While the government has remained silent on the matter, columnist Christopher Ram says he has been told that there was a US$20M signature bonus paid by ExxonMobil as part of the new contract agreement signed when the APNU+AFC government took office.
He says this may be one of the reasons why the government continues to hold out on making the contract available.
“The Government of Guyana used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus, a payment made by a contractor on the signing of an Agreement to take up any given number of blocks. The figure I have been told is twenty million United States Dollars,” Ram said in his Stabroek News column ‘The Road to First Oil’ last Friday.
He maintains that there was “absolutely no reason“ for a new Petroleum Agree-ment with ExxonMobil subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Limited and its joint venture partners since the agreement signed under the late President Janet Jagan’s administration, back in 1999, was set to last the entire duration of the Prospecting and Production Licences respectively.
According to Ram, he has been told by sources that the current government “used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus” and believes that in the interest of transparency government should come clean on the matter.
Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman says he will not be speaking on any matters pertaining to contractual arrangements on oil and gas matters and will let Cabinet guide what should be made public.
“Nothing on the contract I am discussing. I would like to take this whole issue of the publication of the contract to cabinet for guidance because it is not a Trotman issue it is a government position and I won’t be able to discuss it,” Trotman told Stabroek News, earlier this month, when asked about whether government collected a signature bonus from ExxonMobil when a new agreement was signed with it. ExxonMobil itself has not said anything about this.
“I am not giving any comment at all until I get guidance from cabinet on anything to do with the contractual relationship,” Trotman added.
Government has refused to make the contract public and would only say there were minor changes to the old 1999 contract agreement.
Earlier this year, Trotman had justified the move saying that only the “salient points” of the contract agreement will be made public for security and other reasons.
“In so far as full disclosure at this point in time, I think government is of the view that full disclosure would not be to the best of the national benefit or national interest,” Trotman had told a media breakfast where his ministry and ExxonMobil provided updates on the nascent oil and gas sector.
“Right now we are prepared to share the salient features of the contract, it is a 50/50 production share agreement…that means that Exxon and its partners will share 50 percent between themselves and Guyana will (have) 50 percent,” he added.
The Minister said that while he was not speaking for government as to a reason why the full disclosure should not be made as yet, he will weigh in and advise President David Granger of the myriad reasons, including the security of the nation.
Trotman reminded that the contract signed with ExxonMobil and government predates the APNU+AFC government’s accession to office as it was signed in 1999 with the PPP/C administration.
But pointing to Guyana’s recent boasting that it has been accepted as a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Ram flayed government’s posture saying that the case now is even stronger for it to show transparency and divulge what monies have been received.
“It would be folly to think that our new found status of EITI membership will lead to any significant enhancement in terms of disclosure and accountability – there is simply no sign of any willingness on the part of this Administration. Indeed, the defining characteristic of the Administration in the petroleum sector is to mislead without actually lying. For example, all the while when Mr. Trotman claimed, wrongfully, that he was hamstrung in what he could disclose under the PPP/C’s 1997 [non-]amendment to section 4 of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Act, he had in fact signed a completely new Agreement in which he was free to make whatever provisions he considered necessary in the national interest to be inserted in his 2016 Agreement. From all indications he did nothing,” Ram stated.
The lawyer and chartered accountant said that he hopes that EITI would take note and called on the local Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) to take on the responsibility in ensuring that there is adequate disclosure.
In the meantime, Ram continues to call on government to urgently make public if it collected any monies and how it was used.
“Was Guyana paid a signing bonus on signing of the secret Trotman Agreement, and if so how, when and how is that money accounted for? If this information is accurate, the question is to whom was the payment made? “
And even as he commended the government for early budgets, he believes that it should not be done with the possibility of transactions not being properly and fully accounted for or being discounted because of the incomplete fiscal year.