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Private criminal charges loom over ExxonMobil’s multi-million US dollar signing bonus

Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram

Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram on Saturday signaled that private criminal charges might be laid against several top Guyana government ministers and officials for allegedly failing to deposit a multi-million United States (US) dollar signing bonus from ExxonMobil into the Consolidated Fund.

Ram said he did not regard taking the matter to the police, but indicated that it was heading there. “I don’t see that as my role. If I am consulted,  I certainly will consider it and I can tell you that the matter has been raised with me,” he said, adding that if he is asked to file a complaint with the law enforcement agency, “it is something that I will have to seriously consider”.

While a US$20 million figure has been very much touted, well-placed government sources have said it is a little more than US$15 million but less than US$20 million.

People’s Progressive Party Civic Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs said criminal and civil action could be filed in the coming days and he ruled out blocking next week’s passage of the estimates of expenditure for 2018. “It is under active consideration by the opposition…We will not do anything to affect the estimates because the estimates are important for goods and services to be delivered to the people of this country,” he said.

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan did not respond to several calls to his mobile phone to ascertain the exact amount of the money that government received from that American oil giant and whether the cash was indeed deposited into the Consolidated Fund.

Opposition MP and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall

However, Ram said based on his checks the bonus has not been reflected in the budgetary figures since the Financial Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts had instructed the Bank of Guyana Governor, Dr. Gobind Ganga in September 2016 to open a US dollar interest-bearing account for the deposit of the signing bonus.

“I have made a through evaluation of the records and there is no evidence of the money being brought to book,” Ram told Demerara Waves Online News.

Meanwhile, Ram called on President David Granger to rescue the credibility of his organisation by calling in the police himself and hold a public inquiry into the operations of the Ministry of Natural Resources. “If President Granger wants to regain the public trust in his administration, he needs to apologise to the nation for this diabolical act by his Ministers, remedy the violations, call in the Police, and take surgical action,” said Ram, a well-known television talk-show host.

Ram recalled that when in Opposition the APNU+AFC coalition, and very specifically the Alliance For Change of which Raphael Trotman is now leader, had repeatedly claimed that then Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh should be taken before the courts on a criminal charge under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. “It is as clear as day to me that offences have been committed under section 85 of that Act by more than one person. This is now a criminal matter and the Guyana Police Force should be called in,” he said.

Ram said an inquiry into into all aspects of the administration of the Ministry of Natural Resources should include the negotiation of contracts outside of Guyana, in Grenada and in New York; the process leading up to the signing of an unnecessary, new Petroleum Agreement with Esso Exploration and Production (Guyana) Limited and all financial transactions in local and foreign currency.

High-level government sources, however, told Demerara Waves Online News that Trotman played absolutely no role in the negotiation process. The sources reiterated that government requested a bonus from ExxonMobil to be used solely for strengthening its legal and diplomatic efforts in resolving the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy even up to the level of the International Court of Justice if the United Nations Secretary General decides to send it there.

The Chartered Accountant charged that  with the alleged violation of Guyana’s Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA), that “critical information” in the 2018 National Budgetary estimates of expenditure now being considered by the National Assembly is  “inaccurate, incorrect and meaningless;

He also said that Article 216 of Guyana’s Constitution has been knowingly violated; the 2016 financial statements of the Government and of the Consolidated Fund for 2016 are similarly deficient.

Ram said in light of the circumstances, the Report of the Auditor General should be withdrawn in keeping with auditing standards applied by his office because it is inapplicable. The financial statements and the auditor’s report of the Bank of Guyana for 2016, Ram added, face the same jeopardy.

He charged that “this web of deception has ensnared high level officers of the Ministry of Finance, the Geology and Mines Commission and the Bank of Guyana, including the Chairman of its Audit Committee Mr. Anand Goolsarran.

“In an ironic twist, the dam of eighteen months of denial and obfuscation concerning the payment of a Signing Bonus by ExxonMobil to the Government of Guyana broke apart one day before the UN declared International Anti-Corruption Day. The forced admission by the Government is a shocking revelation of a conspiracy to deceive the people of Guyana about billions of dollars,” he said.

The public policy critic and political analyst charged that a number of government ministers could not be trusted with Guyana’s oil wealth. “The petroleum resources of this country do not belong to a cabal ensconced in this Administration but to all Guyanese, present and future. Each such Guyanese expects and deserves that its government – whether APNU, PNC or PPP – owes to them honesty, decency and integrity demonstrated in accurate accounting, proper accountability and good governance, not only on World Anti-Corruption Day but each and every day of the year.”