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‘Aristotelis’ digital library raises public controversy between MP and minister

The e-book app that the students' union PSEM said was a matter of being able to afford a tablet in the first place

By Angelos Anastasiou

ACCUSATIONS of withholding evidence and preferential treatment to private interests were thrown at Education minister Kyriacos Kenevezos by AKEL MP Irene Charalambidou, following their heated row at a House committee session on the ‘Aristotelis’ digital library project.

Charalambidou accused the minister of colluding with the private company that created ‘Aristotelis’ – a project to create electronic versions of school textbooks – so that the firm could “enjoy profits of millions.”

The ministry-endorsed e-books, designed for use as supplements to textbooks, can be viewed on tablet computers and are available to students who wish to buy them from the private vendor.

Auditor General Chrystalla Georghadji, looking into the issue following Charalambidou’s allegations, had asked Kenevezos to furnish her with all the relevant documents and records, which he confirmed having duly done.

At a House Oversight committee session on Tuesday, Charalambidou submitted a copy of the minutes from a meeting convened by Kenevezos at the Education ministry to evaluate the Aristotelis project, dated September 12, 2013, which Georghadji realised she had never received – despite confirmation that all relevant documents had been procured and delivered.

The date of the meeting, coupled with the missing documents, gave rise to suspicions of wrongdoing, as the ministry’s announcement inviting expressions of interest on the project was published on October 26, 2013 – nearly two months after having evaluated the product that was eventually selected.

When confronted by Georghadji on the point of the missing documents, Kenevezos claimed that the entire Aristotelis case file had been lost from the ministry, prompting Charalambidou to publicly accuse the minister of withholding evidence from the Auditor General since he was “the only one with a vested interest in the disappearance of the file.”

As to the issue of the September meeting having taken place prior to any public announcements by the ministry, Kenevezos said that it was merely a “preliminary assessment.”

Charalambidou went on to reveal that the Education ministry’s former permanent under-secretary Olympia Stylianou strongly disagreed with the process followed by Kenevezos, expressing her dissent to him in an email conversation, a copy of which Charalambidou also submitted at Tuesday’s Oversight committee session.

The Education minister responded to Charalambidou’s accusations yesterday, arguing that “no public funds have been used” at any stage in the development of this project, and reversing the accusations on the issue of the missing case file.

“What I don’t understand is how Charalambidou could possibly have gained access to documents from the missing case file. These documents contain sensitive, confidential information. Where did she get them?” Kenevezos wondered.

Oversight committee president and DISY MP Giorgos Georgiou attacked Charalambidou, reasserting Kenevezos’s position that “no public funds have been used” and questioning the legitimacy of the documents she submitted at the committee session.

“The discussion at the committee indicates that the case file has been lost from the ministry. Since the documents submitted were not originals, the Auditor General suggests it’s possible that they may have been forged. Therefore, the minutes from the committee session will be forwarded to the Attorney General to determine whether any evidence of wrongdoing exists”, Georgiou said.

Student union PSEM joined the debate yesterday, issuing a statement lambasting the ministry’s decision to endorse a studying supplement created and sold by a private firm, as this unfairly hinders the prospects of students whose families cannot afford the guide.

“The same people who argue in favour of preserving the school uniform to avoid discrimination among students suddenly don’t mind discriminating between those who can afford tablet computers and those who can’t,” PSEM said.

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