Former Guyana President, Bharrat Jagdeo, has denied that Canadian Oil Exploration Company CGX Energy paid a ‘signing bonus’ to the then administration – monies that were used to pay legal fees for the Guyana/Suriname border dispute some years ago.
The former President, now Leader of the Opposition made the disclosure on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the National Assembly’s Committee of Supply – currently considering the National Budget Estimates for 2018.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, during his presentation to the Budget debates on Friday last had said that the Opposition Leader should provide full disclosure on monies that had been paid to Guyana, referencing sums possibly received from oil companies in the past.
The squabble of signing bonuses paid and its stewardship came to the fore following recent revelations that the Guyana Government received a ‘signing bonus’ from US Oil Giant, ExxonMobil, to the tune of US$18M.
Government speakers have since confirmed that a signing bonus has been received from ExxonMobil and placed in a special account at the Bank of Guyana to be used for legal fees in the likely court battle over the border impasse between Guyana and its Western oil producing neighbor, Venezuela.
ExxonMobil Country Manager, Rod Henson, has since confirmed that the company had indeed paid an US$18M sum into a government account at the Bank of Guyana account.
Addressing reporters in the Committee Room at Parliament Building, Mr. Jagdeo bluntly denied that any money – signing bonus or otherwise – was in fact collected by his government from CGX.
According to the Opposition Leader, “as (then) President as far as I am concerned or as far as I am aware, no money was paid over to the government of Guyana.”
He was adamant that this is so because, “there was no signing bonus (with CGX) there was nothing else of that sort, there was no money.”
Seeking to provide an explanation on what transpired at the time, Mr. Jagdeo reminded that Surinamese gunboats had forcibly removed the CGX rig from offshore Guyana. This meant that CGX was “directly involved in the conflict, it was an aggrieved party,” according to Mr. Jagdeo.
The former President recalled that CGX in that instance had to defend itself since it was an internationally traded company.
Mr. Jagdeo was adamant that CGX recruited its lawyers and lobbyists, whom were paid directly by the Canadian company and that no monies were paid to the Guyana Government
“The situation is very different…it cannot be comparable,” according to the Opposition Leader.
Juxtaposing the CGX legal wrangle, the former President noted in this instance, “Here the government received a signing bonus (from ExxonMobil).”
He queried whether the payment of a signing bonus was in fact included in the revised contract with ExxonMobil and questioned further whether this was the reason for the review of the contract.
The former President in evading whether CGX had in fact paid the lawyers representing the Guyana Government in the legal battle against Suriname, told reporters, CGX was an interested party, “our interests coincided.”
According to Mr. Jagdeo, this is not the same situation that exists with ExxonMobil, since what was paid over to the Guyana Government was a signing bonus which represents revenues to the state and it should in fact be accounted for in the treasury.
It was noted too that ExxonMobil officials in confirming the payment of the money to the Guyana Government had reported that it was for no specific reason but rather a ‘signing bonus’ which is not unusual when oil companies ink a Production Sharing Agreement with countries around the world.
Responding to government’s explanation that the monies were being kept in a special account for legal fees, Mr. Jagdeo told reporters that his party would in no way object to monies being released from the treasury for the defense of Guyana’s territorial sovereignty and as such there is no need for a special account.
“Even if they are saving the money off books to pay for the border issue why you have to keep off book,” he asked, as he questioned government’s motive for not placing the money in the consolidated fund, adding rhetorically, “Would the PPP (People’s Progressive Party) ever object to paying lawyers to fight our case?”
Mr. Jagdeo is also the General Secretary of the PPP, Guyana’s main opposition party.