Exxon money for ICJ legal fees

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Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman

…Trotman sees ‘evil’ intention in releasing letter

MINISTER of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, on Friday disclosed that the Government of Guyana has accepted funds from United States oil giant ExxonMobil to assist with protecting the country’s territorial sovereignty.

In fact, the “large sum” received from the oil giant is geared towards the payment of legal and associated fees should the Secretary-General of the United Nations refer the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final ruling.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, appointed Dag Nylander, his Personal Representative on the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, to work with both Guyana and Venezuela with a view to resolving the border controversy. Both countries have steadfastly maintained their positions, while observers have noted that taking the controversy to the ICJ for a final resolution will prove costly for Guyana.

Speaking on the final day of the budget debate, Trotman said, “Mr Speaker, yes, the government received a large sum,” noting that his administration was advised that the former People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration when faced with a “terrible situation” when a company attempting to explore with its rig had been chased from the country’s waters, had gone the same route. The Guyana Chronicle understands that the former PPP government had entered into a similar agreement after CGX Energy was chased out of local shores by the Surinamese coastguard.

The Natural Resources Minister said too that the APNU+AFC government was advised by the same advisors who were in office prior to the coalition government taking office in May 2015. “And so, Mr Speaker, this government took the advice that had been given to the previous government and we adopted Mr Speaker. And yes, Mr Speaker, we did what we did to preserve the safety and well-being of the people of Guyana and to safeguard the sovereignty,” declared Trotman, who called on the opposition to blame his administration for securing the country’s territorial sovereignty.

“Let us be blamed! Let us be blamed for doing what is right,” said Trotman, much to the approval of his colleagues on the governing side. “Mr Speaker, we don’t have war planes and fighter jets…what we have always had since independence is our legal prowess and our diplomatic abilities and those are our best tools Mr Speaker,” the Natural Resources Minister stated, while noting that it is his administration’s wish for the Region to be a zone of peace. “Mr Speaker, in matters of state, certain things have to be done…the state must be protected. Mr Speaker, I am not ashamed and I am quite relieved …there is no slush fund, jetting off by ministers and spending money. All we are doing is… preserving the good state,” said Trotman, who added that by the end of the month, the entire ExxonMobil contract will be made public.

Trotman said unlike the former administration, his administration is transparent and accountable. “We are coming and bringing everything to the light,” the minister stated, even as the parliamentary opposition objected to the statement. “Why didn’t you release the contract before…why wait until pressured?” one opposition parliamentarian heckled. Government has been called upon repeatedly by civil society, Transparency International Guyana, the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), as well as the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), one of the parties forming the APNU+AFC coalition government to release Guyana’s agreement with the U.S. oil giant.

In fact, recently, Petroleum Advisor Dr Jan Mangal, told reporters that as an emerging oil-and-gas country, Guyana needs to place significant emphasis on transparency. The expert who has over 18 years’ experience in the sector, noted that Guyana is on the verge of an economic transformation and though success cannot be guaranteed, he believes transparency will aid in success.

In response, Trotman had said government was advised by external advisors and lawyers that it should not release the full contract with Exxon Mobil, noting that a number of extenuating and external issues are being attended to, some of which have foreign affairs, sovereignty and national security implications.

They meant evil
Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Minister said the ExxonMobil contract with Guyana is no different from any other signed by the previous administration and believes many would be disappointed when the contract is revealed. Trotman said the leaking of a letter penned by Finance Secretary Hector Butts on the signing bonus granted by ExxonMobil requesting the opening of a bank of account to receive the signing bonus was “deliberately organised to cause some embarrassment to this government.”

“What Mr Speaker, I would say is…they meant evil by releasing this letter,” said the minister. The letter was published by the Stabroek News and the Guyana Times newspapers. But Trotman said, “This government, Mr Speaker, is neither ashamed or embarrassed nor afraid of any attempt to stymie or cause it to cover in fear.”
The minister noted that it is no secret that the coalition government has entered into a contract with ExxonMobil and its partners Hess and Nexen and sought to highlight some of what he described as “salient points.”

According to Trotman, when his administration took office, there was no legal obligation on the part of Exxon to renegotiate the contract, adding that his government respects the sanctity of contracts. He admitted that the initial contract was a good one. “We also recognised that the contract of 1999 was not a bad contract; I have said so many times publicly…it represented at the time, a good contract.”

But notwithstanding that, Trotman explained that his administration was able to receive a 2 per cent royalty when there was no royalty within the initial contract. The law, he said, requires that there should be at least a 1 per cent. “We have now secured a 2 per cent royalty from the gross, which would give this country $US380M at today’s prices per annum. We have raised the annual fees for the licence from US$250,000 to US$1M per year,” the Natural Resources Minister noted.

Additionally, the coalition government through its negotiations included US$300,000 per annum for capacity-building and training and scholarships, as well as US$300,000 for corporate social responsibility projects, a portion of which was given to the government recently to assist Caribbean and CARICOM sister states who were suffering as a result of the ravages of two hurricanes.

That aside, Trotman reminded that Guyana has been warned by many about the global upheavals over the past decade relative to oil. He said Guyana must ensure that none of those negative experiences become a reality for Guyana. “We should not let it become our vision of the future…oil has the possibility to bring about change…we need an oil change in this country. Our century-old engines are failing and our drivers, in every sense, have to be changed.

“We have a new product and we must create the new country where we retain and retool our old and young to take advantage of this,” Trotman stated. Additionally, the Natural Resources Minister believes it is critical that ahead of the 2020 production of oil here, efforts continue vigorously to address the country’s laws and policies.

“We have a battery of advisors so we are confident that we are on the right track. We have utilised the services of world-renowned law firms – Jones Day of the United States and Michelet & Co. of the Kingdom of Norway,” said Trotman, who noted that the journey to the good life continues and all Guyanese will benefit.