President David Granger at the sidelines of an event at the State House on Wednesday told reporters that the placing of the US$18M signing bonus from ExxonMobil into a secret account was not done out of ‘deception’ but rather as a non-disclosure in the interest of national security.
According to the President “it’s not a question of secrecy, evidence of non-disclosure does not mean that there is evidence of any intention of deception and there is no intention to deceive but there was no need to make it public. It’s a governmental decision. I make governmental decisions all the time but it’s not deceptive.”
Moreover he told media operatives that the act was a legitimate Government of Guyana exercise, noting that the US$18M is in the Bank of Guyana in an escrow account, meaning it cannot be used for purposes not intended.
When asked why his Government Ministers denied the existence of the signing bonus, the President indicated to the media that, “I am not sure that all the Ministers are aware of the transaction.”
“It is a legitimate transaction, I am aware of it and I am responsible for everything surrounding that transaction,” said the President.
He subsequently added that “it is a legitimate exercise, as I said. It is to be used for certain matters which we perceive to be of national security interest and at that point in time, it was the thing to do so we that we can have access in the event of a national security emergency.”
While the President has deemed the transaction legitimate, his Government continues to be criticized for the move deemed by anti-corruption advocates, among others, as “downright criminal, immoral and unethical.”
Before news broke of Government actually receiving the signing bonus, Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo demanded that Government come clean stating that he could ‘reasonably confirm’ that it was true.
Jagdeo noted during his Budget presentation on Friday last after the signing bonus was confirmed that “what we have here is a major scandal. The Government of Guyana took money, large sums of money, in form of a signing bonus and did not tell the people (and) write to put it into a special account, not paid into the Consolidated Fund or into the GGMC. What if a few years had passed? Then someone can easily, because it is not recorded, can easily draw down monies from this fund. It is illegal! The entire Government should resign now.”
Just recently, former Speaker of the National Assembly, columnist and political analyst Ralph Ramkarran had said there “is no excuse for the secrecy, and any attempt to defend it is an insult to the Guyanese people,” 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.
Moreover, 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 that the Auditor General’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 had said.
On Sunday last, after the information was leaked to the media, ExxonMobil’s Country Manager, Rod Henson confirmed that US$18M was paid as a signing bonus to Government.
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.”