Economist says ‘someone’ should bear blame for e-books fiasco

Minister Michael Browne

Local economist Everett Christian yesterday became the latest critic of the government’s e-books initiative, describing the three-year-old programme as a major failure for which someone needs to be held responsible.

His comments were made after the Leader of the Opposition, Jamale Pringle, in his first budget debate in Parliament on Monday, called for the immediate resignation of the Minister of Education, Michael Browne.

In supporting this and other recent calls for Browne’s departure, Christian said an investigation should be carried out to determine whether or not Minister Browne ought to be held accountable.

“It’s a major screw-up; somebody should be held responsible,” Christian said yesterday on OBSERVER AM. “Why are we spending all this money if it’s not being put to good use? If he’s responsible for the fiasco [he should resign]; the truth is we’ll never know the truth unless there’s a proper investigation.”

The news that something was amiss with the e-books programme came to light on January 12 when Prime Minister Gaston Browne warned of consequences for officials and others who signed a contract for the provision of 6,000 e-books to be used in secondary schools without following the correct procedures.

While speaking on the matter on his radio station, Pointe FM, PM Browne also made it clear that the Education Minister would have to bear some responsibility.

At the centre of the e-books saga is the fact that the Government of Antigua and Barbuda was indebted to the Indian firm FortunaPix which provided the e-books for $9 million, plus an additional $5 million annual licensing fee.

The prime minister told the nation that the contract was a bad one to begin with and therefore could not be honoured because it was not done according to law.

Meantime, Christian voiced his disagreement with Pringle, who had suggested that residents whose children do not have access to the e-book programme should not pay Education Levy.

The economist said the levy is a form of taxation to which all citizens should contribute.

“There are many people in the country who may contribute even though they do not have children, period,” Christian said.

“Whether or not we like it, the Education Levy is a form of taxation. It is expected that all citizens should contribute in one way or the other to the tax revenues which provide services to the entire nation, so from that perspective I would not agree with him.”