US$18M signing bonus…Jagdeo accuses Speaker of shielding Govt from scrutinyBy Lakhram BhagiratThe Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, on Friday denied an Opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) motion calling for the 2018 Estimates to be amended to reflect the US$18 million signing bonus Government received from US oil giant ExxonMobil.The motion read: “Be it resolved that this Honourable Assembly directs theOpposition Leader, Bharrat JagdeoMinister of Finance to amend the Financial Estimates of Revenues and Expenditures of Guyana to reflect Guyana’s receipt of US$18 (million), and (he be directed) to deposit the said sum of money into the Consolidated Fund, in compliance with the Constitution and laws of Guyana.”The motion was submitted on Thursday night in the name of Opposition Parliamentarian Irfaan Ali, and was seconded by PPP/C Chief Whip Gail Teixeira.The PPP/C motion stated that the Financial Estimates of the Revenues and Expenditures do not reflect Guyana’s receipt of the said sum of US$18 million whatsoever, and the Estimates are therefore understated by the said sum, in violation of the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act; and the Estimates are accordingly unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional, null, void, and of no effect.Consolidated Fund shortchangedIn presenting the motion to the House, the Opposition Leader — who was givenDr Barton Scotlandresponsibility for piloting the motion after Ali was unavoidably absent — said Government admitted to receiving the US$18 million only about seven days ago, after months of denying its existence.“When we examined the Estimates for 2016, 2017 and 2018, those public monies that should have been paid into the Consolidated Fund were not reflected in the Estimates. We therefore ask that the Minister of Finance be directed to amend the Estimates before us to reflect the receipt of US$18 million, which was received and not deposited in the Consolidated Fund, in contravention of the Constitution and the financial laws of Guyana,” Jagdeo said.He told the House that it is the hope of the Opposition that the ruling be favourable, so that the matter can be debated at length, thus providing the public with the necessary information they so deserve.Motion deniedHowever, the Speaker, in his ruling, noted that for the sitting to be adjourned to consider another issue – in this case, the amendment the 2018 Financial Estimates and a call for the Finance Minister to deposit the US$18 million in the Consolidated Fund — the matter must be definite, urgent and of public importance.The Speaker noted that the issue is indeed definite and of great public importance, but he questioned the urgency, since he noted that the issue had come to the fore some seven days prior to the motion. It was on this ground that the Speaker denied the request.Predictable outcomeAt a press conference convened immediately after the denial of the motion, the Opposition Leader deemed the outcome predictable, since, he said, the Speaker is known to shield the Government from a deserving level of scrutiny.“The Standing Orders of Parliament provide for this approach, and we felt that this matter — the matter that has engaged the entire nation’s attention over the last seven days, and has caused much worry to the people; the blatant breaches of our Financial Laws and the Constitution of Guyana — that the Speaker would have been more respectful of the concerns of our people and allow a full debate on this motion, which would have exposed the many inconsistences and illegalities of this Government regarding the signing bonus,” Jagdeo said.Jagdeo added that the motion would have allowed the House, including the Speaker, to have the Estimates amended to reflect “what is legal and Constitutional, so that the Estimates for 2018, when passed, would reflect the true financial picture of Guyana.”Improper handlingThe Opposition Leader stressed that the rules governing the handling of public monies are clear, and public monies cannot be handled in a discretionary manner.He reiterated that if the Estimates are approved in their current state, the House would be knowingly aiding an illegality.A statement read by Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge in the National Assembly on Thursday claimed the US$18 million signing bonus was placed in a Deposit Fund.However, the Opposition Leader said the monies were not placed in a Deposit Fund, but rather in a Special Account, as indicated by both the Finance and Natural Resources ministers. In relation to the Deposit Fund, Jagdeo noted that the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) stipulates that the National Assembly ought to be informed of the source of the funds, the purpose, and the intended investment strategy. He indicated that neither was provided to the House in this case.He also said that no PPP/C MP would have opposed the allocation of the US$15 million required to pay the legal fees to defend Guyana’s territorial integrity.