US$3.7M spent on legal fees for border case


By Bibi Khatoon

The Guyana Government has so far expended over US$3.7M (GYD$780M) on legal fees to settle its border dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

According to Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge the sum, which is being taken from the US$18M signing bonus received from ExxonMobil in 2016, is a small price to pay given what is at stake.

The Government had set aside US$15M of the signing bonus to fight the case at the World Court.

The remaining US$3 million was set aside for training.

“You can’t fix it afterwards, you have to ensure that you have the best from the very beginning and then you can worry afterwards and if you look at the resources at risk, you will see that this is a very very important issue and it really doesn’t behove us to be spending too much time arguing about 10¢ extra in order to get the legal skills we need,” Minister Greendige told the media at a press conference at his office on Thursday.

The investment is “worth our while,” he said.

The Minister pointed out that the rich Liza field where millions of barrels of oil have been found is also located in the area which is being claimed by Venezuela.

Map created by Venezuela’s National Organisation for Rescue and Maritime Safety (ONSA) purporting to show the increased Venezuelan territory following the issuing of a decree by Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro claiming sovereignty over Guyana’s territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean off the Essequibo region. It also positions the drill site of the ExxonMobil ‘Deepwater Champion’ rig within its claim

In fact, the age-old controversy was reinvigorated in 2015 when ExxonMobil and its partners made its first discovery offshore Guyana.

ExxonMobil and its partners have made 10 discovery increasing Stabroek Resource Estimate to 5 billion barrels.

With no specific timeframe for the completion of the case, the Minister said monies from the signing bonus will be used next year until it is expended.

Thereafter, the Government will have to approach the National Assembly for more funding.

The Foreign Minister said the average length of time taken to settle such a case, is six years.

Greenidge said any expansion of the team will depend on Venezuela’s participation at the ICJ and the requests made by the judges in their deliberations.

“It is a core team (of lawyers),” he said.

The Minister added that “if Venezuela doesn’t participate, the Judges are at liberty to satisfy themselves…and (may) he wants to appear to be fair and may even ask harder questions…so the team may need to be supplemented by additional individual Lawyers or firms of Lawyers.”

Venezuela claims that the 1899 Arbitral Award – which had settled the countries’ border – is invalid.

Guyana and Venezuela were given one year by the UN in 2017 to settle the long-running border controversy but that failed.

Subsequently, the United Nations Secretary General referred the case to the ICJ.

The Spanish speaking country has since refused to participate in the process at the international court, suggesting dialogue was the way to solve the issue; it has also challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

The Court decided that the two sides must detail why it should hear the case. Guyana has since done that and Venezuela has up to April next year.

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