Despite several questions being left unanswered regarding the US$15M being used from the signing bonus Guyana received from oil giant, ExxonMobil, for the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy case, a supplementary provision of $788,049,000 was on Friday approved in the National Assembly to offset the expenses Government will incur at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The request was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greendige, who claimed that the amount is the estimated cost that will be needed to pay for legal fees, for the rest of 2018.
According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, the monies will be taken from the Signing Bonus and placed into the consolidated fund, to be used.
However, the Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo questioned why the entire amount has not been placed in the consolidated fund yet.
Jagdeo questioned if Government was keeping the money out of the fund because they anticipated that Guyana will go bankrupt in 2018 or the near future or that the country will run out of foreign currency.
“…if no then what is the compelling reason for keeping the entire sum of money outside of the consolidated fund in breach of [the Fiscal Management & Accountability Act] FMAA…If Government is committed to keeping in procedure…there is no justification for keeping the money out of fund,” Jagdeo posited.
However, instead of answering the former President, Greenidge said that the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan would be appropriate person to respond.
However, at this, Jordan jumped to his feet and requested that the matter not be allowed for discussion in Parliament since it is presently engaging the attention of the court.
“We are threading dangerously on a matter that is before the court…I beseech you to not allow members to thread anywhere near matters that are before the court,” he asserted.
Not missing a beat, Jagdeo responded that it was Government who brought the matter up when they requested a supplementary provision with the source being the signing bonus.
As such, he maintained that for the Opposition to be disallowed from posing questions would be “stifling its right to interrogate financial matters.”
To this, the Foreign Affairs Minister reminded that the Government was not seeking permission to “use the money” but was asking to “spend the money” while asserting that it is in keeping with the Constitution.
Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira also asked the House why the $15M was not transferred into the consolidated fund.
However, Jordan retorted, out of turn, “the matter is in court and should not be answered!”
As such, moving on, Texiera reminded the House that last year December, Government had budgeted for $300M, even though it had not yet been decided that Guyana would take Venezuela to court.
She asked how much of this money was remaining and was told that the monies had been used regarding interface with the United Nations Secretary General.
Moreover, as she probed on how many lawyers were on Guyana’s Legal team and a breakdown of their salaries, the Foreign Affairs Minister said that the team is not yet completed and that as the case proceeds, more members will be added.
He further explained that the lawyers were being paid by the hour and will be reimbursed for any additional expenses they incur- such as travelling.
Guyana’s application to the ICJ follows a decision by UN Secretary General António Guterres to choose the ICJ as the next means of resolving the controversy that arose as a result of the Venezuelan contention that the 1899 Arbitral Award in regard to the frontier between British Guiana and Venezuela was null and void.
It was outlined that Venezuela had only changed its position formally in 1962 as the United Kingdom was making final preparations for the independence of British Guiana and had threatened not to recognize the new State, or its boundaries, unless the United Kingdom agreed to set aside the 1899 Award and cede to Venezuela all of the territory west of the Essequibo River, amounting to some two-thirds of Guyana’s territory.
Guyana’s Application, notes that while Venezuela has never produced any evidence to justify “its belated repudiation of the 1899 Award, it has used it as an excuse to occupy territory awarded to Guyana in 1899, to inhibit Guyana’s economic development and to violate Guyana’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.” (Ramona Luthi)