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Transparency Institute complains to SARA about signing bonus

A Bank of Guyana document showing that the signing bonus was deposited in interest-bearing accounts overseas.

The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) has received a compliant from the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) about the US$18 million ExxonMobil signing bonus, but investigations are not expected shortly because the agency is conducting a number of other probes, SARA Director, Professor Clive Thomas said.

There is lingering controversy about whether the signing bonus should have been deposited into a special account at the Bank of Guyana and subsequently interest-bearing accounts overseas instead of the Consolidated Account. The bonus was earned in 2016 when a largely new production sharing agreement was inked with ExxonMobil, but little had been known about the deal until late 2017 when government eventually admitted under intense pressure.

Thomas said TIGI filed the complaint about the bonus and another matter that he could not immediately recall. However, SARA is dealing with other matters and his agency would first have to determine whether the complaint has any basis for conducting a probe.

“We have a long list of matters. It might be a question of time, a question of priority. We have to establish a priori a crime was involved. We can’t just take every reference off the street and assume that it is some guilt involved there because, if not, we lay ourselves open to pursuing vendettas.

Individuals might try to use the organisation in that way so we have to be careful that we establish procedures for the establishment that it’s worth pursuing as an investigation but the law does not preclude us from that, from undertaking that kind of thing,” said Thomas.

President of TIGI, Troy Thomas told Demerara Waves Online News said the Executive Branch (Cabinet) should have sought parliamentary approval to set up a special account especially, since the SARA Act refers to crime and illegality. Thomas said it was not about whether someone has the cash in his or her pocket, but whether the money was legally placed in an account and, if not, it should be recovered and deposited in the correct account.

“The route that they (government) can decide what they want to do with this (money), whenever they want to do and while we are not accusing them of misusing the money or anything of the sort, we are saying it’s not a situation that you want because it does not close those possibilities and taking into consideration that we are saying that it’s not legal to have handled the money in that way, then we believe it’s something that SARA can get involved in,” the TIGI boss said.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), private sector and other interest groups and individuals have all raised concerns about the apparent secrecy of the signing bonus. Since the disclosure by both the Guyana government and ExxonMobil, government has explained that US$16 million of the bonus would be used to finance legal fees for Guyana’s border controversy case with Venezuela at the International Court of Justice.

Government has said that as may be required, the amounts would be transferred to the Consolidated Fund and then withdrawn after approval is granted by the National Assembly.

The SARA Director made the disclosure at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between SARA and the Financial Intelligence Unit which works closely with the Special Organised Crime Unit of the Guyana Police Force.