Sat | May 30, 2020

$13m pink slip - Former eGovJa CEO gets out-of-court settlement; Williams quizzed on tablets-in-schools hold-up

Published:Wednesday | November 27, 2019 | 12:40 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Technology Minister Fayval Williams addressing Parliament yesterday.
Technology Minister Fayval Williams addressing Parliament yesterday.

Taxpayers have had to fork out $12.5 million in an out-of-court settlement to former CEO of eGov Jamaica Limited (eGovJa), Herman Athias, after he was sacked by the company’s chairman, Professor Lloyd Waller.

Athias had taken out a lawsuit for unjustifiable termination under a fixed-term contract of employment and unfair prejudice, as set out in Section 213A of the Companies Act, against eGovJa, which was the first defendant.

Athias also sought redress against Waller, the second defendant, for “instigating a breach of contract”.

Minister of Science, Technology and Energy Fayval Williams said that the company had to pay legal costs incurred by eGovJa in the sum of $550,000. Mediation costs were shared between Athias and eGovJa amounting to $53,333.34.

Responding to questions from her Opposition counterpart, Julian Robinson, in Gordon House yesterday, Williams admitted that legal advice was sought for Waller before the termination of Athias’ contract.

Robinson argued that it seemed “illogical” that after seeking legal advice before termination, the company went ahead to sack Athias and later decided to settle out of court after the aggrieved party took legal action against the company.

Asked who provided the legal advice to eGovJa, Williams said she did not have the information “right now”.

Williams said that the parties went to mediation on June 26, this year, and an agreement was reached.

She said that the first and second defendants jointly agreed to pay the $12.5 million without “any admission of liability”. This, Williams said, represented a “full and final settlement of the Supreme Court claim”.

eGovJa is a full-service information and communications technology company that offers a wide range of services to the Government and other clients.

PERFORMANCE PROBLEMS

In another matter, Robinson also quizzed Williams on the Government’s failure to deliver a little more than 19,000 tablets to schools across the country that have been delayed owing to procurement hold-ups and reported problems with the sole provider, GeoTechVision, whose contract has been terminated.

Williams explained that a Cabinet submission was made on July 24, 2017, and the estimated date for the deployment of the tablets to the schools was June to August 2018. She noted, however, that procurement delays were experienced.

Again, approval of the contract award was received from Cabinet in October 2018. The estimated date for delivery of tablets to schools was January 2019. Williams pointed out that eLearning Jamaica experienced significant performance problems with GeoTechVision.

She cited delays in the submission of the performance bond, which was originally due by January 4, 2019, but was received on February 7, 2019. The technology minister said that the performance bond required further correction and was finally submitted on February 13, 2019, in the sum of US$616,000.

Williams also highlighted “continuous shifting of delivery timelines and inability to successfully validate sample tablets” as other problems eLearningJa had with GeoTechVision.

She said that the current projection for the procurement of tablets is January 2020, when the procurement process is expected to be completed. The rollout, she said, would follow within three months of Cabinet’s approval.

However, with GeoTechVision contemplating court action against the Government for terminating its contract, Robinson asked if legal advice had been sought before such a move.

Robinson argued that the company had the more than 19,000 tablets in a warehouse, ready for distribution, even as he questioned whether the administration received “proper legal advice”.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com