Jan Mangal made a bombshell revelation. Mangal, the former Petroleum Advisor, to David Granger, disclosed that when he told the then President about the ExxonMobil contract, Granger seemed surprised.
Why would Granger appear surprised if he had full knowledge of the contract? Did Mangal misread Granger’s body language?
Granger has never confirmed or denied whether the ExxonMobil contract was signed behind his back. His government has never admitted whether the contract was discussed with Cabinet prior to it being signed. The new government, hopefully, would now have access to the records of Cabinet which would verify whether and when Cabinet would have pronounced on the contract.
One would have expected at the minimum that a contract of such national importance would have been well ventilated. Less major issues are usually ventilated at Cabinet.
It therefore needs to be determined whether the ExxonMobil contract was inked behind Granger’s back? And was the signing bonus which was subsequently negotiated also signed behind the President’s back.
This issue has resurfaced because we have had a very strange disclosure being made by the one-week old PPP/C administration. It is now being reported that, as President, Granger had delegated his powers to grant land leases to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys.
This is a shocking revelation because it is not the type of authority which any President should delegate. Under the law, leases have to be approved by the President and this is one power which very few Presidents would have been expected to delegate.
Land ownership in Guyana is a contentious issue. The majority of the lands in Guyana are owned by a small percentage of the population. In 1992, it was estimated that a mere 5% of the population owned 70% of the lands in the country.
This disparity in land ownership has been a major contributor to economic inequality. When Cheddi Jagan came into office, he took the conscious decision to reclaim lands from large landowners, trying to place limits on the amount of land any one single person or company could own.
Skewed land ownership had led to calls for land reform. Granger himself appointed a commission to look into certain land issues. It therefore comes as a total surprise to learn that instead of keeping his finger on the pulse when it comes to land distribution, the former President would have delegated powers to rent, grant, or permit occupancy of public lands.
It is inappropriate for the Lands and Surveys Commission to be tasked with approving the very applications for the grant, lease or occupancy of public lands. Under the Lands and Surveys Commission Act, the Commission also monitors and regulates the terms and conditions for the grant, lease or occupancy of state lands. The Commission also values public lands. An agency should never be asked to approve the very lands for which it processes applications, values and regulates.
A mistake was made here. The question to be answered is, whether the mistake was with the full knowledge of Granger, or whether it was done in his name and possibly unknown to him.
It needs to be known whether Granger signed the order delegating such powers or if the Order, delegating the powers, was signed on his behalf.
If the Order of delegation was signed by the President, it can be considered a major blunder on his part. It amounts to him delegating a major part of his powers and his ability to control land reform.
In other words, it needs to be ascertained whether the Order was approved behind Granger’s back and, as is suspected, happened in the case of the ExxonMobil contract.
Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. had described the ExxonMobil contract as illegal and irretrievably flawed. It deduced that the contract was either the result of grand corruption or grand incompetence
If, however, the contract was signed behind the backs of Cabinet or Granger, then this has implications for its legality. It would be open to question whether those who signed did so in excess of their jurisdiction.
Similarly, if the delegation of presidential powers was done without the expressed consent of the President, that is whether it was done on his behalf rather than under his hand, it could have implications for the legality of all land contracts issued subsequently.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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