Jamaica Gleaner / President of Guyana David Granger Wednesday acknowledged that American oil company ExxonMobil had paid over US$18 million as a signing bonus to his government.
It confirmed a disclosure by the oil company last weekend, but Granger said that his administration had not meant to deceive the Guyanese about the payment. “It is a legitimate government of Guyana exercise. It is in the Bank of Guyana in an escrow account … the money was not dishonestly acquired and will not be used for purposes not intended,” the president told reporters.
On Sunday, ExxonMobil Country Manager, Rod Henson, disclosed at a public lecture that a payment had been made, and that “signing bonuses are customary and normal in many petroleum agreements.”
ExxonMobil, whose affiliate, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL), holds an interest and is the operator in the Stabroek, Canje and Kaieteur oil blocks offshore Guyana, also recently announced that it made a fifth new oil discovery after drilling the Turbot-1 well.
Henson said the money was paid last year “not to an individual but to a government bank account designated by the Ministry of Finance”.
The Granger administration has come under criticism over its silence on the issue, initially indicating that no signing bonus was paid, but saying, rather, it was money to assist Guyana in its border case against Venezuela.
Henson said it was a signing bonus, but that his company has no say in what the government decides to do with the funds.
President Granger told reporters that there was no intention to deceive the population, saying the transaction was conducted in that manner because of possible national security implications. He said as the head of government he made a decision not to make the information public.
Granger said while there are concerns over the money being placed in a special account instead of the Consolidated Fund, he believes at the point it was the best thing to do, so as to have access to the funds should an emergency arise.
“It’s not a question of secrecy. Evidence of non-disclosure does not mean there is evidence of deception,” he said.
“There was no intention to deceive but I made that governmental decision not to make it public,” he said, defending government ministers, who in the past had denied that a bonus had been paid. “I am responsible for everything surrounding the transaction,” he added.
Henson noted that once Guyana becomes a full-fledged member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), “these types of payments will be made public as part of that process.”
Under the EITI process, extractive industries such as oil, mining and forestry disclose monies paid to a government; the government likewise discloses monies received; and an independent third party evaluates and validates the information and publishes it. Earlier this month, the Guyanese government announced that it would be releasing the contract signed with ExxonMobil before the end of this year.