“First set of oil money I believe they are attempting to steal” – Jagdeo says

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Georgetown: Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the David Granger-led coalition administration of fostering corruption with the handling of the US$18 million signing bonus received from ExxonMobil in 2016.

Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram was first to come public that Government had received a signing bonus.

At the time, Ram had claimed the amount to be US$20 million. Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, and Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman never admitted to the existence of the bonus despite being asked repeatedly by the press corps.

Government was recently forced to admit the existence of the bonus, spending the past week assuring Guyanese that the bonus is being held in a special Bank of Guyana account and is designated to be used for legal fees to settle the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

The Chartered Accountant noted that the forced admission by the government is a shocking revelation of a conspiracy to deceive the people of Guyana about billions of dollars, involving a galaxy of ministers.

He said that there are immediate and longer term implications for Guyana, including a violation of Article 216 of the Constitution of Guyana.

However, Jagdeo stated that the monies should be transferred to the Consolidated Fund where it can be tracked and properly accounted for.

“This is a major problem. The first set of oil money I believe they are attempting to steal. One would have forgotten about this special account. It’s not recorded anywhere and suddenly we hear it went for legal fees and that’s the end of it,” Jagdeo stated.

He said that the bonus is similar to the Durban Park project which the Auditor General could not audit because there is no proper paperwork

“My worry is that if the money is there and it’s not in any of the accounts provided for, then the direction will come from a Minister to the signatories, approve a million dollars for legal fees and its gone…then it’s not recorded in any of our accounts; it can’t be audited,” Jagdeo stated.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, had told the National Assembly that the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) specifically provides for public monies to be held in extra-budgetary funds and deposit funds until they are credited to the Consolidated Fund.

Jagdeo, accused Greenidge of misleading in his statement that the bonus was placed in a deposit fund. According to Jagdeo, under the FMAA, the Minister has the right to set up the special account and it does not have to be paid over promptly to the Consolidated Fund.

However, on the establishment and operation of such fund, the Act requires that the Minister shall notify the National Assembly of the deposit fund and shall specify the source of the fund, the purpose for the expenditure from the fund, the banking arrangement for the fund and the intended investment policy for the funds.

“The Foreign Minister misled the whole of Guyana when he said that this money was paid into a deposit fund so it was legally paid over and it is in accordance with the FMFA,” Jagdeo noted.

The funds and the surrounding circumstances drew the attention of the Auditor General when a leaked letter addressed to Central Bank Governor, Dr. Gobind Ganga, and dated September 20, 2016, surfaced last Friday.

Finance Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts, made it clear in the correspondence that the Bank of Guyana should not treat the money as part of its reserves. The letter showed that a request was made for the opening of a foreign currency account to receive a signing bonus from ExxonMobil.

President Granger on Wednesday took responsibility for making the decision to secretly hold the funds in the Bank of Guyana. He said that the money is for a legitimate exercise – to be used for certain matters which Government perceives to be of national security interest.

Trotman had indicated that the money is being kept to assist Guyana with its border controversy with Venezuela. Granger had expressed the view that not all Cabinet Ministers were aware of the bonus.

“The Government can’t get its story right. First of all it denied the existence of the fund. Then the President said it’s just a small group of Ministers that agreed to this. Then the Vice-President [Greenidge] came and said it’s the Cabinet. Then he retracted that and said a small group of people. The record is there that they cannot get their story on that matter right,” Jagdeo a former President and Minister of Finance noted.

Since the Ministry of Finance letter surfaced, Ram has called for the intervention of the police and an apology from Granger.