Guyana has to be the first country in the world which would negotiate a signing bonus strictly to pay legal fees and training. This is quite an unusual manner to negotiate a signing bonus.
The Secretary General of the United Nations in December of 2016 informed Guyana that he would continue with the good offices process for one more year and if there was no substantial progress in the process after that period, he would refer the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), unless before this both Guyana and Venezuela agreed to refer the matter to the ICJ.
The letter from the Ministry of Finance to the Bank of Guyana, instructing it to create a foreign currency account for the signing bonus received from Exxon Mobil was dated September 2016. This was three months before the Secretary General reached his decision.
Yet, we are told that Guyana had before September negotiated with Exxon Mobil for a signing bonus to be paid. Exxon has never said that the bonus was for legal fees.
It is the government of Guyana which is saying this. In fact, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has even gone further to state that the signing bonus is not just for legal fees but US$ 3M of the US$ 18 is for the provision of training in petroleum-related fields.
The question that needs to be asked is this: if at the time Guyana agreed to a signing bonus with Exxon Mobil, the Secretary General had not yet made or communicated his decision as to what action he would take in accordance with the Geneva Agreement of 1966, then how would Guyana’s negotiators have known what figure to set aside for legal fees?
It can be speculated that Guyana was confident that the Secretary General would have referred the matter to the ICJ and therefore was preparing itself. But how did it arrive at US$15M for legal fees when this can be protracted legal tussle which, as the government itself admits can take years? The point is, this US$15M ever going to be sufficient, given that the SG, subsequent to the signing bonus, agreed for at least one more year for of the good offices process.
In other words, did Guyana shortchange itself, not only by limiting the sum negotiated for the signing bonus only for legal fees and training but also by not contemplating that this matter can drag out for years and therefore the amount negotiated for legal fees can be woefully inadequate?
Guyana had reportedly set aside G$1M of budgetary proceeds to pay legal fees. The actual amount paid is not yet known but if so much could have been set aside to just advocate Guyana’s case to the Secretary General, then how much will be needed to continue the good offices process plus to prosecute Guyana’s case before the ICJ, if it ever goes there?
Therefore, it is one thing to say that the contract with Exxon will be made public soon. But the government also needs to be transparent about the actual legal fees it has paid so far and which lawyers they are selecting to represent Guyana.
Obviously, in negotiating the contract with Exxon, lawyers would have had to be engaged. Who were these lawyers? Were they from the Attorney General Chambers? Or were international lawyers hired?
What process was used to select the lawyers for the contract given that the Public Procurement Act provides that all goods and services procured by government must follow established procedures?
International lawyers are paid by the hour and certain incidental expenses are usually covered. What therefore were the assumptions used in calculating the US$15M signing bonus for legal fees?
The public is entitled to know because the more one looks at this signing bonus, the more difficult it is to accept the narrative of the government. Some things simply do not add up.
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