Who negotiated the 2016 ExxonMobil contract?

Dear Editor,

The nation is still reeling from the startling disclosure of the US$18m golden handshake between ExxonMobil and the Government of Guyana, which was found to be stashed away in a secret bank account. The brazen attempt by the APNU+AFC to whitewash the exposé and its disastrous impact at home and abroad continues to encounter unanswered questions.

More and more misrepresentations have been churned out by the coalition administration, both before and after the publication of the contract, to fend off a volley of searching questions fired by the political opposition, sections of the media and other national stakeholders.

One of the more pressing questions which the administration has refused to answer thus far is who the members of the team were that re-negotiated the modified ExxonMobil contract in 2016.

At a press conference held on December 29, 2017 Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman announced that “It was a team of professionals that conducted the discussions with ExxonMobil.” He went on to add that, “I did not take it upon myself to do so” and that he “never proposed to be the negotiator of the contract…”

Mr Trotman’s confessions, however, fly in the face of statements by his cabinet colleague Minister of State Joe Harmon, who, when answering questions about the negotiations with ExxonMobil at a press conference held in July this year, had stated: “The matter is led by the competent Minister of Natural Resources…The Government has all the confidence in that Minister to lead the sector and to lead any negotiations.”

Later, in an attempt at covering up a previous statement, Mr Harmon went on to say that “the names of key figures negotiating with ExxonMobil is under wraps … Government is not ready for the Guyanese people to know the names of the main professionals negotiating with the oil giant.”

Earlier, President Granger had announced the establishment of a shadowy group branded the Quintet+1 comprising five ministers plus one other person. The team, according to Granger, had been established to cover all areas of negotiations with ExxonMobil. This announcement was later obfuscated by Mr Granger when he made a public declaration in August 2017 in the presence of ExxonMobil’s Chief Executive Officer Mr Darren Woods: “We have go to keep the public informed to ensure that civil society does not feel there is some underhand relationship between the government and ExxonMobil,” he said. Three months later, the disclosure that the government had deposited a signing bonus to the tune of US$18m in a secret bank account exposed the deceptive and cynical nature of the President’s assurances.

As pressure mounted on the Granger administration and events began to unfold an important development took place overseas that attracted significant media and political attention.

In August 2017, a high level ministerial delegation accompanied by two named officials paid a two-day official visit to the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Texas. The ministerial delegation comprised Carl Greenidge, Raphael Trotman, David Patterson, Dominic Gaskin and Winston Jordan. Mr Jan Mangal formed part of the official delegation. With the composition of the Quintet+1 still under wraps by  government it was reasonable to assume that the 5 ministers who travelled to Texas were in fact the ‘Quintet’ and that the ‘plus one’ was Dr Mangal.

As subsequent events unfolded, the government’s propaganda about full disclosure rang hollow. To this day, the Granger administration stubbornly refuses to disclose what the public deserves to know, that is, who are the members of the shadowy Quintet+ 1 negotiating team and what was the role this team, with Trotman as lead negotiator, in clinching the modified contract with ExxonMobil.

Another matter of grave concern to the Guyanese nation is the much touted national security implications which we were told are inherent in the release of the contract. Heavy weather was made of these national security concerns by the President himself, so much so that they were used as a pretext for keeping the contract close to their chests. Now that the contract is in the public domain, it follows that our country’s national security is vulnerable and at serious risk.

Clarification of these national security vulnerabilities, assuming they exist, must be of grave importance to the Guyanese people as a whole.

Matters of national security, in the context of the Guyanese body politic, should not be exclusive to the small coterie of ex-army officers who now parade the corridors of power at the Ministry of the Presidency. If the threat level to the nation is indeed high and authentic, then it behoves the coalition administration to come clean and in the spirit of transparency and accountability, and as a basic minimum, alert the parliamentary opposition to the nature and seriousness of the threat to our nation’s security.

Yours faithfully,

Clement J Rohee

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