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OPINION: Exxon US$1.6 billion audit: a bag of snakes, worms, and tricks

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 September 2023, 6:46 by Denis Chabrol

by GHK Lall

“But that should not have happened. I am told there was no great discussion. Exxon only sent in some proposals but they shouldn’t have even entertained that. So my position still stands, I will go with what GRA has. I told [GRA Commissioner General, Godfrey] Statia you will deal with it directly and not the ministry any longer,” the Vice President said.

This is what I expect from national leaders.  Straight talk, plain talk, and hard talk when such are necessary.  It should be comforting, but it is not.  The problem is that this is not a normal country with normal people.  Just when I was about to believe that the Vice President delivered without fudging on the US$214 million flagged by IHS Markit relative to Exxon’s expenses, new developments surface, and they are not of clarity, but what is dirty.  This US$214 million has been on a topsy-turvy ride: it was on, then off, and now it is back: arbitration will determine.  Why arbitration if Exxon is a genuine partner in an ongoing relationship?  Second, why is the Natural Resources Ministry now in this process? Third, what tricks occurred there?  Fourth, who bypassed the GRA and dealt directly with Exxon?  Who were they fronting for, and why this mystery of Exxon dealing (secretly?) with them?

In all this, VP Jagdeo sounds compact, but something smells, despite his talk of a proper discussion between Guyana (the GRA) and Exxon, and if stalemate results, then arbitration.  What is missing here?  Whose hands are dirty?

I am struggling to give the Vice President some support.  But I discern this back and forth, this seesaw with the disputed US$214 million, which became US$11 million, then US$3 million, and overnight US$107 million, with the PPP Government accepting that last figure.  What number will be drawn next from a dirty deck?  Where does Exxon stand on this peculiar and suspicious 50:50 slash straight down the middle of the US$214 million in disputed bills?  When business is not managed straight, then these contraptions surface.   It would please me to stand with the VP for what betters our poor and hopeful.  But there must be some substance to grasp, and the footing is treacherous.  Why all these twists and turns with this US$214 million?

Today, and as difficult as it is, I suppress misgivings about the authenticity of the Hon. Vice President.  Though he can be slipperier than mercury, I do not believe that he is saying this for public consumption, or throwing the GRA (Revenue Authority) under the bus.  Frankly, some ministry official(s) got adventurous, but I can’t see this happening, given the tight lock under which the VP has everyone.  I can’t see a ministry official risking crossing the VP on something this big, this watched.  Again, who is this employee(s) working for as a middleman?  As said, there are many mysteries, too many surprises.

Truth be told, the close relationship between Dr. Jagdeo and Exxon is concerning, but I suspend judgement.   Indeed, the former president can be harder to pin down that nailing Jello on a swinging chandelier, but he exhibits the curious on this one, and I am carefully watching his efforts.  Though this entire audit of Exxon’s expenses has been bumpy, I ride on.  Now the GRA is the sole pilot in the proceedings, and arbitration looks all but inevitable, unless Exxon accepts the US$107 million that came out of nowhere.  Arbitration would be a mixed bag for Guyana, with a foreign venue, and foreign reviewer of facts.  Guyana’s corner of this matter looks shakier than Exxon’s, since the odds are against us.  When Exxon sewed up this place with the 2016 contract, it really did a job on this country.  The same Vice President has been all fireworks about how much he was going to do to ‘regularize’ things with oil when back in office.  Apparently, his understanding of what regularize means differs vastly from mine.

Nonetheless, there is no joy in calling out national leaders on what I conclude to be twisted and riddled.  My fear is that this US$214 million ghost ship will cost this country.  I fear arbitration, if it comes to that, could set the precedent and standard by which Guyana loses on each occasion with billions coming into play as expenses for other oil-related projects.  It is my position, since those we have around this oil are only consorts and handmaidens of Exxon and Hess, Repsol and Tullow, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.

What Guyanese need more than anything else presently are national leaders, who are vibrant and honest.  Guyanese need leaders who possess the wisdoms required to manage an oil kingdom.  In Excellency Ali, VP Jagdeo, and OL Norton, I think that we could have them.  The showstopper is this US$214 million audit amount that stands out like a red flag.  It is not the best of endorsements.

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September 2023