There was a signing bonus. It was known but denied by several ministers of the government. There should be consequences but the precedent has long been established that ministerial responsibilities are not recognized and therefore consequences do not flow from their actions or omissions. Unless there is a mass upsurge, which is unlikely, this uniquely unjustifiable deed will continue to be defended, as it was in or just out of the National Assembly. There is no excuse for the secrecy and any attempt to defend it is an insult to the Guyanese people. Transparency International called it “deception.”
In Guyana, politics is a zero-sum game. Rules of transparency and accountability are weak and where they exist are not enforced. No conventions have been established or are entrenched. The prevailing wisdom, therefore, is to give the opposition and the Guyanese people as little as possible, and where possible, nothing. This is the national, political culture derived from its core defect, the politics of ethno-political domination, which implies that the other side and their supporters are enemies and not to be trusted – with anything. It’s us and them, sometimes, us or them. And the people are the pawns. This is the reason why the APNU+AFC coalition, when in opposition, could have been so strident in defence of transparency and accountability, and can now so blithely dismiss such concepts with contempt. The government has foolishly tarnished its credentials. Those were already under strain by its refusal to reveal the contract it had signed with ExxonMobil. It has been recovering somewhat by its promise to reveal the contents of the contract, albeit under intense public pressure.
An admission of an error of judgment by the government, as this plainly is, would go a far way in putting the matter to rest. But this doesn’t happen in Guyana’s politics. We have to expect more bluster, cross accusations against the opposition that ‘you were worse,’ and amidst it all, efforts at dismissals or explanations. None of this will work among thinking Guyanese. Even when it fades from the news, this episode will remain a stain on the integrity of the government’s promises about transparency and accountability and increase cynicism with politics, even among government supporters.
My biggest concern is the people of Guyana – all the people, including supporters of the government. We are the collective owners of the country’s resources, including its petroleum resources. The government merely holds a temporary management responsibility over them. We are entitled to know all the relevant details of how it is managing these resources. To keep these details a secret constitutes a breach of a sacred trust. Just imagine, we were being deliberately kept in the dark about our own money! How can this be excused?
So this is not a matter merely between the government and the opposition. What the PPP/C government did in relation to the Guyana-Suriname boundary dispute is totally irrelevant. The issue is the secrecy over income received by the government. No allegation has been made against the PPP/C government that moneys were received by it from CGX and hidden. In this case moneys were legitimately paid by ExxonMobil to the Government of Guyana as a signing bonus. Whether or not ExxonMobil was aware that the moneys were to be utilized for a specific purpose is not an issue. The government decided that it will be used to pay the legal expenses that might occur in relation to a potential case at the International Commission of Jurists concerning the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy. It hid both the payment and its purpose.
The government had two choices: 1. Hide the money and keep it a secret in violation of all financial practices and perhaps laws (which it did); 2. call in the Leader of the Opposition, deal with the funds in a lawful way, but seek his support in maintaining confidentiality (which would never happen); 3. Pay it in to GGMC and find a lawful way to save it to utilize later in the manner in which it intended. I immediately concede that the purpose for which the government designated the use of the funds ought to have been kept confidential. Guyana’s discussions with Venezuela and the United Nations are ongoing and the release of such information could potentially be unhelpful. But the best way to ensure that it enter the public domain was to hide it.
I have wracked my brain to figure out what led to the belief among highly intelligent people, many of whom understand their responsibilities as elected officials ‒ understand that these are modern times with independent journalists and commentators, understand that the days when these secrecies were possible no longer exist, understand that secrets among so many people cannot be maintained ‒ to decide on such a foolhardy course of misapplying the funds to a secret account at the Bank of Guyana. It boggles the mind.
I have also wracked my brain to figure out why so many intelligent people decided to maintain the secrecy since June when it was clear that the revelation by Christopher Ram suggested that the information was out. Then was the time to come clean and avoid a scandal.
The wracking of my brain has produced no hint of potential reasons these intelligent people could advance.