Oil bonus ‘safe’ from being stolen or misused – Granger

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President David Granger has maintained that his government did not commit a “crime” by setting up a special foreign currency account to receive the US$18 million ExxonMobil signing bonus, adding that the account was set up to “insulate” the funds from being misused or stolen.

“It was a course of action that was recommended, and we feel that where the money is located at present would insulate it from being misused or stolen,” Granger told reporters at a press conference at the Ministry of the Presidency on Friday, 15 December 2017.

“I don’t believe there is any illegality; I don’t think there is any graft or corruption, or intention to misuse the money,” he stated.

However, the President said if the government is advised by the lawyers that it does not conform with the country’s financial regulations, the government will act on such advice.

“We will comply the ruling of any court or we will comply with legal advice.

“But at present the money is safe, it belongs to the Guyanese people and it was intended to be used for a specific purpose.

“…we need it there, that’s why we put it there; the money is safe,” Granger declared.

The Presidents said he would do everything possible under the law to protect the oil industry from corruption.

He said he would do all to ensure the integrity of the government, and if any malfeasance is reported to him, he will take action to have it investigated and the culprits would be “subjected to the persons of law.”

“…I will do everything possible to ensure the integrity of this industry.

“It’s the first big new industry we’ve had for a century and we don’t want to drop the ball; we want to make sure that our children benefit from what is going to take place,” Granger stated.

He said the government has time to ensure not only legislation but also the education that is necessary, and the organisations at the governmental level are put in place.

“So we will do everything possible to protect that industry to make sure that our children could benefit from it.

“I don’t know about anybody being compromised in my government and if I got such a report I will surely investigate it,” the President declared.

The signing bonus was revealed through a letter leaked to the press and the government has been trying to shore up its confidentiality measures.

“It is not an easy case of plumbing. We would like to find out who is leaking and bring an end to the leakage. But we just don’t know. If we do, we will stop it. That’s how leaks are; they are covered in trails of secrecy,” Granger stated.

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.

Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge Thursday indicated 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.

Greenidge said that the Public Service Ministry had not yet decided on how the US$3 million for training.

When the government finally admitted to the signing bonus after repeated denials, Minister of Natural Resources, 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.

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 but some of them may not have necessarily know 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.”

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