Guyana’s Finance Minister Winston Jordan says CGX Energy must be commended if they did indeed pay US$10M in legal fees on behalf of Guyana several years ago stemming from a maritime dispute with Suriname. Mr. Jordan said unlike that transaction which cannot be found in any financial records, the current government intends to pass the US$18M ‘signing bonus’ paid by ExxonMobil through all lawful channels when the time comes for it to be used.
Mr. Jordan was referring to an Arbitral Tribunal established over a decade ago under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to look into Suriname’s repeated interference with vessels operating in waters claimed by Guyana. This included the expulsion of a CGX vessel on June 3, 2002 that was searching for oil. The Tribunal’s Award in 2007 made it possible for CGX and other licensees to resume their petroleum exploration activities on Guyana’s side of the equidistance line.
“I say kudos to CGX…we heard that they paid US$10M…I say kudos. I think Guyana is grateful. We are not a rich nation, we came up against a reasonably aggressive neighbor and they helped us out when help was needed,” he said on a Department of Public Information programme.
Mr. Jordan’s comments come in wake of media revelations and the subsequent acknowledgement by the Guyana government that a ‘signing bonus’ was paid by ExxonMobil affiliate ESSO Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd. ExxonMobil Country Manager in Guyana, Rod Henson, days after Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman told legislators “a sum” was paid by the company, revealed that it was indeed US$18M. He was clear in pointing out that this ‘signing bonus’ was paid into a government account at the Bank of Guyana and “not to any individual.” He also said that the oil company has no say in how the money is utilized.
Reports had been circulating prior to the disclosure that the sum paid was intended to go towards legal fees Guyana may incur if a territorial dispute with Venezuela reaches the International Criminal Court. Venezuela’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of an Award outlining the land border delineation with Guyana, made over 100 years ago, was further exacerbated by that country’s claim to large swaths of Guyana’s maritime area following ExxonMobil’s 2015 Liza world class discovery.
The Guyana government had said its decision to not disclose receipt of the US$18M ‘signing bonus’ was due to considerations over an imminent court matter with Venezuela and rebuffed criticism from the opposition, citing similar actions on their part when they were in office during the CGX expulsion.
Opposition Leader, and former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, told reporters on Tuesday the then administration did not receive a ‘signing bonus’ or any money from CGX to pay legal fees. He argued that CGX, as an aggrieved party in the Suriname expulsion, paid these sums directly to lawyers fighting the case.
Mr. Jordan however rejected the Opposition Leader’s – himself a former Finance Minister – representation of what transpired, noting that his comments show an ignorance of accounting procedures. “The reality is that Suriname and Guyana went to the arbitration and therefore if lawyers were paid it means they were paid to do the business of Guyana which means that Guyana received US$10M and they used it to pay lawyers to prosecute their case in the court.”
The Finance Minister said that sum, regardless of if it was paid directly to the lawyers or to Guyana, “has to come into the accounts of the government. That was never done because there is no way they can show us – what we call the dummy transaction – where the money actually came in…”
Referencing the current receipt of the US$18M payment from ExxonMobil, he said, “The US$18M is in a special account at Bank of Guyana. It is there because it is designed for a special purpose. Whenever that special purpose is activated the monies will go into the Consolidated Fund…We will come to the Parliament here and get a supplementary budget to pay whoever we have to pay…”
Guyana’s President, David Granger, told reporters on Wednesday the decision not to make the receipt of the US$$18M payment from ExxonMobil public was his and that this move was not intended to deceive the nation.