US$18M oil bonus: Civil society body to sue Govt for holding monies outside of Consolidated Fund

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A civil society body is expected to take to court, this week, the Government of Guyana over its decision to stash in a special account US$18 million given by oil giant ExxonMobil as a signing bonus in 2016.

This news publication was informed that the action will be filed as soon as all the paper work is completed and the entity is satisfied that there are no loopholes in its case.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and at least one other anti-corruption body are expected to join in the action, given their concern over the move by the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government to justify its decision to “illegally hold the money outside of the Consolidated Fund.”

People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Parliamentarian the former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, speaking with this publication, confirmed that his party has decided this is the best course of action, ‘given the stubbornness of the current Administration, and its apparent inability to respect the rule of law as well as the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).’

Nandlall insists that this money, now sitting in a special account at the Bank of Guyana, was illegally placed there; and he has chided the Government for its “double-standards and continued deception.”

Asked if this is the only recourse, given that his party’s motion in the National Assembly to adjust the estimates of the 2018 budget to include the US$18M signing bonus was dismissed by Speaker Dr Barton Scotland, Nandlall responded in the affirmative.

The former Attorney General says he has taken issue with the formal outline by President David Granger for the transfer of the money from the Bank of Guyana account into the Consolidated Fund.

President Granger had said he is willing to respect any ruling of the court or credible legal advice which proves that a criminal or illegal act has occurred by the non-transfer of the funds into the Consolidated Fund.

“As I said, it was put there for a reason; and if I am advised by the lawyer that we are in breach of any regulations, we would comply with the ruling of any court or legal advice… We need it there, and that’s why we put it there, but the money is safe,” the President said.
Nandlall had expressed concern over the President’s statement, and is reminding him that the Opposition People’s Progressive Party has, from the onset, been pointing out the illegality.

“…a number of important stakeholder organisations and financial as well as legal luminaries have already advised him to put the money into the Consolidated Fund, but he still refuses to do so,” Nandlall pointed out, before stating, “There is no alternative but to give the Government a court order”.

Christopher Ram

Meanwhile, new questions have now surfaced over the response given by the Government that the US$18M that was not place into the Consolidated Fund will be used for legal fees to international lawyers for Guyana’s border controversy with Venezuela.

It was pointed out that In 2016, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge had admitted in the National Assembly under questioning from the parliamentary Opposition, that $200M had been set aside to hire international lawyers for Guyana’s border controversy with Venezuela.
That sum was subsequently cleared, along with the rest of the budget.

Attorney-at-law and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram, who first blew the whistle that Government had collected millions in US dollars from ExxonMobil as a signing bonus for its renegotiated oil contract with Guyana has since emphasized that Government must explain what it did with the first allocation for ‘legal fees’.

“And since Minister (of Foreign Affairs, Carl) Greenidge is so forthcoming in this matter, then he ought to be similarly forthcoming in explaining how the earlier sums have been expended,” Ram stated, during the interview with this media group.

On the matter of Government’s explanation for the signing bonus, Ram expressed disappointment. “It is a phenomenal amount …it amounts to five years of the entire legal profession’s fees in Guyana. Now the information for the defence of our case has already been accumulated since 1896.”

“And it has been repeated in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s and (onwards). The information is there, what would have to happen is there would have to be advocacy in front of the ICJ, if it is taken to the ICJ” said Ram.

At the time, People’s Progressive Party/Civic Chief Whip and former Foreign Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira had questioned the $200 million placed under Line Item the heading ‘other’ in Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Development of Foreign Policy.

Teixeira had pointed out that in 2014, some $30 million was allocated under the Line Item but by 2015 it had jumped to $166.6 million. She had noted that only $76.4 million was utilised and as result, she queried why $200 million was being requested.

Responding to the enquiries, Greenidge had explained that “the increase here is determined almost exclusively by the cost of retaining international lawyers to assist us in this exercise… together with the need to also retain lawyers and advisors locally.”

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