Govt pleads ignorance of legal action

US$18M signing bonus

…as private citizen decries lack of accountability, transparency over deal

By Michael Younge

The Guyana Government said on Wednesday that it was unaware that legal action had been filed by a private citizen in the country’s top court with the aim of compelling it to deposit the signing bonus it received from US oil giant ExxonMobil into the Consolidated Fund.
The action was filed on behalf of Troy Thomas by Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram in the High Court. Thomas is the current Head of the Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), Transparency International’s local arm. He wants the court to grant orders directing Finance Minister Winston Jordan to deposit the

Trevor Thomas

US$18 million it received in August 2017 from ExxonMobil directly into the Consolidated Fund as is provided for in the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).
The funds at the centre of the controversy are currently sitting in a special account in the Bank of Guyana (BoG) upon the instruction of President David Granger after Finance Secretary Hector Butts wrote the Bank’s Governor in order to establish the account. The Government was forced to admit the existence and receipt of the monies after Guyana Times published the letter written to the Bank’s Governor, which exposed the slew of misinformation peddled by senior Government functionaries.

Unaware of legal challenge
Questioned about the Government’s response to the lawsuit as he entered Parliament on Wednesday, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon pleaded ignorance about the action, but not before saying even if it was indeed filed, his Government

Attorney at Law Christopher Ram

was not bothered by it.
“…But I don’t think it’s something that bothers us in any significant way…the money is in an account which by law we are entitled to put it there…so I am not concerned; I am not worried about the lawsuit,” he explained when questioned by this newspaper.
He would offer no other comment on the matter, but Finance Minister Winston Jordan said that Government would defend its decision to keep the signing bonus separate and apart from the monies in the Consolidated Fund if indeed there was a matter brought before the courts aiming to twist the Administration’s arm to place the monies there.
Highlighting the fact that, according to the media, the matter is now before the courts, Jordan said he was constrained in what he could say about the issue. He said that there have been no deliberations at the level of the Cabinet recently.
“…The money is there for a particular purpose and when that purpose comes about, the money will be transferred to the Consolidated Fund,” Jordan remarked

AG Basil Williams

before explaining that “the Consolidated Fund is a general purpose fund, you put money in there and it cannot be earmarked…it can be used for any and all purposes…you know the Consolidated Fund is in deficit…you put money in there and all it does is reduce the deficit,’ Jordan added.
In addition, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams, when questioned by the media about the action said that he had not seen it. He even asked, “Who were the parties to the action”, and when it was filed.

Illegal and unconstitutional
But Thomas, speaking with Guyana Times during an interview on Wednesday, insisted that he took the decision because he felt that the Government’s move to keep the money outside of the Consolidated Fund was illegal and unconstitutional.
Thomas said that the Government’s handling of the signing bonus and its justification of the decision for keeping it secret were disappointing to say the least,

Finance Minister Winston Jordan

as it also exposed the David Granger Administration’s double standards on the core principles relating to accountability, transparency, and good governance.
“I decided to take the matter so far, because I believe as Guyanese we have to start expecting higher standards from our Government,” Thomas related before explaining that thousands of Guyanese had accepted the current Government’s rhetoric about fighting corruption and standing on the principles of transparency and accountability.
He charged that this was what largely led to the election of the coalition Government, as people were tired of the secrecy and executive lawlessness that was taking place, so they voted for a change in the way things were done.
He was adamant that “Guyana loses” when citizens do not challenge the Government whenever there are breaches of laws and procedures that could result in corruption and secrecy.
Thomas said that he expected that the action would end in his favour as he reminded that he was encouraged by the challenge given by the President that he would transfer the money if the court so ruled or advised.

Guyanese money
Thomas said that the money paid by ExxonMobil was not the Government’s money, but the people of Guyana’s money.
The TIGI Head also said that he hoped the Government understood the importance of its role when negotiating future oil deals and contracts that could impact the country’s wealth and progress as scarce oil and gas resources were bartered.
In court documents seen by Guyana Times, Thomas, via his Attorney, claims that the non-disclosure of the funds and the non-transferral of the bonus have breached several sections of the FMAA Act, including Section 38 (1) which states that “all public monies raised and received by the Government shall be credited fully and promptly to the Consolidated Fund, except (a) monies credited to an extra budgetary fund as stipulated in the enabling legislation establishing that fund, (b) monies credited to a Deposit Fund, and (c) as stipulated in the Constitution”.
In his affidavit, Thomas claimed that he was advised that the monies were not reflected as part of the 2016, 2017 or 2018 national estimates. He wants the Court to issue orders to correct this and several financial missteps taken by the Government in relation to the bonus.