The onus was on Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman to tell President David Granger that he would be breaking the law if the US$18M bonus went anywhere else but to the Consolidated Fund, commentator and civil society activist Melinda Janki says.
For his role in allowing the illegal act of placing the money into a Bank of Guyana special account he should be fired she believes.
“The President has said that he took the decision to place the US$18M payment from Exxon into a Bank of Guyana account. This is most unfortunate. The President’s decision does not make the action legal so now we have a situation in which the President, the Head of State is involved in illegality” Janki, herself an attorney, told Stabroek News yesterday.
“It just gets worse. President Granger is not a lawyer. Raphael Trotman is both the Minister of Natural Resources and a lawyer. Why did he leave the President in this exposed position as the Head of State? Why didn’t Raphael Trotman step in and advise the President that his instruction was contrary to the Constitution and to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act? It is Trotman’s job as minister to make sure that things are done legally in matters connected to his ministry, not to hide behind the President. Trotman’s failure as a minister has seriously damaged Guyana and the Government and Trotman should resign,” she added.
On Wednesday, Granger said that he is responsible for the US$18M bonus being put into an escrow account at the Bank of Guyana, a decision he believes was necessary at the time so that Guyana could be prepared for a National Security Emergency.
“The transaction was conducted in that manner because there were some national security implications. That was the only reason it was transacted in that manner and I am responsible for national security and it is my decision,” he said in answer at State House to questions posed by Stabroek News on the signing bonus.
“I am the head of government, I am responsible and I am aware of it. It is a legitimate government of Guyana exercise and I am aware that it is in the Bank of Guyana in escrow. Once it is an escrow account it means that it cannot be used for purposes for which it was not intended. So as far as I am concerned, it is a legitimate Government of Guyana practice and the money has not been dishonestly acquired and will not be used for purposes for which it was not intended,” he also said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge acknowledged yesterday that it was he who advised the president on the decision and that he still believes that national security matters pertaining to the Guyana and Venezuela border controversy are at risk with the information out in the public domain.
But Janki does not believe the APNU+AFC government’s reason for the non-disclosure.
“It is unacceptable to hide behind the excuse of national security. What national security? How is an US$18m payment from Exxon a matter of national security? What is wrong with this payment that means it could not go into the Consolidated Fund as required by law? What exactly was that money paid for? Was it in fact US$18M or some other figure? How can anybody trust what is being said by the Government?” she questioned.
“The Government was elected to serve us not to engage in secret deals with an oil company. If Guyana goes to the International Court of Justice to confirm once and for all our territorial sovereignty then obviously we will need international lawyers. Venezuela will hire their lawyers. We will hire ours. There is no secret about that. A payment of US$18M from Exxon should have nothing to do with our sovereignty. We should pay our lawyers from money properly authorized from the Consolidated Fund. It is silly for any member of the Government to give legal fees as a reason for hiding US$18m in an account,” she added.
She blasted Trotman for his role in the matter saying that being an attorney and head of the petroleum sector he should have advised better.
“Minister Greenidge is not a lawyer. So why didn’t Raphael Trotman, as the subject minister and a lawyer, simply advise Minister Greenidge that any payment of legal fees must be done under proper legal authority?” Janki questioned.
“The fact that both the President and the Foreign Minister have to step in to try to defend this secret payment shows how weak Trotman’s position really is. He should go. He can’t do the job. We need somebody better,” she added.
She also disagreed with former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran saying that now that the disclosure of the monies has been made it was time to regularize it and this can be done through the establishment of an extra-budgetary fund.
Goolsarran this week said that it was now time to move on and to pass the necessary legislation for an extra-budgetary fund. After the legislation is passed, the US$18M can then be transferred to the Fund.
“I don’t agree with Goolsarran that there should be an extra-budgetary fund, I think it should go straight to the Consolidated Fund,” Janki said.
She wants government to be mindful of its action and look to the causes of ruin in other nations and avoid the same mistakes here.
“Illegal action by a government is what undermines and impoverishes a nation. This Government simply cannot claim to be protecting Guyana when it is violating the Constitution and breaking the law. That is total nonsense. The only way to protect Guyana is for the Government to respect for the rule of law and to show that they respect the rule of law,” she said.