Renewed calls for minister to be impeached over e-book saga

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Former Education Minister Michael Browne

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By Carlena Knight

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An opposition party has called for the immediate resignation or dismissal of former education minister Michael Browne – now creative industries minister – over the e-books controversy.

Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Second Vice President Anthony Stuart made the call on Observer AM on Tuesday.

“I want to say that the Honorable Minister Dr Michael Browne must resign or be fired for his many failures, some of which have cost the government and people of Antigua and Barbuda thousands and thousands of dollars, and in this tough guava harvest time, those wasted thousands and thousands of dollars was just wasted money,” he said.

“It could pay retirees, it could pay Clarevue workers, it could pay quarry workers, CBH workers, port workers, it could pay suppliers of goods and services to government, pay scholarships for students who are overseas, and pay those hard-working nurses at Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre.

“So I say the e-book scandal, the waste of e-books, is a major reason why Dr. Michael Browne should resign or be fired,” Stuart said.

Stuart was speaking following the revelation that dozens of e-books had been dumped in Cooks’ landfill after the Department for Education explained that the devices had been ‘rendered beyond repair’ and ‘long past their technological lifespan’ .

The move drew a flood of criticism from the public and opposition parties who have long accused Browne of wasting government finances by buying the e-books which they say were never used to their full potential. .

In fact, Stuart went on to say that Browne’s record in this case shows a number of mistakes and mishaps.

At the heart of the problem is a $250 license or user fee that Indian company Fortuna Pix demanded from the government in 2019 for every e-book user every year.

“The waste of e-books, of money, of the over $70-80 million, is the crescendo where we say the waste of taxpayers’ money is too much.

“You may remember at the time that Dr. Michael Browne had a mix-up with Fortuna Pix. So the question today is, are the license fees still paid?” He asked.

“These e-books, when young entrepreneurs wanted to provide content, they were denied that opportunity, but in the parliament of Antigua and Barbuda on January 30, 2019, Minister Michael Browne called this massive exorbitant waste of the ‘irregular’ taxpayers’ money, which he’s sorry for. We say it’s too much,” he added.

It is for these reasons that Stuart thinks Browne should quit or be sacked by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who he says has previously dismissed ministers and senators for much less.

“In fact, the prime minister himself, in January 2019, told the nation that the minister should be held accountable. So, Prime Minister Gaston Browne, I tell you the evidence is clear, the waste is visible and you have no choice but to fire the Honorable Michael Browne,” Stuart said.

This is not the first time opposition party members have called on Browne to resign or be fired over the e-books scandal.

In 2019, opposition leader Jamale Pringle, former education minister Dr Jacqui Quinn, UPP senator Richard Lewis and former DNA candidate Vere Cornelius all called for Browne’s impeachment.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Daryll Matthew has accused both the UPP and DNA of playing politics by referring to the cost spent on e-books.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, he sought to clarify several claims made by members of opposition parties which he said continue to paint the wrong picture when it comes to government finances.

Matthew said it was just over EC$21 million spent over five years, rather than the figures of $60 and $75 million circulating in the public domain.

In fact, Matthew revealed that there were several instances where the initial cost of the devices and usage fees were negotiated and the cost went down.

Matthew also spoke about textbooks which were also eliminated.

He said that although some opposition members suggested the books should have been donated to the public, with school and community libraries, instead of being thrown away, there just wasn’t enough space. storage for them.

“Even if you put a few in the school library, let’s say they put 50, you’ll just have too many [of the same edition] get absorbed into the system, and a lot of those books come back damaged and can’t be put back into circulation,” he said.

“Again, you ended up having thousands of books, totally unusable, out of print, already restocked up to eight years old and so those books were disposed of.

“We are not hoarding. It was a responsible decision and they were eliminated,” he added.

The Ministry of Education launched an initiative to acquire e-books for secondary school students in Antigua and Barbuda in 2017.

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