all those check and balances attached to it. Therefore someone needs to be held accountable and perhaps fired or moved from their position. But something has to happen and fast. People should not make such grave errors in their job and nothing happens.

  22. Only in Antigua, criminal politicians go free for criminal wrongdoing. The minister took credit for the eBooks, therefore, he must be responsible for the now problem. There must be an investigation. Time for accountability in Antigua / Barbuda.

  23. Can i use the same argument with the government .
    Ill tell the tax man it was an oversight and bill tax void.
    Surely leading by example.

    • Comment: What’s all the fuss about? The required sum is “immaterial”. But can I please have an oversight on my APUA bills, Medical benefits, Social security, education levy & all other government taxes & fees please?

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