OP-ED|Will Jagdeo abandon Essequibo to Venezuela because Guyana does not have a strong army?

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On November 4, 2021, Kaieteur News reported that Guyana likely lost US$9.5B from the Exxon deal because of a failure of Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo and the government of which he is the fulcrum to fulfill their oath and duty to the people of Guyana under that contract.

The potential loss of money to the coffers of the country, at its maximum, is equivalent to G$1.9 trillion, a sum which, Hon. Roysdale Forde, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, said could pay the personal income tax of all Guyanese for the next 56 years. At a time when the cost-of-living is rising uncontrollably in contradiction to the campaign promise of the PPP and Guyanese are desperate for extra money, the government opted to deprive Guyanese of 56 years of tax relief that they are most in need of. Jagdeo and his cohorts showed once again their inability to manage the affairs of this country in the interest of all Guyanese. Guyanese deserve to know the truth behind this colossal failure and should not stop enquiring until they do.

This debacle of likely lost income is linked to a provision in the Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) which gives the government a chance, through periodic audits, to reclaim excessive spending by Exxon and its partners. This provision was to ensure that Guyana could get the maximum benefits out of its contract with Exxon. In other words, it was a safety valve for the financial protection of the people of Guyana. Jagdeo and the government had a duty to use the safety valve when needed. They failed to do so. There is no excuse for this pathetic display of incompetence and mismanagement of Guyana’s patrimony since there are three people in the Office of the President overseeing financial matters of the state. There is Jagdeo who acts as if he is the President and is called the Vice-President and there is someone who is referred to as the President in the Office of the President. Then, there is a Minister of Finance. And why else would he be in the Office of the President if he was not being supervised by the other two?

They have no confidence in him. And why should we? None of the three appeared to have dedicated himself to ensuring that the audit was done. All three dropped the ball. Had they been doing what they were supposed to do, they would not have to go gallivanting around the world running behind other people’s money.

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Jagdeo and his cohorts knew from all the criticisms that they levelled at the PSA that the PSA was unfavourable to Guyana and the little benefits that it contained for the country needed to be protected vigorously. Conducting the audit was therefore crucial under the circumstances. If the audit had found the money spent by Exxon and partners to be acceptable, then the people of Guyana would have had nothing to say. In fact, they would be satisfied that they were not being duped by Exxon. In other words, the audit could have helped to improve the confidence of Guyanese in Exxon and its partners. Clearly, this objective was of no interest to Jagdeo and cohorts. If the audit had found the charges to be excessive, then Guyana would have recovered the overpayment, a good purpose for ensuring that the audit was done. Either way, there would have been a benefit to Guyanese if the audit had taken place.

It should be made clear at this point that Exxon and partners had nothing to do with this failure. They submitted themselves to the audit and Jagdeo and the government abrogated to themselves the right to abandon their obligation to us. The excuse that Jagdeo presented at his press conference for the failure of the government was that Guyana did not have strong auditors and so they chose not to go forward with the audit. The conclusion one can draw from that position is that Jagdeo felt losing as much as G$1.9 trillion was an acceptable option. With Jagdeo feeling that losing that much money was no big deal, then why should it have mattered how strong or weak the auditors were? Good decision-makers and ones who cared about their people would have known that half a loaf was better that none. In a disclosure akin to the act of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, Jagdeo told Guyanese as if they were gullible that in the future local auditors will be allowed to be part of a convoluted arrangement that smacks of collusion. The arrangement described seems to lack audit independence and could be fraught with corruption. In other words, Jagdeo seems to be saying that they will rig the procurement process for audit services in plain sight.

The decision to ignore the local auditors was improper. It was also a dereliction of duty since it was not the prerogative of the government, and least of all Jagdeo’s, to abandon its responsibility to have the audits done in protection of the interests of the people of Guyana.

Rejection of the local auditors coming from someone who lacks professional auditing education, skills or experience, is not only stunning, but also contemptuous of these Guyanese professionals. What many also concluded from Jagdeo’s statement about the local auditors was that this government could just as well abandon Essequibo to Venezuela because Guyana does not have a strong army. This is a frightening prospect knowing that Guyana has an installed government that clearly does not care about the people. This matter therefore must be investigated thoroughly and independently.



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