Former Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Juan Edghill seems to be starving for more details
on the events that unfolded before, during and after the recent trip that “the quintet plus one” made to Houston, Texas in the United States.
Edghill has had many questions about the relationship between the government and ExxonMobil. His latest have to do with matters related to a recent trip. The Ministers who went on that trip were David Patterson, Winston Jordan, Raphael Trotman, Carl Greenidge and Dominic Gaskin. Those officials, with the exception of Greenidge – who went on the trip in the space of Minister Joseph Harmon – make up the Cabinet sub-committee referred to as the quintet. There is also a “plus one”—Dr. Jan Mangal. They met with ExxonMobil officials about a month ago.
The trip was not announced as is the norm when government officials venture abroad to represent Guyana. It was only after the media broke the story about the trip, and after the Ministers would have returned that any information about the trip was forthcoming from the government.
Edghill said that he has a serious problem with this.
“Why would this government send its cabinet sub-committee to Houston to engage with officials at Exxon and not even announce it?”
The Member of Parliament (MP) continued, “If we had to find out about this the way we did in the media, without government announcing it, then what else can we expect from this government?”
At a press conference subsequent to his return, Minister Patterson had indicated that ExxonMobil stood the expense for the all-inclusive trip.
This seems to be not enough information for Edghill. The MP wants to know the cost of accommodation. Further, he questioned, “Did they receive per diem and what was the daily rate? Did they receive gifts from Exxon more than US$50? Because the Integrity Commission Act says they have to declare this, if they received more than that. And if they did receive it, have they made that declaration as yet?”
Edghill said that the environment of secrecy and lack of accountability that the David Granger-led government has created “Leaves any reasonable person to question whether the Guyanese people are being cheated”.
And Edghill is not the only one who has concerns about the trip. Former Auditor General and anti-corruption advocate, Anand Goolsarran, also has his reservations.
Goolsarran even made the details surrounding the trip, the focus of one of his recent articles on accountability.
He said that he was hesitant to comment on the recent visit to the Houston headquarters of ExxonMobil until the facts are known as to the purpose for the trip and the source of funding. “We now know that the purpose was to obtain an update on progress being made by the U.S. oil giant in relation to the extraction of crude oil in Guyana’s waters and that the trip was funded by ExxonMobil.”
Goolsarran said that both the Government and ExxonMobil should have been aware that it is “highly inappropriate” from an ethical and moral standpoint for ExxonMobil to fund the trip.
The anti-corruption advocate said that the agreement with ExxonMobil is in the nature of a procurement contract, and Guyana’s Procurement Act prohibits the acceptance of gifts and other favours from suppliers/contractors. He said that such acceptance has the potential of influencing decisions in favour of suppliers/contractors, hence a potential conflict of interest.
Additionally, Goolsarran said that the Integrity Commission Act has a schedule of Code of Conduct that prohibits the acceptance of gifts and other favours. The Code has since been revised and gazetted, but the related amendments to the Act are yet to be tabled in the National Assembly.
Further, Goolsarran said that in an apparent attempt at damage control, Government officials have indicated that the cost of the trip will be included in Exxon’s investment to be recovered against revenue when production begins in 2020.
“This explanation should be rejected, since the U.S. oil giant’s investment cannot include expenditure incurred on behalf of the Government of Guyana. A competent and independent auditor is more than likely to reject such expenditure as a charge to Exxon in its books. This practice can also open the floodgates for all sorts of government expenditure to be incurred and included in Exxon’s investment.”
Also, Goolsarran noted that there is no provision in the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FMA) Act or the Constitution that allows expenditure to be incurred and charged against future revenues; nor can there be netting off of expenditure against revenue. In fact, he noted that Section 38(1) of the FMA Act specifically states that “All public moneys raised or received by the Government shall be credited fully and promptly to the Consolidated Fund …”
Goolsarran said that the cost of the trip should therefore have been funded by the Government through the budget process.
Additionally, Goolsarran said that one needs to reflect on whether such a costly visit to obtain an update on progress made by ExxonMobil, was indeed necessary, considering that in an age of rapid advances in information technology, virtual meetings can be conveniently held via Skype, conference calls and other technology-related means.
“Is it not a case of waste and extravagance in the use of public funds?”
Goolsarran said that in the circumstances, “ExxonMobil should be requested to present to the Government an invoice for the expenditure incurred and reimbursement made at the approved travelling rates for Ministers and other officials. As it stands, the expenditure will not be reflected in the public accounts. One hopes that there will not be a repeat of this practice.”
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