GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA) -- President Donald Ramotar is questioning whose interest the combined opposition in Guyana is representing, since neither the country’s economy nor its people stand to benefit from the non-passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill, which is currently languishing before a Parliamentary select committee.
The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) recently ranked Guyana as one of the most delinquent countries that is most likely to be selected for review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) later this month.
As it stands, the country has already been blacklisted by CFATF since November last year, and the effects of that label have begun to penetrate the local financial sector. Should the country be subjected to a review by FATF, it would be seen internationally as a terrorist state and one that is in support of money laundering. As such, transactions with financial institutions overseas will be suspiciously examined, and they will become more time consuming and expensive.
President Donald Ramotar
“Who will benefit if this Bill is not passed? Definitively not the Guyanese people… in the first instance it will affect the cost for people in our country doing business with banks abroad… it will also give our country a very bad name and send a message to investors that can negatively impact investments coming to our country,” the head of state said on Monday.
He emphasised that not only will the banking and insurance sectors be affected, but there will be dire impacts on investments which contribute significantly to job creation. Further, even ordinary Guyanese citizens who conduct money transfer transactions with relatives overseas will not be spared the consequences of international blacklisting.
The president said that the only people that stand to derive benefits from the non-passage of this important piece of legislation are those perpetrating money laundering and other financial crimes. As such, the parliamentary opposition needs to decide whose interest they are representing.
The intention of the amendments to the AML/CFT Bill is simply to bring Guyana’s financial crimes legislation in line with those of other jurisdictions. It addresses loopholes in the existing Act under which money laundering and financing of terrorism can be done.
The Bill was tabled in the National Assembly since March 2013 at which time the opposition asked for it to be sent to a select committee for further deliberations and to make amendments where necessary. This was done; however, at the select committee, the opposition employed a number of delaying tactics to stymie the work of that committee. As a result, Guyana missed consecutive deadlines in May, August and November in 2013.
Missing the latter led to CFATF issuing 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 president reminded that even though the opposition rejected the Bill when it came up for the third reading in early November last year, they are yet to state what their contentions are with it and propose amendments accordingly.
The defeated Bill was re-tabled in December and was again sent to a select committee, on request by the opposition.
The president said that his government was very optimistic after the opposition echoed a call for the Bill to be re-tabled. However, the same old delaying tactics are being played out in this new select committee. The opposition refused to allow the media, as well as relevant stakeholders to observe the meetings of that committee.
This, Ramotar said, is cause for great concerns about the real intentions of the opposition. Further, in a design to waste time, they insisted that persons, who made submissions to the committee, re-appear before it.
Reference was made to a recent APNU statement in which the party stated that it will not support the Bill. He said that given their one-seat majority in the Parliament, should they follow through with this intention, then the country will be blacklisted internationally.
With regard to the opposition’s call for the president to assent to certain Bills in exchange for their support for the AML/CFT, the head of state stated that at present there are no Bills before him. The ones that he refused to assent to on the basis of unconstitutionality were returned to the Parliament with an appropriate explanation.
He informed that there is a constitutional procedure that must be followed for the Bills to be returned to him.
He said that thus far, there has been no legitimate force in Guyana that opposes the amendments to the AML/CFT Bill. The largest section of organised labour, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUG), the Private Sector Commission (PSC), farmers through the Rice Producers’ Association (RPA) and ordinary Guyanese citizens have all come out in support of the Bill because they recognise the damaging effects of its non-passage.
Ramotar said that this stance that they have taken will essentially protect criminals and money launderers.
“They have intelligent people on their side, and they must know the consequences of the non-passage of this Bill… I hope that the opposition will go on the side of the legitimate forces of Guyana… I still hope that they recognise that they have absolutely nothing to gain by not passing this Bill,” the president stated.
He reminded that international blacklisting will affect all Guyanese, regardless of whether they support the PPP/C or any of the opposition parties.
The Bill in its current form before the House has already been approved by the CFATF, as it meets all of the requirements and incorporates the recommendations that were made by the watchdog body.