Laws broken in handling of Exxon signing bonus, Chris Ram says

-urges president to launch probes, apologise for ministers’ actions

Analyst Christopher Ram yesterday said that laws have been broken in the handling of the signing bonus government receiv-ed with the renewal of ExxonMobil’s oil exploration agreement and he has called on President David Granger to call in the police for a criminal probe and to apologise to the nation for the “deception” of some of his ministers.

Ram also specifically called for a public inquiry into the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources, including the negotiation of contracts outside of Guyana and all its financial transactions in local and foreign currency.

“If President Granger wants to regain the public trust in his administration, he needs to apologise to the nation for this diabolical act by his Ministers, remedy the violations, call in the Police, and take surgical action. But not before mounting a public Inquiry into all aspects of the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources, including the negotiation of contracts outside of Guyana, in Gre-nada and in New York; the process leading up to the signing of an unnecessary, new Petroleum Agreement with Esso Exploration and Production (Guyana) Limited; and all financial transactions in local and foreign currency,” Ram, a chartered accountant and attorney, said in a statement issued yesterday.

His statement came a day after Stabroek News and Guyana Times on Friday published a letter, dated September 20, 2016, from Finance Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Dr Hector Butts to the Bank of Guyana Governor Dr Gobind Ganga seeking the setting up of an account for the funds from the signing bonus. “I shall be grateful if you would arrange for the under-mentioned Foreign Currency Account to be opened at Bank of Guyana, in order to receive a deposit in the form of a signing bonus to be given by ExxonMobil. This account should not be treated as part of the Bank’s reserves. Instead, the proceeds should be held in the currency of the deposit, that is, United States dollars, and invested in secured interest-bearing securities,” Butts said in the letter.

On the same day of the publication of the letter, Natural Resources Minis-ter Raphael Trotman, also admitted to the National Assembly that government received the signing bonus, which he had for months refused to confirm.

Trotman, who did not disclose the value of the signing bonus, also claimed the publication of the letter appeared to be organised to cause embarrassment to the government. He said the bonus was intended to be used for legal fees pertaining to the preservation of Guyana’s territorial integrity in the potential court case stemming from its border controversy with Venezuela.  “And yes, Mr Speaker, we did what we did, to preserve the safety and wellbeing of the people of Guyana and to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and Mr. Speaker, if it is we are to be blamed, let us be blamed, Mr. Speaker, for doing what is right and as had been done by the previous administration, we seek only to defend our country,” he said.

According to Ram, Article 216 of the Consti-tution of Guyana, which provides that all revenues or other moneys raised or received by Guyana shall be paid into the Consoli-dated Fund, has been knowingly violated.

On this point, Opposi-tion Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Friday also observed to the National Assembly that the failure to transfer the funds from the signing bonus into the Consoli-dated Fund amounted to an “almost a criminal breach of our financial laws.” Jagdeo, whose administration had been accused of similar breaches, has called for the resignations of Trotman and Finance Minister Winston Jordan as he contends that they misled the nation on the signing bonus.

‘Web of deception’

Addressing the implications of the failure to transfer the funds into the Consolidated Fund, Ram said that critical information contained in the Estimates of Expenditure now being considered by the National Assembly is inaccurate, incorrect and meaningless. He also said that the 2016 financial statements of the government and of the Consolidated Fund are similarly deficient for 2016. Additionally, he said the situation also means that the Report of the Auditor General for 2016 is inapplicable and that auditing standards applied by his Office requires him to withdraw his report. Similarly, he noted that the financial statements and the auditor’s report of the Bank of Guyana for the year 2016 face the same jeopardy. “…this web of deception has ensnared high level officers of the Ministry of Finance, the Geology and Mines Com-mission and the Bank of Guyana, including the Chairman of its Audit Committee Mr. Anand Goolsarran,” he added.

Ram also noted that when in opposition, the current government and very specifically the AFC, of which Trotman is now leader, had repeatedly claimed that former Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh should be taken before the courts on a criminal charge under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. “It is as clear as day to me that offences have been committed under section 85 of that Act by more than one person. This is now a criminal matter and the Guyana Police Force should be called in,” he said.

Section 85 of the Act states, “An official who—

(a) falsifies any account, statement, receipt or other record issued or kept for the purposes of this Act, the Regulations, the Finance Circulars or any other instrument made under this Act;

(b) conspires or colludes with any other person to defraud the State or make opportunity for any person to defraud tile State; or

(c) knowingly permits any other person to contravene any provision of this Act, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable on conviction to a fine of two million dollars and to imprisonment for three years.”

Honesty, decency and integrity

Ram argued that with ministers having shown a willingness “to engage in a conspiracy of deception” on the people of the country in a significant transaction with ExxonMobil, they cannot be trusted to engage any person, let alone the oil giant.

He singled out Trotman and noted that he sought to defend his deception by resorting to patriotism, “which Samuel Johnson so famously and aptly described more than two hundred years ago as “the last bastion of the scoundrel.”” “Transactions in foreign currency, the award of contracts by Mr. Trotman, and the payment of money by his Ministry, suggest that Mr. Trotman cannot be trusted even with a single dollar of public funds…,” he added.

Ram noted that the “forced admission” by government of the signing bonus came after 18 months “of denial and obfuscation” and he called it “a shocking revelation of a conspiracy to deceive the people of Guyana about billions of dollars, involving a galaxy of ministers, including four of Granger’s famous Quintet plus one, and involving two key ministries and their Ministers.”

He noted that one of the ministers could possibly say that he was equally lied to by his colleagues about the origin and purpose of the money. “But such is that damning path to corruption that injects the resource curse virus into the bloodstream of third class politicians managing third world petro countries,” he observed.

Additionally, Ram said the petroleum resources of the country do not belong to a “cabal” ensconced in the administration but to all Guyanese, present and future. “Each such Guyanese expects and deserves that its government – whether APNU, PNC or PPP – owes to them honesty, decency and integrity demonstrated in accurate accounting, proper accountability and good governance, not only on World Anti-Corruption Day but each and every day of the year,” he added.

Anti-corruption group Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) on Friday accused the government of “deliberately” deceiving the nation on the signing bonus and said it was shocked by the confirmation that it was received.

The group further noted that while in the opposition, the APNU and AFC railed against mismanagement of state funds and were especially adamant 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,” it said, before arguing that the situation must galvanise all Guyanese into demanding transparency and accountability.

 

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