US $18M signing bonus siphoned off by APNU+AFC played no role in ICJ case

PPP General Secretary clears the air

General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, has strongly rejected implications by the APNU+AFC that the US $18 million signing bonus it received from ExxonMobil, had any role to play in Guyana advancing the border controversy case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The general secretary addressed the matter during his weekly press conference at the Freedom House, Georgetown, on Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday morning, by a 14 to one vote, the ICJ handed down its ruling that the United Kingdom cannot be considered an indispensable party in the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy case.

Following the announcement of the ruling APNU’s Volda Lawrence, made a social media post which read, ‘APNU+AFC Take a bow. Return on $18M US signing bonus’.

She was referring to the US$18 million signing bonus ExxonMobil had paid to the APNU+AFC administration when they signed the 2016 Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) for the Stabroek Block.

That signing bonus, however, was only disclosed to the public following intense criticism from the media and opposition parties.

“The signing bonus was provided for, and the government received it. They never informed the country that they received it. The Ministry of Finance established an account outside of the consolidated fund, and outside of the balance sheet of the central bank, and deposited the signing bonus in that account. When asked about this signing bonus, the [then] minister of finance replied ‘We never requested, nor did we receive a signing bonus’, although his ministry had authorised the creation of the account, and he knew that the money was sitting in the account almost a year after he gave that answer,” Dr Jagdeo reminded.

General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

He pointed out that the APNU+AFC, at the time refused to transfer the money to the consolidated fund, which was contrary to Guyana’s financial laws and the country’s constitution, and therefore illegal.

“Public money can only be kept in three accounts: The consolidated fund, a deposit fund, which has to be created by the Ministry of Finance…. And thirdly, money can be placed into accounts that are created by special legislation. This money was placed in none of those accounts. We had to go to the court to get them to transfer the money,” Dr Jagdeo explained.

The now opposition had initially claimed that the money was invested offshore to accumulate interest. However, they later backtracked and said that the funds were going to be utilised to pursue the ICJ case against Venezuela.

“Now, our argument was that if they needed 18 million US dollars to pursue our case at the ICJ, the PPP will support that. If they need $100 million—and I recall saying this in opposition—US$100 million to present the best case, we will support it. But they did not have to do it in an illegal or surreptitious fashion. They could have placed the money into the consolidated fund, and easily said, ‘we had to appropriate money for our case to the ICJ’, and they would have had our 100 per cent support,” the general secretary asserted. He expressed distaste that on a day when Guyanese should be celebrating the ICJ ruling, the occasion was instead marred by tasteless political sniping.