We must all express our gratitude and appreciation to my good friend and professional colleague, Mr Christopher Ram, for disclosing that the government was in receipt of a signing bonus of US$20 million from ExxonMobil. When the matter was brought to the fore in the media, government officials vehemently denied the existence of such a transaction, contending that “it was a figment of imagination”. Now that it has been confirmed that the government did receive a signing bonus, a number of issues arise:
- Did the government demand the bonus, or was it offered by ExxonMobil? This is not clear. In any event, the payment is, in my 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.
- Is the signing bonus 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 in view of the above.
- Was it a breach of the Constitution and/or the FMA Act for the money to be placed in a special account at the Bank of Guyana? Definitely so! 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 Accountability Act. 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.
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!