Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday said that the US$18 million signing bonus received from ExxonMobil will be deposited into the Consolidated Fund before being used to pay Guyana’s World Court representatives.
The statement follows months of condemnation of the APNU+AFC government for placing the bonus in a Bank of Guyana account rather than the Consolidated Fund. Several lawsuits have been filed to force the government to channel the money to the Consolidated Fund.
Speaking at yesterday’s post-cabinet press briefing, Harmon noted that the monies belong to Guyana and that the “bonus, wherever it is would be placed into the Consolidated Fund and it is from that fund that any team whatsoever will be paid whether they are working or worked before or work after.”
He further noted that Government will approach the National Assembly for necessary approval before spending.
“It’s not some private account that you go there and you draw down some money. It is from that fund that anybody who provides services to the government is to be paid [therefore] we’d have to go to the National Assembly for the National Assembly’s approval of the spending.
Asked when this transfer would occur, Harmon noted that Minister of Finance Winston Jordan would decide when it was the right time to do so.
The Minister was keen to deny that the opposition court action, set to be decided on June 14, had had any impact on government’s decision to move the funds from a newly opened Bank of Guyana account to the Consolidated Fund.
“It is just prudent fiscal management,” he stressed adding that “government [doesn’t] have any secret accounts anywhere.”
Since the disclosure in December 2017 that government had received a signing bonus from the US oil company the deal has been mired in controversy.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran has said that the signing bonus should be returned to ExxonMobil as it cannot be considered as legitimate.
Additionally, Former Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall has challenged the decision by the government to deposit the funds into a separate account.
March 13 had initially been fixed for hearing of the matter, but this was no longer possible due to the failure of the respondents, Attorney General Basil Williams SC, and Jordan to file their affidavit in defence within the time previously stipulated by the court.
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC had granted an extension to March 20 after which Nandlall will have one week in which to file any response he wishes to make.
Justice George had also indicated that final submissions from Nandlall were to be submitted no later than April 20th, while the respondents are to file theirs on or before May 11th.
In his application, the former AG argues that “The said sum [bonus] …falls within the category of “revenues or other monies” contemplated by Article 216 of the Constitution as well as “all public monies” contemplated by Section 38 (1) of the Fiscal Management and Account-ability Act, Chapter 73:02, and accordingly, must be credited fully and promptly paid into and form one Consolidated Fund.”
He is asking the court for a declaration that the deposit received by government as a signature bonus pursuant to Clause 33 of the Petroleum Agreement, executed on 27th June, 2016, placed into an account within the Bank of Guyana, designated in writing by the Minister of Finance and not into the Consolidated Fund “is contrary to, and in violation of the letter and spirit of Article 216 of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and Section 38 (i) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02, Laws of Guyana and is accordingly, unconstitutional, unlawful and illegal.” He is also seeking an order directing the Minister of Finance to forthwith transfer and deposit the sum into the Consolidated Fund.
Nandlall, a PPP/C MP, in his court documents made it clear that part of his parliamentary duties include the scrutiny of actions and omissions of the Executive Government with a view to ensuring that there is compliance with the Constitution and the laws of Guyana.
He noted that Article 33 of the said contract provides, “The contractor shall pay the Government a signature bonus of eighteen million United States Dollars (US$18,000,000). Such payment will be made within a period of fifteen (15) Business Days after the Effective Date, or such earlier date as agreed amongst the Parties. Such payment will be made to a bank account within the Bank of Guyana, which is owned by the Government as designated in writing by the Minister of Finance of the Government. (The) Contractor shall verify such bank accounts and the Minister agrees to cooperate, assist and provide (the) Contractor any information it requires to conduct such verification.”
According to Nandlall, pursuant to the said Article and by its own public admissions, the government received the money from the contractor and it was duly deposited by the Minister of Finance into an account established at the Bank of Guyana for that purpose.
He reminded that Article 216 of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana provides for “All revenues or other moneys raised or received by Guyana (not being 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 the expenses of that authority) shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Fund”.
Section 38 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02, he added, provides for “(1) All public moneys raised or received by the Government shall be credited fully and promptly to the Consolidated Fund, except (a) moneys credited to an Extra budgetary Fund as stipulated in the enabling legislation establishing that fund; (b) moneys credited to a Deposit Fund; and (c) as stipulated in the Constitution. (2) The Consolidated Fund shall be managed by the Minister or by an official in the Ministry to whom the Minister has delegated that responsibility”.
Nandlall argued that given the fact that these monies fall within the categories “revenues or other monies” and “all public monies,” the deposit into an account established by the Minister of Finance within the Bank of Guyana and keeping it there without depositing same into the Consolidated Fund is in breach of and contrary to the letter and spirit of Article 216 of the Constitution as well as Section 38 (1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02.