GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- The Guyana Parliament’s Committee of Selection early Friday morning appointed a new special select committee that will be dealing with the re-tabled Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill.
The Bill, which came up for second reading, for the second time, was again referred to a committee.
During the debate, attorney general and minister of legal affairs, Anil Nandlall reminded that the contents of the amendments of the proposed legislation are reflective of the recommendations made by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), which Guyana should have passed since November.
As a result of missing that deadline, the CFATF issued an adverse public statement, calling on member states which fall under its jurisdiction to take the necessary measures to protect themselves from the risks that Guyana poses as a money laundering and terrorism state.
“The repercussions that are flowing from this statement are still being assessed… I am aware that they have begun to take effect… there has already been a drastic diminution of remittances,” he said.
Several central banks in the Caribbean have issued advisories, advising their respective commercial sector of Guyana’s current position and are calling on their constituent members to protect themselves from whatever risks are emanating from Guyana.
The amendments can be placed in two categories: administrative (which was addressed at the level of the Government) and legislative. In fact, 98 percent of the recommendations are legislative in nature.
One of the most important amendments is contained in Clause 4 of the Bill, which amends Section 9 of the principal Act to satisfy recommendation 25 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Nandlall explained that the Principal Act of 2009 and now this Bill have created a network of organisations, all under the administration of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Each, organisation created is required to record transactions that they are conducting and pass them on to a central location, where the relevant information would be extracted.
“All of these recommendations, when they were crafted in the form of this Bill, were sent individually to the CFATF and they were each approved as satisfying the particular recommendation to which they were attached,” he noted.
To bring the network of organisations under the Bill and the administration of the FIU, it was necessary to amend a series of legislation. As such, Clause 18 of the Bill amends the Gambling Prevention Act, Companies Act, Insurance Act, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, The Securities Industry Act, Money Transfer Agencies (Licencing) Act, Foreign Exchange (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, and the Co-operative Societies Act.
The AG said that the Bill contains some provisions that may be considered as draconian in the ordinary course of criminal legislation, particularly as it relates to detaining, seizing and/or freezing properties. In this regard, careful attention had to be paid to the question of constitutionality.
“Whenever you interfere with a person’s property, you have to take into account the protection which the supreme law of the land accords to private property against interference by the State… each of these provisions that touch and concern property were examined and scrutinised against Article 142 of the Constitution to ensure that they do not infringe or collide because it would have been unconstitutional,” he explained.
The opposition Alliance for Change (AFC) has expressed the same position it previously held when the Bill was initially tabled in the House; that is to have the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) in exchange for support for the Bill.
On the other hand, Carl Greenidge from A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) accused the government of employing “scaremongering tactics” to force them to support the Bill. He said that it does not matter if CFATF has approved the amendments, the House must have the scope to make its own amendments where it sees fit.
Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh reminded that for the greater part of this year, the House has had the Bill; however, to date neither political party has indicated any amendments they wish to make.
He recounted what transpired at the level of the select committee, which shows members of the opposition side deliberately hindering the conclusion of the committee’s work. He said that the delaying tactics continued was evident in all 17 meetings of the committee, and can be corroborated by verbatim transcripts and minutes of those meetings.
“Stakeholders who are perhaps best informed on this matter, the private sector and the banks, have said unequivocally, that they are already seeing the results of non-enactment of this legislation,” he said.
Responding to Greenidge’s talk of scaremongering, Singh relayed in great details some the experiences of bankers in Guyana thus far.
He said, “We don’t, as a responsible Government, enjoy the luxury of dismissing the inconveniences suffered by a company or an individual living or operating in Guyana as unimportant or insignificant… to the extent that a Guyanese citizen or a an associate of a Guyanese is threatened with closure of their bank account because they do business with Guyana, then that is a matter we must be concerned with… we would not dismiss the prospect of adverse action as scaremongering.”
He pointed out that at the level of the committee, none of the substantive clauses of the Bill generated any disagreement, noting that invariably, most of the arguments were generated with regards to when and how often the committee plans to meet.
“Here we have before us a piece of legislation that no one disagrees with, but the opposition will not find themselves willing to vote in favour of, simply because it provides an opportunity for political leverage to be extracted,” Singh lamented.
Meanwhile, Government’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, who chaired the committee that dealt with the Bill, said that best gift the National Assembly can give the people of Guyana for the holidays is to pass the Bill.
She explained that the Prevention of Money Laundering Act passed in the 1990s was created in an era when the world, and in particular, Latin America and the Caribbean were dealing with money laundering, the issue of terrorist financing was added on in the 2009 Bill, and in another few years, amendments will again have to be made to cater for another aspect of financial crimes.
“This is a never-ending issue in terms of the laws being amended to keep up with the times… laws are not meant to be written in granite and stay stuck in time… this Bill is driven by international demands that Guyana gets itself in line with international developments,” she said.
Even though the government was hoping to pass the Bill, a compromise was made, and it was referred to a select committee.
Nandlall who tabled the Bill asked the committee to expedite its work so that the Bill can be returned to the House on or before January 31, 2014. He also requested that all of the committee’s proceedings be open to the press, to which the opposition agreed.