Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland yesterday disallowed a motion by PPP/C MP Irfaan Ali to adjourn the budget deliberations in order to facilitate a debate on the controversial US$18 million ExxonMobil signing bonus.
He rejected the motion on the grounds that the matter was not urgent.
The motion, which was founded on the premise that the money was not deposited into the Consolidated Fund in compliance with the Laws of Guyana, requested that the Speaker direct that the estimates be amended to include the sum.
Scotland made the ruling against the motion shortly after 2 pm yesterday after deliberating for approximately four hours. This delayed the beginning of yesterday’s hearings of the budget considerations, which saw the allocations made under the Ministry of Education and Finance being subject to scrutiny from the opposition.
Dissatisfied with Scotland’s ruling on the matter, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo says that legal action may be pursued in relation to the matter.
“…we felt that this matter, the matter that has engaged the whole nation’s attention over the last several days, and that has caused a lot of worry to many people regarding the blatant breaches of our financial laws and the constitution of Guyana, that the Speaker would have been more respectful of the concerns of our people and allow a full debate on this motion which would’ve exposed the many inconsistencies and illegalities of this government regarding the signing bonus,” Jagdeo said during a subsequent press briefing at Parliament.
He accused the government of “weaving a tangled tale of lies and contradictions” and acting “with impunity and bravado”. He also charged that the Speaker has “given them a free pass once again as he has given them so many times this week”.
The motion, which was brought to the house by Member of Parliament Ali and seconded by PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, was moved by Jagdeo, after Teixeira informed the House that Ali was “unavoidably” absent.
Jagdeo, having been given a few minutes to relate to the House the grounds for the motion, explained that seven days prior, they had learnt of the signing bonus received by the Government of Guyana, and pointed out that it had previously been denied by several ministers in public statements.
He asked that Scotland direct the Minister of Finance Winston Jordan to amend the financial estimates to reflect the US$18 million, as not to do so, he said, would be in contravention of the financial laws.
Jadgeo stated that if the estimates were to be passed as is, they would be “knowingly agreeing to an illegality”. As such, he requested that the proceedings be adjourned to allow for debate of the matter.
While Jagdeo argued that the matter was urgent because of its legal implications, Scotland did not agree in his ruling.
The Speaker began by outlining the Standing Orders governing such a motion, which he related states that in order for a ruling to be made in favour of such, three criteria must be satisfied: the matter must be definite, urgent and of public importance.
While Scotland found that the matter was both definite and of public importance, he took the opposition’s seven-day delay in moving a motion in regard to it to suggest that the matter must not have been that urgent to begin with.
“…The honourable members will recall that in his presentation at the 78th sitting of the National Assembly, the honourable Raphael Trotman, Minister of Natural Resources, informed members of the signing bonus and gave details,” Scotland stated.
“…The honourable members who have sought to move the suspension of the business of this house through the extraordinary procedure of this adjournment motion appear to have approached the House almost leisurely, some seven days after they were made aware…even while consideration of the estimates continued throughout that time and the honourable members of the House approached only on the final day of the examination of the estimates. The Speaker holds that the urgency which is envisaged in the Standing Order is not represented by this application and consequently, disallows the application,” he added.
Jagdeo yesterday also challenged a statement made by Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge on the controversy, accusing him of blatantly lying.
During Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly, Greenidge had sought to discredit claims that there was any illegal handling of the money paid over by ExxonMobil, telling the house that the money had been deposited into a Deposit Account at the Bank of Guyana.
Greenidge had referenced Section 37(2) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), which he said provides for public money to be held in Extra-Budgetary and Deposit Funds, in which case, the sums do not have to be credited to the Consolidated Fund right away.
But Jagdeo yesterday referred the media to Section 42 of the same Act, which states that: (1) The Minister may establish one or more Deposit Funds into which public moneys shall be paid pending repayment or payment for the purpose for which the moneys were deposited. (2) On the establishment of a Deposit Fund, the Minister shall notify the National Assembly of the Deposit Fund and shall specify – (a) the source or sources of the moneys in the Deposit Fund; (b) the purpose or purposes for which moneys may be expended from the Deposit Fund; (c) the banking arrangements for the Deposit Fund; and (d) the intended investment strategy for the moneys deposited in the Deposit Fund. (3) Each Deposit Fund shall be managed and operated by the Ministry.
“The Foreign Minister misled the whole of Guyana when he said yesterday [Thursday] in his statement that this money was paid into a deposit fund so it was legally paid and it is in accordance with the FMAA,” Jagdeo stated, adding that because protocol was not followed, it is considered a Special Account, which he related is not provided for under Guyana’s financial laws.
He further stated that had the matter been brought to parliament, no member of the opposition would have opposed the approval of the sum “to fight our legal battles with Venezuela.”
Jagdeo said that the national accounts will be misrepresented and not portray accurately Guyana’s financial position.
“I think we’ll have to go to court, that’s the only way we can force the government to comply,” Jagedo said on the way forward.