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Govt receives ExxonMobil funds to help fight Guyana-Venezuela border controversy; some contract details disclosed

ExxonMobil’s Stabroek Block concession offshore Guyana.

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman on Friday confirmed that United States (US) oil giant, ExxonMobil, will help fund Guyana’s legal fees to settle the border controversy with Venezuela.

“Yes, Mr. Speaker, there is a sum and yes it is reserved to safeguard this country,” he said the same day that two local newspapers published a September 2016 letter by Finance Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts to the Governor of the Bank of Guyana, Dr. Gobind Ganga for the establishment of a special United States dollar account to facilitate the deposit of a signing bonus by ExxonMobil.

“The government received a larger sum,” he said, adding that “we did what we did to preserve the safety and well-being of the people of Guyana and to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and Mr. Speaker, if it is we are to be blamed, let us be blamed, Mr. Speaker, for doing what is right and as had been done by the previous administration, we seek only to defend our country,” he told the National Assembly during the 2018 National Budget debate.

While the figure of a US$20 million signing bonus has been floated in several sections of the media for many weeks now, Demerara Waves Online News has been told that it slightly less than that amount.

As was reported earlier by Demerara Waves Online News, the minister hinted that the Guyana government accepted advice that it could tap into the company  to pay for legal and diplomatic initiatives to resolve the decades-old controversy.

“Mr. Speaker, we don’t have warplanes and fighter jets and they have destroyers. What we have always had  since Independence is our legal prowess and our diplomatic abilities and those are our best tools,” he said. In that regard, he said a Norway-based top European law firm, Michelet & Co and the US law firm, Jones-Day have been hired.

Trotman hinted that government received advice from a number of the same advisers that had told the previous People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC)-led government under President Bharrat Jagdeo that they could have taken monies from the Canadian oil company, CGX Energy, to pay legal fees for the settlement of the maritime boundary dispute with neighbouring Suriname at the United Nations Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. Guyana moved to the Tribunal after Surinamese gunboats had chased out a CGX Energy-hired oil exploration rig from the concession that had been awarded by Guyana.

He said the details of the ExxonMobil contract as well as the arrangements being made for the payment of the fees would be tabled in the National Assembly later this month

The United Nations Secretary General is expected to send the controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court

Revealing several “salient points” of the contract, the Minister said although the company was not legally obligated to renegotiate the 1999 contract, the David Granger-led coalition government was able to secure a two percent royalty on gross that will amount to US$380 million annually; the annual license fee has been increased from US$250,000 to US$1 million; US$300,000 each for capacity and scholarships, and corporate social responsibility.

He said some of the US$300,000 assigned for corporate social responsibility has been used to finance Guyana’s relief operations to the several hurricane-hit Caribbean islands.