At an Alliance For Change (AFC) press conference on August 17, the matter of the APNU+AFC government’s dealings with ExxonMobil came up. Questions were raised on a number of issues including who financed the recent trip by a bevy of ministers to the American oil giant’s office in Texas and why the amended contract between the government and the company was being kept from the public. Various explanations were essayed by the ministers in attendance and it was disclosed that the trip was funded by ExxonMobil.
The practice of ExxonMobil funding trips by ministers to its Texas offices must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Has this government no shame? Does it want to be viewed as a mendicant and inviting conditions for bribery and compromising of the country’s interests? When those ministers journey to Texas on the expense account of ExxonMobil they are not going there as members of some collegial society or as high representatives of their respective parties. When they visit with ExxonMobil, they are officials of the government accountable to the state, its people and taxpayers.
All and any contact with ExxonMobil constitutes serious business to which the highest standards of propriety and probity must apply. This is impossible if ExxonMobil is picking up the tab. The relationship between Guyana and ExxonMobil is already vastly uneven. The contract between the state and ExxonMobil is not even available for the public to judge exactly the calibration of the relationship between the sides. Having perquisites discharged by ExxonMobil to ministers and employees of the government who have to oversee the oil operations will provide ExxonMobil with even greater leverage.
If Stabroek News could have refused an all expenses paid trip by ExxonMobil, this government could certainly follow suit. All such visits must be paid for by the state and let that cost constitute one of the first charges against the oil revenue that should begin flowing in 2020.
Speaking at the August 17 press conference in his capacity as an AFC executive, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin must have left his media audience astounded when he made bold to say that the AFC ministers are above being influenced.
“I speak for all of us here when I say we are not bribable,” Mr Gaskin told reporters.
It is good to know that Minister Gaskin believes that he and the other AFC ministers are not bribable. That, however, does not cut it as it relates to public accountability. Standards of accountability for governments do not depend on the perceived incorruptibility of public officials for obvious reasons.
Accountability has to be entrenched in a framework that will be exposed when, as Jean-Jacques Rosseau believed, the inherent goodness of man is overcome by societal factors. So the public has no confidence in self-indulgent declarations of who is not bribable. It wants to see fully functioning integrity legislation which the APNU+AFC government has failed to deliver 27 months after entering office. It wants to see a stringent Code of Conduct for public officials which is being strictly enforced – another failed area of governance despite the APNU+AFC manifesto pledge. It wants to see a full list of benefits accruing to government officials including rent allowances and health insurance. It wants progressive legislation such as those for whistleblowers urgently implemented and for important offices such as the Ombudsman to be well-resourced.
In government, the notion of not being bribable has too often been exposed as pure fantasy.