January 21, 2018

Opposition Leader to verify claims of Govt receiving US$20M signing bonus from ExxonMobil

Amid concerns that the Government may have allegedly accepted a US$20 million signing bonus from United States (U.S.) oil giant ExxonMobil, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has made a commitment to ask the company if this information that has been circulating is indeed factual.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Jagdeo maintains that the Government should maintain a high level of transparency when it comes to this new and emerging sector and should not hesitate to release the contract. The former head of state said that he was briefed on the visit by Government ministers in Texas but that issue was not out yet.
“When I meet them (ExxonMobil) I will ask,” Jagdeo told the local media on Wednesday, explaining the need for Government to be truthful to the nation and provide all the necessary information about this sector. He emphasised that this will help to bring greater accountability to the running of the sector.
The information was brought to the fore in one of the columns written by social activist Christopher Ram which alleged that the hefty signature bonus paid by ExxonMobil forms part of the new contract agreement signed when the APNU+AFC government took office.
According to Ram, this may be one of the primary reasons why the Government continues to hold out on making the contract available. He further alleged that Government used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus, but he believes they should come clean on the matter.
Government has since refused to make the contract public and have only said there were minor changes to the initial 1999 contract agreement. Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman has responded to those calls and said that full disclosure would not be best for national interest.
“Right now we are prepared to share the salient features of the contract, it is a 50/50 production share agreement…that means that Exxon and its partners will share 50 percent between themselves and Guyana will (have) 50 percent,” he also revealed at a public forum a few months ago.
Trotman has also repeatedly played up the fact that the contract signed with ExxonMobil and Government predates the APNU+AFC government’s accession to office, explaining that that is enough reasons why the Government is in no rush to release the new contract that was signed.
The Minister had stated publicly that that matter would have to be discussed at the level of Cabinet for added guidance. When asked about whether Government collected a signature bonus from ExxonMobil when a new agreement was signed, he responded, “Nothing on the contract I am discussing. I would like to take this whole issue of the publication of the contract to cabinet for guidance.”

Columnist, social activist Christopher Ram

Finance Minister Winston Jordan has said too that he is unaware that Government received a signing bonus. However, the senior Government minister did not deny it. He has since promised to check on the matter and relate to the media whether it is true. No senior functionary of the Government has come out to clarify or confirm that a US$20 million signing bonus was received from ExxonMobil.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has denounced, as an absolute falsehood, contentions peddled by the Coalition Government that the Jagdeo Administration passed, in 1997, an amendment to the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act which prevents the disclosure of the ExxonMobil contract.
“This ridiculous assertion has been parroted repeatedly by several members of the Coalition Government, including Ministers Raphael Trotman, Dominic Gaskin and Khemraj Ramjattan. This lie is either peddled deliberately, or is yet another exhibition of the extravagant incompetence about which we regularly complain in respect of this Government,” the party had said in a statement.
The PPP believes that ministers of the Government are deliberately lying, or being unable to read and comprehend what is expressed in Section 4 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act. According to the PPP, this section of the Act expressly authorises disclosures such as the ExxonMobil contract, not prohibition, “as these incompetent Ministers have been asserting.”
It was reported by the opposition party that Government spokespersons in their assertions, “attribute this prohibition as an amendment to the law done in 1997 by President Bharrat Jagdeo…Even this they got wrong. Mr. Jagdeo was not the President in 1997.”
The party has reiterated that “the 1997 amendments do not prohibit the disclosure of such information…Therefore; all Ministers have been shamelessly misleading the nation.”