By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
It took undeniable, evidence-based revelations in the media, to compel the government to admit to the nation that it indeed accepted a signing bonus from oil giant, ExxonMobil.
The evidence shows that since last year, the government accepted, and arranged mechanisms, to collect a signing bonus from Exxon. The money, which Kaieteur News understands is to the tune of US$18M, now sits in an account at Bank of Guyana.
The government had several opportunities to tell the nation about the money it received. The question was asked on many occasions but until yesterday, none of the Ministers who continuously profess a commitment to transparency, said anything.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman yesterday took the floor of the National Assembly to make his contributions to the Budget Debates. During his presentation, Trotman succinctly touched on the issue of the signing bonus and the fact that it was hidden from the public. However, he said that he was not ashamed and is happy that everything is now in the public.
Subsequent to his presentation, Trotman afforded Kaieteur News a brief interview on the catwalk of Public Buildings.
During that interview, Trotman said that the government was advised not to make the collection of the money public, or state what it intends to do with it.
Trotman was keen to note that ExxonMobil gave the money, and it was government that decided that it wanted to set aside the money for the financing of the safeguarding of its territorial integrity. “We asked for the money as a bonus, Exxon did not know that we were going to use it for that purpose.”
Trotman continued, “The same advisor said, ‘Look, we are in delicate talks with Venezuela. We do not want to look like we are preparing.’ But that is all we did, we set aside money to pay lawyers and to handle the court case.”
REPUTATION AT STAKE
Trotman was pointed to the possible fallout as a result of the fact that the government kept this information from the public for over a year. This newspaper asked Trotman, who quoted the Bible during his speech, whether he envisages that the masses may feel betrayed, and if he feels that the government’s reputation is at stake.
The Minister responded, “I see that that is a possibility. But, I believe it was last week Minister (of State, Joseph) Harmon said we will be releasing everything. It was I who went back to Cabinet and told them we cannot continue like this. In the long run, Cabinet agreed that we would make everything public. I have been explaining the situation that our sovereignty is at stake.”
The Minister said that later this month, the government will be facilitating a meeting with the opposition, the media and some other stakeholders for the viewing of the ExxonMobil contract. “That is the first step that we are going to take,” he said. The Minister noted that the government is adopting the method used by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) when it allowed similar viewing of the contract for the Amaila Falls Hydro Project.
NO MORE SECRETS
All the secrets are out. At least that is according to the Minister. The Parliamentarian said that all that the government was keeping private is now in the public domain. That which is not yet in the public domain, will make its way there soon. Trotman claimed that the government has received no similar lump sum from any other oil company.
“And there is nothing else that I know of. What we kept from the public was not for any nefarious purpose. There is nothing immoral; it is really about our sovereignty. We cannot go and raise an army against Venezuela. We want to amicably, and through the known judicial processes, settle this matter. We feel we have the right and we believe we need to strengthen up,” said Trotman.
Many persons agree that the government has a right to safeguard the nation’s sovereignty and given the circumstances, there is need for a delicate handling of the matter. However, the question was asked of Trotman, what was stopping the government from telling the nation of the money, but keeping private the administration’s intention to use the money for funding efforts to protect the nation’s sovereignty.
Trotman responded, “You know sometimes you start off with good intentions but make bad steps. I think that is what happened. It is not that we’re trying to hide, lie, steal or cheat. We were just trying to preserve the integrity of the state as we were advised based on how it was handled previously.”
Trotman said that citizens can be comforted by the fact that the money was handled in the proper way.
“The letter shows that this was handled through the Bank of Guyana, not some Minister’s account. There may have been a belief that a few ministers have locked off this money and are living on it or something; nothing of the sort…It is not the first time or the last that this or any other government in the world has special facilities or special projects, and that is all. It happens every day, everywhere in the world. If anything, the letter shows that it is not in my hands, the hands of (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl) Greenidge or (Finance Minister, Winston) Jordan. It is with the Bank of Guyana. The money is safe.”
Trotman was asked if he was willing to go on record, committing to the people of Guyana that there will be no more secrecy in the oil industry. He responded in the positive.
The politician said, “Of course! This has been a painful lesson for everyone. Your intentions are good, but the outcome can cause harm. There is no intention for us to steal or to siphon off money or to cheat the nation. We just simply sought to get the best tools available.”
He concluded, “We have hired international lawyers from Canada and the United Kingdom. The process of gathering information, maps and plans is not simple; then there is flying back and forth. This costs a lot of money. We sought to finance that to safeguard the country. That is all it is.”
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