Signing bonus challenge…case adjournedA new date has been set for the court case where Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall is challenging Government’s decision to deposit the US$18 million bonus received from ExxonMobil into a private account.Nandlall was represented in the High Court by Attorneys Rajendra Jaigobin and Manoj Narayan at Tuesday’s hearing before Chief Justice (CJ) Roxane George at 13:00h in chamber.Opposition Member of Parliament Anil NandlallDue to the Attorney General’s Chambers’ failure to file their affidavit of defence on time, an application for an extension was submitted. That application was heard on Tuesday and was granted by the CJ who has extended the time to March 20 to permit them to file their affidavit in defence on or before that date.The CJ has also given timelines for the parties to file the requisite documents. Nandlall has 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.Nandlall in his legal challenge said the deposit of the signing bonus into a private bank account is contrary to, and in violation of, the Constitution and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA).In his application, the MP is also seeking, among other things, an order from the court directing that Finance Minister Winston Jordan transfer and deposit the bonus into the Consolidated Fund forthwith.Attorney General Basil WilliamsHe argued that Government is in breach of Section 38 of the FMAA, which provides that all public moneys raised or received by the Government shall be credited fully and promptly to the Fund.In accordance with Article 216 of the Constitution and Section 38 of the FMAA, Nandlall said the US$18 million bonus and such other sums collected by the Government under the Petroleum Agreement with ExxonMobil are public moneys and must therefore be paid into and form one consolidated fund.This legal challenge follows a lawsuit that was filed in January by Attorney Christopher Ram, on behalf of anti-corruption activist Troy Thomas who also asked the High Court to order Minister Jordan to immediately deposit the US$18 million received from ExxonMobil as a signing bonus into the Consolidated Fund, while saying his failure to do so is unlawful.When the matter was called, however, the challenge had to be retracted after Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that the litigation’s format was flawed. It now has to be refiled and served on all parties before the court can proceed. The legal team, headed by Ram, is currently in the process of reframing the documents and plan to file a new application soon.The bonus in question was paid to the Government’s Central Bank account by US oil giant ExxonMobil in 2016. The existence of this bonus and the renegotiated oil agreement with the company was kept a secret until evidence of the transaction was leaked in December 2017.The correspondence of September 20, 2016, which was leaked to the media was addressed to the Governor of the Bank of Guyana with the subject being, “Signing bonus granted by ExxonMobil – Request to open bank account”.It showed Finance Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Hector Butts, requesting that a foreign currency account be opened at the Bank in order to receive a deposit in the form of a ‘signing bonus’ to be given by the oil company.The letter stated, “This account should not be treated as part of the Bank’s reserves. Instead, the proceeds should be held in the currency of the deposit, that is, United States dollars, and invested in secured interest-bearing securities.”After mounting criticism, President David Granger defended the transaction by saying it was the thing to do at the time. He also noted that the money was placed in an escrow account, though observers have disputed this.After the fact, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman also defended the secrecy by saying the money would be used to defend Guyana’s sovereignty in the legal process.The matter has been adjourned to June 14 at 15:00h for hearing or ruling.