Gov’t not sure will use oil bonus in 2018
- Greenidge says use of funds was deliberately kept ‘secret’ from some Ministers
The controversy surrounding the US$18 million signing bonus with ExxonMobil and the Guyana government continues, with Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge indicating that the government did not deposit the money in the Consolidated Fund because it is not sure that it will be used next year.
The Opposition, the Auditor General, and others have argued that the bonus constituted revenue and should have been placed in the government’s main bank account and be reflected in the 2018 Budget Estimates.
“But we don’t know that the money will be needed in 2018. You don’t want to inflate your budget unnecessarily by having an amount like US$15 which is not going to be spent in 2018.
“It inflates the budget unnecessarily. You don’t put expenditures on the budget unless you’re reasonably sure of spending it,” Greenidge told reporters Thursday afternoon.
While President David Granger said Wednesday the money was kept to be used for national security matters, the Foreign Minister announced in the National Assembly Thursday morning that US$3 million would be used for training Guyanese in areas such as petroleum and geology.
When the government finally admitted to the signing bonus after repeated denials, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, in a fiery presentation during the 2018 Budget Debates, said the money was specifically designated to pay legal fees if the border controversy with Venezuela is referred to the International Court of Justice. The Minister of Foreign Affairs in the National Assembly said that not all of the money was being kept for that purpose, just US$15 million of the bonus.
The United Nations Secretary-General had committed to referring the border controversy to the International Court of Justice if no real progress is achieved by the end of the year through special mediation he set up.
The signing bonus was received from the oil major in September 2016 but was only disclosed on December 08, 2017 after a letter from the Ministry of Finance directing the Governor of the Bank of Guyana to open an account for the sum was leaked to the media. The exact sum was subsequently confirmed by Exxon’s Country Manager, Rod Henson on December 10, 2017.
Questioned about earlier denials by Ministers of the signing bonus, the Foreign Affairs Minister said that the while the entire Cabinet knew of the matter some of them may not have necessarily known it by the name “signing bonus.”
He said that on June 7, 2016, “the full Cabinet approved the terms negotiated and the arrangements to receive the funds on that date.”
Despite saying the that full Cabinet approved “the arrangements to receive” the signing bonus, the Ministry of the Presidency quoted Greenidge as saying he was “misquoted” and denied “that the entire Cabinet approved the deposit of the US$18 million signing bonus from ExxonMobil in an escrow account at Bank of Guyana (BoG).”
At his press conference, the Minister said this: “The receipt of the money is not a secret. It was discussed and that is clear. People (Ministers) will forget; I can’t blame them for that.”
He next said that while Ministers knew of the signing bonus they did not know what it was intended for.
“As regards the use of the money, only a few of them would have only been appraised of that for reasons that had to do with if you want something to kept reasonably secret then you tell as few people as possible.”