Conflict of interest concerns: ExxonMobil will hear from Govt of Guyana – VP Jagdeo on AFC’s leader being beneficiary of company’s payroll

…as Routledge sees no conflict of interest

Amidst growing concerns over conflicts of interest with Nigel Hughes, being the leader of a political party and his law firm being a beneficiary of Exxon’s payroll, the US oil giant does not believe there is any conflict of interest with this arrangement.
On Tuesday, during the sidelines of an event, ExxonMobil Guyana President Alistair Routledge was questioned the controversy due to Hughes dual role as both a political leader and a beneficiary of Exxon, he said that the company does not believe there is any conflict of interest with this arrangement.
“That’s not the right question for the day, but what I would say is we comply with all laws and regulations here and internationally. So, we don’t believe we have any conflict of interest or any issues,” Routledge said.
In a sharp rebuttal to Exxon Mobil’s stance on the matter, Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Tuesday said, “It was no surprise that the representatives of Exxon took the position that Nigel Hughes is not in conflict with Exxon Mobil. Why would you want to get rid of the leader of a political party in Parliament, who is on your payroll, who has publicly stated that he will put Exxon’s interest above that of Guyana?”
The vice president also said that the Government has intention to address the matter directly with Exxon Mobil at an appropriate juncture.
“Exxon will hear from the Government of Guyana at the appropriate time and place on this matter,” Jagdeo said in a comment on the matter to Guyana Times.
Jagdeo has been a vocal f Hughes’ role as both a political party leader and as partner of a law firm-Hughes, Field and Stoby- that has legally represented ExxonMobil in negotiations with the Government of Guyana.

Possible investigation
During a recent press conference, Jagdeo had hinted that there could be an investigation into Hughes’ involvement in the negotiations of the 2016 oil contract. He had cited some “telling” details that are contained in several reports done back then that contradicts his claim that he had already resigned from the AFC when his law firm was representing the oil company.
A report done by United Kingdom-based global law firm, Clyde & Co., revealed that Hughes resigned as AFC Chairman on April 11, 2016 – just three days before the concluding stages of the contract negotiations.
According to the report that was commissioned by the coalition government to defend the oil contract it signed with Exxon – a deal many industry experts said has left Guyana short-changed with sweeping benefits going to the US oil major and its partners, those negotiations began almost a year earlier in May 2015 while Hughes was still serving at the helm of the AFC.
In that report, it was noted that Exxon, through its local affiliate – Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL) – sent a proposed Escrow Process Flow Chart on May 19, 2015, setting out various timelines for the execution of a PSA which eventually led to the 2016 agreement.
However, while the Attorney-at-Law has said he would relinquish ties with his law firm if elected to office, Jagdeo has said that Hughes is in fact in a position currently to influence the Guyana Government’s policy when it comes to the petroleum sector through the National Assembly.
“His party is represented in the National Assembly… his MPs (Members of Parliament) are there. He can influence them now, as Leader of the party, to vote on a legislation in favour of his clients. So, he’s in a conflict-of-interest position there,” the VP had noted.
He had gone onto remind of a statement made by Hughes in the past that the oil companies can fund political parties and take over the country.
“So, if he remains the lawyer for this company and the company pays him for legal services then what is there to say that this can’t be a conduit for political contributions to his party. They can easily inflate the legal bill to give him funding for this political party,” the Vice President had pointed out.

During a press conference last week – his first since being elected to the helm of the AFC last weekend, Hughes had denied that there were any conflicts since he never directly participated in the negotiation process
To separate himself from any potential conflict, Hughes had said all oil and gas related issues within the AFC would be handled by the party’s new Chairman, David Patterson, and former Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vicent Adams, who will establish an advisory committee and retain industry experts to craft the party’s policies on the oil and gas sector. Even as leader, the embattled lawyer had said he would have no input or involvement with AFC Oil and gas committee.
Hughes had also pointed out that the law firm, of which he is currently a partner, had started working with oil and gas companies since before the 1990s under previous management. This work, he added, continued in the early 2000s by himself and Andrew Pollard, S.C.
In addition to this conflict-of-interest issue, Hughes had also sparked a contentious debate after the no-confidence motion was passed in the National Assembly against the David Granger-led Coalition Administration back in December 2018.

Central to this debate was Hughes’ argument that, mathematically, one half of the House when divided stands at 32.5 members. His argument, which was subsequently disproved by the High Court and Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), was that 34 and not 33 was the majority of the 65-Member Parliament, and so 33 yes votes were not enough to pass the No-Confidence-Motion.
Hughes’ legal argument had resulted in a worsening of the already existing legal and procedural challenges, since the then A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) government had used it as a central argument in their legal challenges to the No Confidence Motion, significantly delaying the country’s electoral process.
Hughes has also previously faced conflict of interest controversies, such as back in 2013 when he announced his resignation from the AFC Chairmanship. At the time there were reports of his role as the company secretary of Sithe Global, the company that was then a major investor in the US$858 Million Amaila Falls Hydro Project.
At the time, the AFC along with the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) had had a combined one seat majority in the National Assembly and had been using this to block the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/C) government’s efforts to bring the project to fruition.