The US$18M signing bonus which was received by the Guyanese Government from ExxonMobil will now be placed into the Consolidated Fund before it is used to make any payments- particularly to Attorneys who will be fighting the Venezuela Border Controversy case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
This is according to State Minister, Joseph Harmon on Thursday during the Post Cabinet Briefing held at the Ministry of the Presidency.
“That 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 posited.
However, when probed as to when this will be done, Harmon asserted that that action is left up to the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.
He confidently stated that the Minister will do so when it is time.
The existence of the oil bonus- which was placed in a private account by Government- and the renegotiated oil agreement with the United States Oil Giant was kept a secret until December last, when evidence of the transaction was leaked in the media.
Prior to that, the Finance Minister had said the bonus never existed.
After mounting criticism, President David Granger defended the secrecy by saying it was the thing to do at the time.
Government then continued to defend its move to not deposit the signing bonus into the Consolidated Fund by saying that it was holding the money to pay legal fees for Guyana should it have to take its border case with Venezuela to the ICJ.
However, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament, and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall contended that the $US18M deposited into an account established by the Minister of Finance within the Bank of Guyana and kept 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 of the Republic of Guyana and Section 38 (1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02.”
As such, a Court Case was made out against Government.
Questioned as to whether this decision to have the money placed into a Consolidated Fund was as a result of the PPP’s court action, Harmon responded in the negative.
“No, no, no it’s not as a result of the PPP’s court action. It is just prudent fiscal management” he said.
Meanwhile, the Administration’s decision to now put the monies into the Consolidate Fund also comes after observers had begun speculating that it was no longer in the Bank of Guyana account.
Guyanese economist Ramon Gaskin on Monday in a letter sent to the local media said, “The Bank of Guyana has published the list of 128 Government Account Balances at the end of January 2018 in excess of 36 billion Guyana dollars.” Gaskin said that “the US$18M ‘Signing Bonus’ received by Guyana and allegedly placed in the account is not listed”.
“I conclude subject to correction by the Minister of Finance that the monies if indeed placed there have been removed or withdrawn or spent without the authorisation of the Parliament as required by Article 217 of the Constitution of Guyana,” Gaskin said in the letter.
Commenting on the issue, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo during a press conference on Wednesday had said he is still upset with the manner in which they Government dealt with this matter, since the money was kept secret until it was brought to the public’s attention through the media.
“I think the way they treated the US$18 million knowing that it was illegally kept out of all Government accounts, so it could not be audited, once it is not formally in Government accounts. Then the Auditor General would not be able to audit it. That it was parked in that way, to be stolen. So while parts of it may be used to pay a lawyer etcetera, we would have seen inflated bills and a whole range of other issues…expenditure that would have used up all the money and it would have gone into peoples accounts” Jagdeo had posited.