Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) today said that the government’s deception over the signing bonus from ExxonMobil has come as a shock to anti-corruption advocates.
It referenced the publication today by Stabroek News of a letter for the setting up of an account to receive the bonus and said that all Guyanese must now be galvanised to demand transparency and accountability.
A statement from TIGI follows:
Avoidance of Transparency and Accountability: Government’s Handling of the Signing Bonus on Contract with ExxonMobil
Ever since Christopher Ram’s revelation that the coalition government extracted a signature bonus of US$20 million from ExxonMobil for the June 27, 2016 renegotiated contract, there has been a combination of avoidance of the question, silence on the matter and outright contradiction of the assertion by various government officials. The December 8, 2017 edition of Stabroek News (SN) which confirms that a signing bonus was indeed negotiated and that the Bank of Guyana was asked in a letter dated September 20, 2016 to create an account to receive it is a shock to anticorruption advocates and to Guyana as a whole.
On September 26 of this year, Christopher Ram had questioned Minister Trotman’s signing of a new agreement with ExxonMobil (See SN, September 26, 2017). He followed this up with the assertion that a signing bonus of US$20M was paid and asserted that securing a signing bonus was the real reason behind the renegotiated contract (See SN, October 30, 2017). By then, the Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, had been asked whether a signature bonus was paid, but he provided no direct answer (see SN, October 23, 2017). He however, indicated that the new contract was not much different from the previous one which to a large extent now lends support to Ram’s conclusion.
The Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, was also asked about the matter. In response, he indicated that there was “no agreement for any bonus” and he furthermore indicated the assertion that there was a signing bonus of US$20M was a “figment of the imagination” (see Kaieteur News (KN), November 23, 2017). The November 23, 2017 edition of KN also quoted the Minister of Natural Resources as indicating that some statements coming from section of society are based on “hearsay”. There is now proof that there was a signature bonus and furthermore that the government had acted on it more than a year ago before the recorded comments were made.
On top of this discovery that a signing bonus was secured, there are the matters of how it has been and is being handled and whether this explains the secrecy and falsehood in which it was shrouded.
While they were in the opposition, the APNU and AFC railed against mismanagement of state funds. They were especially adamant, and correctly so, about the use of the consolidated fund as provided for by the law. The APNU-AFC coalition government is therefore well aware of the law governing the consolidated fund and about what moneys should be deposited there. The move to set up a separate account to receive the signature bonus therefore appears as a move to avoid accountability. Was the idea to use this new account to initiate a sovereign wealth fund? If so, can we expect that the appropriate legislation will follow?
The government has failed to handle matters related to oil with transparency and it appears to have deliberately engaged in deception in relation to the matter of a signature bonus. The Minister of Natural Resources in particular and the government in general have done much to drain whatever residual confidence there was in their handling of the oil industry in Guyana. This verification of the signing bonus and the move to handle it outside of the consolidated fund, must galvanise all Guyanese; whether supporters of the government or not, into demanding transparency and accountability. There is just too much to lose by standing behind partisan politics.