In the face of continued silence by government on if it received a US$20M signing bonus from US oil company, ExxonMobil, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said that he could “reasonably confirm” the transaction and that it was paid sometime earlier this year.
Jagdeo said that he would be seeking confirmation from the United States oil major when he meets them early next month and would also press the government here to show where the money went or to whom.
“I have been able to reasonably confirm that the government has received a sum of money and approximately US$20M. They received this money almost a year ago,” the Opposition Leader told reporters yesterday at a press conference he called.
“This issue we are going to place it on the first burner. So long it just languished in the media because I think most of us felt that no government will receive US$20M as a signing bonus and refuse to make it available to the public. We are going to be pressing more to find out about this money and who has the money and who knew of this receipt,” he added.
Jagdeo stressed that in the interest of transparency and accountability government should say if the money was collected and if it was it should be reflected in the Consolidated Fund.
He said that a troubling point for him was Minister of Finance Winston Jordan publicly saying that he is not aware that monies were collected. If it turns out that the monies were indeed collected, Jagdeo said that he thinks the entire government should resign on the grounds of non-transparency with public funds.
“If this turns out to be true then I believe that the entire government should resign. If you cannot be transparent about receipts and about a company in Guyana, particularly when you are pursuing EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) …….And if the government had received the money and Winston Jordan did not know about this then where did the money did go. … How many other persons know of this, definitely the Ministry of Natural Resources should know about this payment,” the Opposition Leader said.
It was columnist Christopher Ram who first said in his October 27 column in this newspaper that he has been told by a credible source that there was a US$20M signature bonus paid by ExxonMobil as part of the new contract agreement signed when the APNU+AFC government took office.
Ram believes that this may be one of the reasons why the government continues to hold out on making the contract available.
“The Government of Guyana used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus, a payment made by a contractor on the signing of an Agreement to take up any given number of blocks. The figure I have been told is twenty million United States Dollars,” he had written in his `Road to first oil’ column.
He maintains that there was “absolutely no reason“ for a new Petroleum Agreement with ExxonMobil subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Limited and its joint venture partners since the agreement signed under the late President Janet Jagan’s administration, back in 1999, was set to last the duration of the Prospecting and Production Licences respectively.
According to Ram, he has been told by sources that the current government “used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus” and believes that in the interest of transparency government should come clean on the matter.
Government’s Petroleum Advisor Jan Mangal has said that he has told government to release the contract and that the question on the signing bonus needs to be answered.
Fielding questions from Stabroek News on the issue of transparency, Mangal said:
“My terms of reference with the President, I had transparency as the number one item. So I constantly push for transparency. I believe that all contracts should be made public. Not only petroleum, diamonds gold, timber these are all resources of the people and all of these contracts should be made public. That is my objective. I am an advisor and I obviously can only advise, that is continually my advice that these contracts be made public because in the long term that is what would help Guyana,” he explained.
“Of course the signing bonus (if paid) needs to be made public. It needs to be auditable people need to have confidence in their representatives and the way to do that is by having transparency,” he added.
But Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman says he will not be speaking on any matters pertaining to contractual arrangements on oil and gas matters and will let Cabinet guide what should be made public.
“Nothing on the contract I am discussing. I would like to take this whole issue of the publication of the contract to Cabinet for guidance because it is not a Trotman issue it is a government position and I won’t be able to discuss it,” Trotman told Stabroek News, earlier last month, when asked about whether government collected a signature bonus from ExxonMobil when a new agreement was signed with it. ExxonMobil itself has not said anything about this.
Trotman reiterated the point, via a statement through the Ministry of the Presidency, following Mangal’s interview and had the backing of Minister of State Joseph Harmon who said that Cabinet will decide on the issue.
It is unclear if Trotman has brought the matter up for discussion at any of the Cabinet meetings since.
“The Government has taken a decision at this point in time not to release the full contract. We have released quite a few details in fact and if persons are wise enough, and many are, you can put pieces together to get a sense of what is the contract but there are a number of extenuating and external issues which are being attended to, some of them have foreign affairs implications, some of them have sovereignty implications, some have national security implications and Government has been advised by external advisors and lawyers that at this point in time, that we should not bear all,” the release quoted him as saying.
“It is perhaps not palatable to everyone to accept that and sometimes advice is not always what you want to hear but it is important that if you have retained experts and others to advise you that you abide by their advice. I am confident that in due course Cabinet will lift that injunction … and that everything will be opened. There is nothing in there that could sink anyone or sink a Government. As a matter of fact, I have said that often times, it is really a continuation of a 1999 contract and it was tweaked in just a few places and so there is nothing to hide”, the release added.