President David Granger on Wednesday said not all Cabinet members might have been aware about the US$18 million signing bonus.
He defended the secrecy of the transaction, saying it was a matter of national security and that the cash is in a special account to be used for a matter concerning national security.
“I am not sure that all the ministers are aware of the transaction,” he said when asked why the constant denials about a signing bonus when questions were put to the relevant ministers.
The Ministers of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan and the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon had at various stages were not forthcoming about the signing bonus from ExxonMobil.
On the specific issue of secrecy concerning the transaction that dates back to September, 2016, the President insisted that non-disclosure did not amount to secrecy. “It’s not a question of secrecy. Evidence of non-disclosure does not mean that there is evidence of any intention of deception and there is no intention to deceive but there was no need to make it public. It’s a governmental decision. I make governmental decisions all the time but it’s not deceptive,” he said.
Acknowledging that he was aware of the “legitimate” transaction conducted on government letterhead by Finance Secretary, Dr. Hector Butts and the Bank of Guyana, he took responsibility for it and assured that there was no attempt to misuse the funds. “It is a legitimate transaction, I am aware of it and I am responsible for everything surrounding that transaction,” he said.
Asked why the money was not put into the Consolidated Fund, the President defended the decision to keep the deal under wraps and there was no attempt to engage in dishonesty. “It is a legitimate exercise, as I said.It is to be used for certain matters which we perceive to be of national security interest and at that point in time, it was the thing to do so we that we can have access in the event of a national security emergency,” he said shortly after accepting Letters of Credence from The Bahamas’ new non-resident High Commissioner to Guyana.
Granger stressed that the money could be used only for one specific purpose and that it was a clean transaction between ExxonMobil and the Guyana government. “It is a legitimate government of Guyana exercise and that I am aware that it is in the Bank of Guyana in escrow. Once it is in escrow account, it means it cannot be used for purposes for which it is no intended so as far as I am concerned, it is a legitimate Government of Guyana practice and the money has not been dishonestly acquired and will not be used for purposes for which it is not intended,” he said.
The Minister of Natural Resources last week for the first time gave the best explanation so far, saying that the money would be used for Guyana’s legal and diplomatic efforts towards the resolution of the Guyana- Venezuela border controversy.
Guyana hopes that the United Nations Secretary General would keep his word and refer the controversy to the International Court of Justice for settlement.