Last Updated on Thursday, 21 September 2023, 20:36 by Denis Chabrol
Maintaining that the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is the sole agency lawfully mandated to go after ExxonMobil’s audited US$214 million expenses, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday said an investigation would be launched to determine why the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) went ahead and negotiated a reduction to as low as US$3 million.
“No money has been stolen somebody has to give explanation how they engaged with Exxon,” he told a news conference at Freedom House, the headquarters of the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP). An audit by IHS Market questioned the validity of US$214 million of the US$1.67 billion spent on exploration and exploitation in the Stabroek Block.
Based on the 50/50 split of cost of oil between government and ExxonMobil and its co-venturers, if Guyana gets its way in arbitration it will be credited US$107 million.
He said government would release the names of the technical officials who met with ExxonMobil after the investigation has been completed. “Then we will be able to identify who all the people are with Exxon and when it took place. We are not accepting anything Exxon sent subsequently to the closure of the GRA. We don’t know what they sent and I am not really interested in it. I am more interested in who authorized this and why after the GRA said we are closing at this stage,” he said.
He announced that he would ask Cabinet to approve the putting in place of a disclosure policy for technical officials in which they would first have to seek permission from policymakers before they interface with oil and gas companies and report back to the political policymakers “or we will never know what discussions take place”. “We have to have a policy with people who at the technical level who engage with the executives they must seek the explicit clearance from the ministry and report back on the nature of the engagement; almost a disclosure policy,” he said.
Mr Jagdeo said Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat would have to compile a report and present to to Cabinet. “I spoke with President Ali and I agree that there should be a full investigation of this matter and the minister still have to give a full report to the cabinet of what took place,” he said.
The Vice President indicated that he first knew of the reduction to US$3 million in a meeting with Minister Bharrat and officials of the Natural Resources Ministry. He said Mr Bharrat had also been led to believe that GRA had approved a slash in the figure as that tax agency was always expected to have the final word.
Mr Jagdeo used this fiasco to justify government’s position that there was no immediate need for a Petroleum Commission as that body would have committed the breach. He also credited government with openness of information to the media through agencies such as the GRA.
For his part, the Vice President said he would soon be setting up a technical unit in his office to collect and verify information for him before he publicises it.
Meanwhile, the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) on Thursday relied on a position by ExxonMobil’s officials during a recent meeting that the figure had been cut to US$3 million. “When the opposition met with ExxonMobil’s representatives just a few days ago, Exxon’s representatives stated definitively that this reduction had been agreed to by the government,” he said. Opposition finance spokesman, Elson Low urged Vice President Jagdeo to stop blaming technical officials and come clean with what was going on at the Ministry of Natural Resources.