The Deeds Registry has rebuffed claims by former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall that there was any secrecy surrounding the agreement filed in its registry between the Government and ExxonMobil last year but says a written request must be made for it.
On condition of anonymity, registry staff with whom this newspaper spoke yesterday, explained that prior to the contract between the two parties being unveiled by the government on Thursday, no one ever requested the agreement.
Nandlall, however, contends that the reason such a request was never made, was simply because no one knew of the existence of the document, or even that it was filed with the registry.
Acknowledging that the government was under no obligation to announce that the agreement had been filed, the former AG argues that the tenets of accountability and transparency to which the government holds itself, should have dictated their making such a disclosure.
Nandlall said that this should have especially been done, given that it is a public document.
He added, “any responsible government committed to accountability and transparency, would have made a full and frank disclosure that this document was filed, and formed part of the permanent public record at the Deeds Registry.”
He declared further, that it was not a case where the government had to volunteer the information, but rather, it was being persistently requested from government, who in turn persistently withheld that the document was filed, and is a public document.
Given that the agreement had been filed in mid-2016, Nandlall doubted that it had even been kept at the Charlotte Street Registry. He said had this been the case, someone would have known that it was filed and being kept there, given the media publicity surround the issue.
“It is impossible that more than a year later, that document has been there and no one knew it. Guyana is a small place,” he lamented.
Reiterating that he became aware of the filing only after the release of the contract, Nandlall, who has since posted photos of the court entry on his Facebook page, has expressed dissatisfaction at being unable to secure a copy of the document after requesting it from the registry.
According to him, he sent one of his staff for a copy of the document, but the person later reported that they were unsuccessful, as registry staff said that there must first be a written request to the Registrar of Deeds.
He surmised that the document may still not be made available following the written request, as the registry has not so indicated.
Taking particular issue with this process which the former AG says deviates from the normal procedure for accessing such documents, he vehemently argued that this forms part of the deliberate attempt on the part of the government, to keep the filing a secret.
The Registry officials to whom Stabroek News spoke, however, have maintained that accessing such documents through writing, is both standard and regular which has always been practised.
According to Nandlall, the normal procedure has been to identify the particular register in which the entry being requested is made. Once this is done, he said the page number in that register is then given to the counter clerk, who will in turn locate the document, and make it available, to the person making the request, after they would have paid the required fee.
He said that these procedures were followed by the person he sent, who told him that after identifying the entry in the register and requesting a copy of the document from the counter clerk, the latter returned with the Supervisor, who informed that a request for the document had to be made in writing.
He questioned the need for the different procedure.
It was for this reason Nandlall said he told his employee to take a photograph of the court entry, which he later posted on Facebook.
Asked by the newspaper whether the document could not be made available once the unique agreement number under which it would have been filed, is produced, the registry staff said it could.
Equipped with that number, Stabroek News then produced same, and requested a copy of the document, but was told that a written request has to be made in which the number had to be stated.
Asked how long after the documents would then become available, the staff said that would be dependent on the size of the document which has to be photocopied, noting that the Exxon agreement is “thick.”
It was at this point that one of the two persons to whom this newspaper spoke, said that generally they try to make them available within three days to a week; and that there is nothing special about the Exxon agreement.
“That is the procedure,” Stabroek News was told.
The registry staff said that while the documents are public ones, a person could not simply walk off the streets requesting same, as is the practice when requesting certain documents from the High Court Registry; rather, a written request must be made.
To the need for a written request which Nandlall maintains is new, he said one gets the impression that while the document was filed, it was not kept at the registry, as he believes that someone would have known.
Making the process even more obscure, Nandlall said, was the fact that the recording of the agreement, was done in the “miscellaneous deeds register.”
The former AG, who served under the PPP/C government, has said that “the first act of deception” is that the document was filed as of record since 2016, with the Deeds Registry, which is a public statutory authority that is autonomous of the Government, run and managed by a Board of Directors.
He opined that the Exxon agreement was deliberately concealed from the population since all documents filed with the agency form part of the public records of Guyana and are available to the public.
“So when the Government refused to make a document filed at this institution public, not only was it deceiving the population, it was violating the law and obviously interfering with the functioning of an autonomous statutory agency by instructing it not to make a `public document’, available to the public,” Nandlall contends.
For his part, Opposition PPP/C leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, has said that the document was kept hidden, because of the enshrining of the US$18M signing bonus in the 2016 agreement between Guyana and ExxonMobil, which was paid into a “secret account” at the Bank of Guyana.
The government on Thursday released the long-awaited petroleum agreement.
Jagdeo charged that the contract exposes the false claims by the APNU+AFC government that a clause inserted in the Petroleum Act by the PPP/C and national security concerns prevented its disclosure.
The Opposition Leader has said that now that the “sinister plan to squirrel-way the US $18M has been exposed there is no compelling reason to keep the agreement secret any longer”.