This column has been hesitant to comment on the recent visit to the Houston headquarters of ExxonMobil by five Ministers of the Government, the Petroleum Advisor to the President and two staff members of the Ministry of Natural Resources, until the fact are known as to the purpose for the trip and the source of funding. We now know that the purpose was to obtain an update on progress being made by the U.S. oil giant in relation to the extraction of crude oil in Guyana’s waters and that the trip was funded by ExxonMobil.
Several concerns arise from the above disclosures. First, both the Government and ExxonMobil should have been aware that it is highly inappropriate from an ethical and moral standpoint for latter to fund the trip. The agreement with ExxonMobil is in the nature of a procurement contract, and our Procurement Act prohibits the acceptance of gifts and other favours from suppliers/contractors. Such acceptance has the potential of influencing decisions in favour of suppliers/contractors, hence a potential conflict of interest. Additionally, the Integrity Commission Act has a schedule of Code of Conduct that prohibits the acceptance of gifts and other favours. The Code has since been revised and gazetted but the related amendments to the Act are yet to be tabled in the National Assembly.
Second, in an apparent attempt at damage control, Government officials have indicated that the cost of the trip will be included in Exxon’s investment to be recovered against revenue when production begins in 2020. This explanation should be rejected since the U.S. oil giant’s investment cannot include expenditure incurred on behalf of the Government of Guyana. A competent and independent auditor is more than likely to reject such an expenditure as a charge to Exxon in its books. This practice can also open the floodgates for all sorts of government expenditure to be incurred and included in Exxon’s investment.
Third, there is ….