Kaieteur News – The secret signing of the US$18M signing bonus between Esso, Hess and CNOOC, on the one hand, and the Government of Guyana, on the other hand, raises serious issues of transparency.
For one, why was the signing bonus so pitifully meagre? As has been bemoaned to exhaustion by this newspaper, other countries around the world have received much higher signing bonuses than we have and for far less oil reserves than are contained in the Stabroek Block.
So just how was this sum determined? What was the basis for determining that US$18M was adequate? Or was this really, as one senior official tended to imply, not a signing bonus at all but merely a donation to help pay Guyana’s legal fees for prosecuting its case against Venezuela, before the International Court of Justice (ICJ)?
There are real questions surrounding the status of this US$18M signature bonus. It is claimed that the money is deposited in a US bank account, a risky venture when one considers the proclivity of the United States to freeze the foreign assets of states with which they have political issues.
Questions also swarm around the uses to which this money has been put. It has been hinted that the monies are being used to pay the legal fees mentioned above. But so far, the public is clueless as to just how much of the US$18M was utilised for this purpose, to whom specifically the money was paid and what was the means used to determine the choice of legal personnel and their remuneration.
Guyana cannot afford the lack of transparency when it comes to these legal fees. If there is anything which can undermine the righteousness of Guyana’s case before the ICJ, it would be for the legal fees to be ensnared in a lack of openness. Guyanese are entitled to know who is being paid, how much is being paid and who authorised such payment.
The laws of Guyana dictate that all revenues must be paid into the Consolidated Fund and appropriated for use. The exceptions to this rule require the creation of special funds but the public is yet to be advised that there is such a thing as an ICJ Legal Fees Fund. It can hardly hurt for there to be greater transparency in this matter.
Going further back, there are other disconcerting questions surrounding the award of the oil blocks to Exxon Mobil in the first place. Then there are much more disturbing concerns – including the abject lack of transparency – when it comes to other oil blocks in which the public is yet to be told who are the actual persons to which these blocks have been assigned.
The various dimensions of transparency – or rather the lack of it – are symptomatic of a deeper malaise issue with governance. There have long been in the public domain concerns about the government expenditure and the process of awarding government contracts.
The International Monetary Fund had zeroed in on this issue. In 2019, in one of its reports on Guyana, it had welcomed the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) under the APNU+AFC but encouraged the government to ensure timely compliance with existing regulations and take further actions to fortify the transparency of the procurement system.
The PPP/C seems to be allergic to the PPC. At present, there is no PPC in place and this opens the floodgates to all kinds of malfeasance.
The official reason given for the absence of the PPC is that the government has to consult with the Opposition as well as await a process within the Appointments Committee of the National Assembly. These processes are not happening seemingly because the Leader of the Opposition continues to insist, to the chagrin of the President, that the government was elected fraudulently.
However, some observers have poured cold water on this excuse. They believe that the failure of the leaders to meet, and consequently to set in train the process of appointing a PPC allows the government a free pass to award contracts without the oversight of the PPC.
This, along with the severe institutional deficiencies inherent in public procurement, have allowed for both parties to be accused of unfettered corruption by awarding government contracts to their friends and cronies while the public sits and watches helplessly.
The Irfaan Ali administration is beginning to look and smell a lot like the old discredit pre-2015 PPP/C regime. If there has indeed been a change, it seemingly appears to be more of an interchange and exchange.
(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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