House Speaker rejects motion over ‘signing bonus’

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Guyana's National Assembly in session during presentation of the 2018 National Budget in November.

Guyana’s political opposition, the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) on Friday unsuccessfully brought to the National Assembly; a motion looking to compel the government to have reflected in the State’s National Estimates as revenue, the US$18M ‘signing bonus’ it received from oil major ExxonMobil and kept ‘off-books’ for more than a year.

The motion was rejected by Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, who told members of the House that the request for the extraordinary procedure, did not meet with the guidelines in the Standing Orders, namely ‘urgent public importance’ and as such was rejected.

The Motion was piloted by General Secretary of the PPP, Bharrat Jagdeo, who in petitioning the House for the motion adjournment of the business of the day said, “If we were to pass these estimates as presented by the Minister of Finance (Winston Jordan) we will be knowingly agreeing to an illegality that is being perpetrated on this house.”

The PPP General Secretary and Opposition Leader in his unsuccessful petition to the Speaker noted that while the Minister of Foreign Affairs did indicate to the House that the US$18M signing bonus is being held in a Deposit Fund, as provided for under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, “the minister of Finance himself in his explanation has never mentioned the creation of a deposit fund, he had described it as a Special Fund.”

The Party’s Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, in submitting the motion to the Speaker of the National Assembly for approval on Thursday, documented that the motion is also relevant to the business of the House slated for Friday, for the final day of consideration of the 2018 Estimates and a subsequent vote on the Appropriation Act.

She unsuccessfully requested of the speaker that the Business of the House be set aside to debate and vote on its motion.

The business of the House was stalled for several hours as the Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Issacs, considered the PPP/C’s request.

The Speaker later reported to the House that while the matter did meet two of the requirements catered for in the Standing Orders for the extraordinary motion, it was not deemed urgent. He accused the PPP of bringing the motion to the House in a leisurely fashion since the payment of the signing bonus had been ventilated in the National Assembly at least one week prior.

The PPP/C in its motion was looking to have the House direct the Minister of Finance to amend the “Financial Estimates of the Revenues and Expenditure of Guyana to reflect Guyana’s receipt of US$18M and to deposit the said sum of money in the Consolidated Fund in compliance with the Constitution and the Laws of Guyana.”

The PPP’s motion argues that it is now a matter of public notoriety that US$18M has been received by the Guyana Government from US Oil Major ExxonMobil as a signing bonus and that this sum was not paid into the Consolidated Fund.

The motion contends further that this was directed to be placed into a Special Account at the Bank of Guyana – a revelation only coming to light less than a week ago.

Reference was made to the fact that Article 216 of the Guyana Constitution mandates that all revenues or other moneys raised or received be paid into the Consolidated Fund except where provided for under a law.