Accountability Watch welcomes last Thursday’s release of the agreement between ExxonMobil’s subsidiaries and the Government of Guyana, notwithstanding that it was not a voluntary act on the latter’s part. It is somewhat of a relief that those who fought for the release of the agreement and more generally for speaking out on matters of governance, transparency and accountability, have so far not been singled out for personal attacks, vilification and character assassination. This is in stark contrast to what prevailed in the past where public resources were used to carry out State-sponsored and centrally directed attacks on individuals and organisations, including this columnist. Be that as it may, given the long-term implications, it is regrettable that the draft agreement was not subject to some form of public consultation so that constructive comments and suggestions could have been made and reflected on by the Government before the final agreement was crafted. Considering that the natural resources of a country belong to all its citizens, Guyanese must all have a say either directly or through their elected representatives as well as through civil society groups, on how and under what circumstances these resources are to be exploited for the benefit of all. There are important lessons to be drawn from this experience.
A clarification is necessary on the signing bonus of US$18 million received from ExxonMobil and placed in a special account. Article 216 of the Constitution is clear on the matter. All revenues or other public moneys raised or received by Guyana shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Fund. The only exception relates to revenues or other moneys that are payable, by or under an Act of Parliament, into some other fund established for any specific purpose or that may, by or under such an Act, be retained by the authority that received them for the purpose of defraying expenses of that authority. We made it clear that since no fund was established under an Act of Parliament to accommodate this payment, the money should be paid over to the Consolidated Fund. We did not defend the Government’s action, nor did we accept the explanations proffered.
The situation is quite unlike that of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Guyana Forestry Commission, the Central Housing and Planning Authority, or the National Frequency Management Unit, all of which are the subject of specific legislations that outline the circumstances under which revenues can be retained and to what extent portions thereof can be paid over to the Consolidated Fund. The Lotto Account is, however, not covered by any specific legislation despite a suggestion to the contrary. The Government Lotteries Act of 1963 governed the operations of then National Radio Bingo, and it was necessary to retain the proceeds to meet the cost of prizes as well as operational expenses. Any surplus was required to be paid into the Development Fund established by the Act. However, any deficit had to be made good from the Consolidated Fund…..