Government’s attempt to try to compare the US$18 million which was deposited in an account outside of the Consolidated Fund and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) opening over 300 bank accounts while in Government are not comparable and the comparison was only raised to divert attention from the illegal move.This is the firm view expressed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo who said that the two issues were completely different in that the US$18 million signing bonus paid to Guyana by ExxonMobil was placed into an account at the Central Bank, which does not fall under the remit of the Auditor General.Speaking about the 300 accounts, Jagdeo said these were opened at the Central Bank for transactional purposes and all monies were placed in the Consolidated Fund and were subject to audits by the Auditor General’s office. And in addition to that, there has been no move to charge anyone over theft.Government disclosed that examination of the books of accounts and records held at the Bank of Guyana revealed that the previous Government prior to May 2015 followed the practice of opening official and other bank accounts for Government business. This is an established lawful practice in accordance with the Fiscal Management and Accountability (FMA) Act 2003 and the Constitution of Guyana.But Jagdeo said aside from that, Finance Minister Winston Jordan should be questioned in greater detail about the issue. Among the questions, Jagdeo said, that should be asked is how many of the 300 accounts were closed by the current Government? How many are still active? And how many are project related?“Why hasn’t anyone been charged for misconduct related to the operation of these accounts? Why has Government been silent about the Lotto Fund, the Guyana Forestry Commission account or the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) account, despite the claims of corruption prior to May 2015?” he further questioned.Jagdeo added that while Minister Jordan has boasted that interest was being accrued on the US$18 million, none of that goes into the Consolidated Fund. However, he explained, in the case of the 300 accounts, which were all opened for transactional purposes, interest went to the Consolidated Fund.Government had insisted that no laws were broken. Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge had referred to the fact that Section 37 (2) of the FMA Act provides for public monies to be held in extra-budgetary funds and deposit funds that is, until they are credited to the Consolidated Fund.But Jagdeo pointed out that the FMA Act in fact contradicts Greenidge, who is a former Minister of Finance. Section 42 mandates that after a deposit fund is established, the Minister has to inform the National Assembly of the fund’s existence.According to Section 42 (2) of the Act, the Minister also has to specify “the source or sources of the monies in the deposit fund; the purpose or purposes for which monies may be expended from the deposit fund; the banking arrangements for the deposit fund, and the intended investment strategy for the monies deposited in the deposit fund”.The account for the signing bonus was set up at the Central Bank not by an Act of Parliament or legislation, but by request from the Finance Ministry. The transaction first came to light after Guyana Times published a leaked correspondence dated September 20, 2016 and addressed to the Governor of the Bank of Guyana with this subject line: “Signing bonus granted by ExxonMobil – Request to open bank account”.In the letter, Finance Secretary at the Finance Ministry, Hector Butts, had requested 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 ExxonMobil.Amid criticism, Government officials had defended the secrecy by saying the money would be used to pay legal fees in defence of Guyana’s sovereignty, should its case with Venezuela reach the International Court of Justice (ICJ).When asked whether he accepted that placing the US$18 million outside of the Consolidated Fund was illegal, President David Granger himself had professed ignorance of anything illegal with the transaction.The Government has recently committed to having the money transferred to the Consolidated Fund.The Opposition has filed a legal challenge against Government to ensure that it does.The case is pending.