Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran says that the controversial signing bonus that the government took should be returned to ExxonMobil as it cannot be considered as legitimate.
In a letter in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Goolsarran said the payment is, in his view, improper or irregular, since the only compensation the government is entitled to for the grant of a petroleum licence is in relation to the licence and other fees, royalty on production, and a share of the profits based on the Production Sharing Agreement.
“Any payment to the government outside of these cannot be considered legitimate and should be rejected’, he stated. He asked whether the government demanded the bonus or it was offered by ExxonMobil? He also asked whether the signing bonus is reflected in the agreement with ExxonMobil?
“We do not know since the agreement has not yet been made public. Suffice it to state that any such provision in the agreement would not appear to be proper”, he stated.
On the question of whether the bonus is a breach of the Constitution and/or the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act for the money to be placed in a special account at the Bank of Guyana, Goolsarran declared “Definitely so!”
He said that since the agreement is between the government and ExxonMobil, the signing bonus is considered public money or public revenue. As such, it should have been paid over to the Consolidated Fund in accordance with Article 216 of the Constitution and Section 38 of the Fiscal Management and Acco-untability Act. Goolsarran, who writes an accountability column for Stabroek News, said the only exception is in relation to funds to the credit of an extra-budgetary fund created by an Act of Parliament. However, no such fund has been created.
Since the revelation of the signing bonus, the government has said it is to be employed in the payment of legal fees pertaining to the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy.
“In view of the foregoing, I am of the firm view that the signing bonus should be returned to ExxonMobil, and the bank account at the Bank of Guyana closed. In the defence of our territorial integrity, we must be prepared to use our own resources, and our own resources only, and not depend on handouts from entities that do business with us. When this happens, it sets in train a dangerous precedent for all sorts of things to happen, and we end up compromising ourselves. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch!”, he stated.
He expressed gratitude to commentator Chris-topher Ram for stating that the government was in receipt of a signing bonus from ExxonMobil.
Columnist Ralph Ramkarran SC also weighed in yesterday on the controversy. Writing in the Sunday Stabroek, he said “The government has foolishly tarnished its credentials. Those were already under strain by its refusal to reveal the contract it had signed with ExxonMobil. It has been recovering somewhat by its promise to reveal the contents of the contract, albeit under intense public pressure”.
He said that an admission of an error of judgement by the government would go a far way in putting the matter to rest.
“But this doesn’t happen in Guyana’s politics. We have to expect more bluster, cross accusations against the opposition that ‘you were worse,’ and amidst it all, efforts at dismissals or explanations. None of this will work among thinking Guyanese. Even when it fades from the news, this episode will remain a stain on the integrity of the government’s promises about transparency and accountability and increase cynicism with politics, even among government supporters”, Ramkarran stated.
He said his biggest concern is the people of Guyana including supporters of the government.
“We are the collective owners of the country’s resources, including its petroleum resources. The government merely holds a temporary management responsibility over them. We are entitled to know all the relevant details of how it is managing these resources. To keep these details a secret constitutes a breach of a sacred trust. Just imagine, we were being deliberately kept in the dark about our own money! How can this be excused?”, he queried
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman in his defence of the secrecy surrounding the bonus said on Friday that the former PPP/C government had done the same thing in relation to the Guyana-Suriname maritime dispute from 2000.
“What the PPP/C government did in relation to the Guyana-Suriname boundary dispute is totally irrelevant. The issue is the secrecy over income received by the government. No allegation has been made against the PPP/C government that moneys were received by it from CGX and hidden. In this case moneys were legitimately paid by ExxonMobil to the Government of Guyana as a signing bonus. Whether or not ExxonMobil was aware that the moneys were to be utilized for a specific purpose is not an issue. The government decided that it will be used to pay the legal expenses that might occur in relation to a potential case at the International Commission of Jurists concerning the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy. It hid both the payment and its purpose”, Ramkarran, a former two-term Speaker of the National Assembly said.
He said that the government had several choices: 1. Hide the money in violation of all financial practices and perhaps laws (which it did); 2. Call in the Leader of the Opposition, process the funds in a lawful way, but seek his support in maintaining confidentiality (which would never happen); 3. Pay it into the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and find a lawful way to save it to utilize later in the manner in which it intended.
“I immediately concede that the purpose for which the government designated the use of the funds ought to have been kept confidential. Guyana’s discussions with Venezuela and the United Nations are ongoing and the release of such information could potentially be unhelpful. But the best way to ensure that it enter the public domain was to hide it”, Ramkarran stated.