…Opposition Leader says entire bonus handled improperlyGovernment has brushed aside allegations that it possibly spent or transferred a US$18 million signing bonus it received from ExxonMobil, claiming that there is nothing sinister about this move.While Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman did not confirm nor deny allegations that the signing bonus might have been transferred from a private account at the Central Bank, or spent, the Minister did reiterate that the monies were put aside to deal with a specific matter.“The Minister of Finance (Winston Jordan) has been speaking to Cabinet about this over a year and how it is going to be disbursed. Once we (Guyana) qualifiedOpposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeofor our appearance at the World Court which was the 30th of January I believe, then that triggered some release of the funds. There is nothing untoward or sinister about it,” referring to the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.Guyanese Economist Ramon Gaskin on Monday in a letter sent to the local media called on the Government to explain to the Guyanese people the circumstances which led to the bonus being spent unlawfully and without the approval of the National Assembly.Gaskin wrote, “The Bank of Guyana has published the list of 128 Government Account Balances at the end of January 2018 in excess of 36 billion Guyana dollars.” Gaskin said “the US$18M ‘Signing Bonus’ received by Guyana and allegedly placed in the account is not listed”.“I conclude subject to correction by the Minister of Finance that the monies if indeed placed there have been removed or withdrawn or spent without the authorisation of the Parliament as required by Article 217 of the Constitution of Guyana,” Gaskin said in the letter.He, therefore, called on “the Minister of Finance to immediately disclose precisely where exactly the money is, how much has been spent from it, and for what purpose, and what is the present balance in the account if, at all, there is any.”Natural Resources Minister Raphael TrotmanGaskin said he was prepared to address the media on the matter once his findings were published as he was reliably informed that the monies might have been spent. Commenting on the issue, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said he is still upset with the manner in which the Government dealt with this matter, since the money was kept secret until it was brought to the public’s attention through the media.“I think the way they treated the US$18 million knowing that it was illegally kept out of all Government accounts, so it could not be audited, once it is not formally in Government accounts. Then the Auditor General would not be able to audit it. That it was parked in that way, to be stolen. So while parts of it may be used to pay a lawyer etcetera, we would have seen inflated bills and a whole range of other issues… expenditure that would have used up all the money and it would have gone into people’s accounts.” The existence of the oil bonus and the renegotiated oil agreement with the company was kept a secret until evidence of the transaction was leaked in December 2017. After mounting criticism, President David Granger defended the transaction by saying it was the thing to do at the time.Government subsequently defended its move not to deposit the singing bonus into the Consolidated Fund, saying it was holding the money to pay legal fees for Guyana should it have to take its border case with Venezuela to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).Government’s decision to deposit the signing bonus received from ExxonMobil into a private account is being challenged by Opposition Member of Parliament, Anil Nandlall. Nandlall is contending that Government is in “breach of and contrary to, the letter and spirit of Article 216 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana and Section 38 (1) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, Chapter 73:02.”At the last hearing on March 13, 2018, timelines were given for the parties to file the requisite documents. Nandlall had to file an affidavit in reply on or before March 26. Thereafter, the applicant has to file the submissions before April 20 and the respondents have to file their submissions before May 11.The matter was adjourned to June 14 for hearing or ruling.