…Document shows account was set up in 2016
Although Finance Minister Winston Jordan had claimed that there was no advance payment made to the Government by United States oil giant ExxonMobil, a confidential document seen by this publication now proves that the Administration was fully aware of receiving the signing bonus granted by the same company, while a request was also made to open an account at the Central Bank to facilitate a deposit.
A missive dated September 20, 2016 and addressed to the Governor of the Bank of Guyana has this subject: “Signing bonus granted by ExxonMobil – Request to open bank account”. It shows that Finance Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Hector Butts, has requested that a foreign currency account be opened at the Bank in order to receive a deposit in the form of a ‘signing bonus’ to be given by ExxonMobil.
The letter stated, “This account should not be treated as part of the Bank’s reserves. Instead, the proceeds should be held in the currency of the deposit, that is United States dollars, and invested in secured interest-bearing securities.”
The missive also listed the signatories to the account: Hector Butts, Finance Secretary at the Finance Ministry; Louise Bouyea, Deputy Finance Secretary at the Finance Ministry; Jawahar Persaud, Accountant General (Acting) at the Finance Ministry; and Jennifer Chapman, Deputy Accountant General at the Finance Ministry. The letter was also copied to Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman.
At a press conference held two weeks ago, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo demanded that Government come clean on this signing bonus, stating that he could ‘reasonably confirm’ that it was true, especially since members of Government have neither confirmed nor denied the allegation when confronted.
“They received this money, it seems, almost a year ago. If this turns out to be true, then I believe that the entire Government should resign; because if you cannot be transparent about receipts from a company or from any company in Guyana, particularly a company in the extractive sector…,” he said.
Jagdeo told the press that coming clean on receipt of this signing bonus is perhaps the most appropriate thing to do, especially since Guyana was now seeking membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) — an organisation that promotes open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources.
He also queried the whereabouts of the money. “If this turns out to be true, and the Government received the money and (Finance Minister) Winston Jordan did not know about this, then where did the money go? And if he does know about it and he lied to the country, saying he did not know about it, then that is just as bad.”
The Opposition Leader noted that the matter is of grave concern if it turns out that Government did in fact receive money from ExxonMobil and did not tell the nation.
Jagdeo had promised to place this issue on the front burner until the truth was revealed. He said the issue has languished in the media because no one felt that any Government would make such a move.
Not long after Jagdeo had made these statements, Minister Jordan had responded to say that such a claim is “a figment of the imagination”, and that there is “no agreement for any bonus”. He told sections of the press that the Government did not request such a bonus.
The coalition Government has been tight-lipped on its dealings with ExxonMobil amidst calls for more transparency regarding the oil and gas sector.
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman has also been tight-lipped in regard to receipt of this alleged bonus.
Repeatedly avowing that the release of the oil contract between Guyana and ExxonMobil could have national security ramifications, and the Government has been “advised” against such a course of action. Trotman has said the decision to release the contract is not his to make, but Cabinet’s.
The allegation about Government receiving a US$20M signing bonus was first made by Chartered Accountant and Attorney Christopher Ram. Ram had said that this payment may be one of the reasons why Government was not disclosing the new contract between itself and the US oil giant.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had only last week announced that the contract would be made available for public scrutiny by the end of December. Giving reasons why the Government has now decided to release the contract, Harmon said the Administration took into consideration the need expressed by citizens for greater inclusiveness, and the need for information-sharing in the interest of transparency.