…as matters entirely different
By Samuel Sukhnandan
The parliamentary Opposition claims the issue in relation to Canadian oil company CGX assisting Guyana in trying to settle the border dispute with neighbouring Suriname, is totally different from the one which involved Government receiving millions of dollars from US oil giant ExxonMobil in a signing bonus which was hidden in a secret bank account and not placed into the Consolidated Fund.
Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo said on Tuesday that no money was paid to Government from that company (CGX). He was making reference to earlier statements made by Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman who, in his attempt to defend the reason behind hiding the Exxon oil bonus, said Guyana had secured funds from CGX to settle the border dispute with Suriname.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon, at the end of November, had denied that the ExxonMobil funds were going to be used as part of legal measures to settle the border controversy with Venezuela. But last week in the National Assembly, Trotman told the House, “we did what we did to preserve the safety and well-being of Guyana and to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.”
But Jagdeo said, “the situation was very different. At that time, the CGX had a rig offshore; Surinamese gunboats came and removed the rig, so CGX was directly involved in the conflict. It was an aggrieved party. In this case, it is very different. CGX had to defend its rights too because that’s a publicly traded company. So its recruitment and hiring of lawyers and lobbyist was important to its own concern there.”
Jagdeo explained further that during that time, CGX had paid attorneys to represent not only its interest, but by extension, the interest of the country for which it was engaged in oil exploration activity. He said the difference with that situation and the one involving ExxonMobil is where the Government received a signing bonus and secretly deposited it in to a private account at the central bank.
“And what would be interesting is whether this contract provided for this signing bonus too. Because if it is not in the contract and this was paid into an account that was not recorded in our public revenue that is even more problematic because it will confirm our suspicions that they intended to steal the money,” Jagdeo opined while urging the Government to release the contract now.
Harmon recently announced that the oil contract between Government and ExxonMobil will be released to the public by the end of December. Giving a reason for this move, the Minister said Government has heeded the cries of the people. Cabinet, he said, had a “fulsome discussion” on the matter, and it was agreed that the ExxonMobil contract will be made public as well as all its terms and conditions.
Referring back to the issue of CGX, Jagdeo said, “I think when Trotman threw this in, this was a red-herring…but it isn’t comparable. It is about the money. Did the money come to us or not? And in this case, they claiming that this money came to them for that purpose but that is not so. It was a signing bonus.” Jagdeo told the media to also seek clarity from ExxonMobil and CGX on these matters.
Following a leaked document , reported by this publication, which showed that Government had indeed receive a signing bonus, ExxonMobil confirmed the details stating that US$18 million was deposited into a Government account at the Bank of Guyana last year. The company also called for such transactions with all other companies to be made public in the future. However, the company did not confirm with statements made by Trotman that the bonus was to be used towards the border controversy with Venezuela.
The coalition Government has been tight-lipped on its dealings with ExxonMobil amidst calls for more transparency regarding the oil and gas sector. Trotman had also been tight-lipped with regard to receipt of this bonus.
The allegation about Government receiving this 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.
ExxonMobil, whose affiliate, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited, holds an interest and is the operator in the Stabroek, Canje and Kaieteur Blocks, offshore Guyana, recently announced that it made a fifth new oil discovery after drilling the Turbot-1 well offshore Guyana.