US$18M signing bonus: Govt should have come clean, instead of lying- Fmr Speaker

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…Christopher Ram says matter now criminal, Police should be called in

In attempting to make sense out of the situation that involved Government trying to keep secret a signing bonus received from United States (U.S.) oil giant ExxonMobil, columnist and political analyst Ralph Ramkarran strongly feels that the Government has foolishly tarnished its credentials.

Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran, SC

In his weekly column, the Conversation Tree, the former Speaker of the National Assembly said he also feels that the APNU/AFC Government should have come clean on this bonus, in order to save itself from the humiliation of having to explain the reason why it kept this matter a secret.

“I have wracked my brain to figure out why so many intelligent people decided to maintain the secrecy since June, when it was clear that the revelation by Christopher Ram suggested that the information was out. Then was the time to come clean and avoid a scandal,” Ramkarran posited.

Ministers of the Government have lied about this issue until the leaked information was reported in the local media, and Ramkarran believes consequences should attend those ministers’ actions. But he recognises that unless there is a mass upsurge, which is unlikely, this action will continue to be defended.

“There is no excuse for the secrecy, and any attempt to defend it is an insult to the Guyanese people,” Ramkarran added, while explaining that politics in Guyana is what he describes is a zero-sum game in which the rules of transparency and accountability are weak, and are not enforced where they exist.

And according to him, no conventions have been established or are entrenched.
“The prevailing wisdom, therefore, is to give the Opposition and the Guyanese people as little as possible; and where possible, nothing. This is the national political culture derived from its core defect — the politics of ethno-political domination…,” he asserted.

The former House Speaker also explained that in a situation the people are the pawns, and that is the reason why the APNU-AFC coalition, when in Opposition, could have been so strident in defence of transparency and accountability, and can now so “blithely dismiss” such concepts with contempt.

“The Government has foolishly tarnished its credentials. Those were already under strain by its refusal to reveal the contract it had signed with ExxonMobil. It has been recovering somewhat by its promise to reveal the contents of the contract, albeit under intense public pressure,” Ramkarran stated.

He is of the opinion that if Government were to admit it had made an error of judgment in this instance, that admission would go a far way in putting the matter to rest; but he noted that this does not happen in Guyana’s politics.

Constitution violated

Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law and  Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram, the man who first revealed to the nation that Government had collected a  signing bonus from the oil company, stated among others things that the deceptive act on the part of Government meant that the Constitution of Guyana was violated, among other significant ramifications.

It means that Article 216 of the Constitution of Guyana has been knowingly violated; “that critical information contained in the Estimates of Expenditure now being considered by the National Assembly is inaccurate, incorrect and meaningless; that the 2016 financial statements of the Government and of the Consolidated Fund are for 2016 similarly deficient” Ram stated.

Since the transaction occurred in the fiscal year of the Audit Office of Guyana’s last report, Ram noted, the AG’s report on the Consolidated Fund is inapplicable.

He said that, as such, the auditing standards applied by the Office require Auditor General Deodat Sharma to withdraw his report.

“The financial statements and the auditor’s report of the Bank of Guyana for the year 2016 face the same jeopardy; and this web of deception has ensnared high level officers of the Ministry of Finance, the Geology and Mines Commission, and the Bank of Guyana, including the Chairman of its Audit Committee, Mr Anand Goolsarran,” Ram declared.

“It is as clear as day to me that offences (were) committed under Section 85 of the [Fiscal Management and Accountability Act] by more than one person. This is now a criminal matter, and the Guyana Police Force should be called in,” Ram said on Saturday.

Article 216 of the Constitution of Guyana is very clear on how public monies should be treated. According to the section, “All revenues or other moneys raised or received by Guyana (not being revenues or other moneys that are payable by or under an Act of Parliament, into some other fund established for any specific purpose or that may, by or under such an Act, be retained by the authority that received them for the purpose of defraying the expenses of that authority) shall be paid into and from one Consolidated Fund.”

Section 85 of Guyana’s Fiscal Management and Accountability Act says that public officials who falsify accounts, statements or records under the Act, or those guilty of conspiring to defraud the state, are committing an indictable offence. The punishment for this offence, on summary conviction, is a fine of $2 million and a three-year jail sentence.

Further, Ram noted that after such a blow to the coalition administration’s credibility, President David Granger must take decisive action to ensure the public can regain trust in his Government.According to Ram, this includes the president apologising for his ministers’ “diabolical” act, remedying the violations of the law, and the calling in the Police.

But where does this leave the future of transparency and accountability of Guyana’s developing oil sector? According to Ram, it should be clear that such a large source of the national revenues of Guyana should not be left in the control of Ministers.

“The petroleum resources of Guyana do not belong to a cabal ensconced in the Administration, but to all Guyanese, present and future. Each such Guyanese expects and deserves that its government – whether APNU, PNC or PPP – owes to them honesty, decency and integrity demonstrated in accurate accounting, proper accountability, and good governance, not only on World Anti-Corruption Day, but each and every day of the year”, Ram declared.

After months of denial, the Natural Resources Minister on Friday told the National Assembly that Government did receive a large sum of money from oil giant ExxonMobil following the signing of the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA). Trotman informed that the money is being used to defend Guyana’s territorial integrity in the border controversy with Venezuela.

The Government had consistently denied receiving the money, but a document from Finance Secretary Hector Butts was leaked  and it stated there was a request that the Bank of Guyana’s Governor set up a special account to deposit the money.

On Sunday ExxonMobil’s Country Manager, Rod Henson confirmed that US$18M was paid as a signing bonus to Government.

Rod Henson, ExxonMobil Country Manager

Henson said the company paid US$18M, “not to any individual but to a government bank account designated by the Ministry of Finance.” He further pointed out, “ExxonMobil, as a commercial entity, we have no role whatsoever in the use or where those funds go. We operate with the highest standard of business conduct.”

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