The PPP yesterday downplayed the fact that complex amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act were tabled just 20 days before the May 27, 2013 deadline for review by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), despite the fact that the administration was alerted to its shortcomings at least a year ago.
Executive member of the PPP Irfaan Ali told a party news conference that the amendments are well known and have existed in the public domain since the bill for the principal Act was passed by the National Assembly in 2009.
“It is not as if this thing was locked up in a room. It was out there,” Ali stated.
“The opposition in the last Parliament supported this bill.
It was there. This is the amendments,” he added, while maintaining that the government was not rushing the process and that all political parties have been aware of the May 27 deadline from the inception of the CFATF’s original recommendations.
Critics say the administration is rushing to make last minute changes even though it knew what was required years ago as most of the amendments in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill No. 12 of 2013—introduced by Attorney-General Anil Nandlall on May 7—stem from the recommendations the CFATF would have made in its Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) on Guyana in July 2011.
Ali said that the opposition parties had originally agreed to the 2009 Act and had multiple occasions to raise their concerns. When Stabroek News, however, pointed out that the make-up of the National Assembly has since changed, with the opposition now controlling a majority, Ali did not move on his position that the original bill passed unopposed without query on the side of the opposition.
He stated that the looming deadline meant that the opposition could have simply gone ahead with revision of the amendments.
The government representative was unwilling to take responsibility that the government failed to take into consideration the change in dynamic of the National Assembly.
Ali was also reluctant to acknowledge that the CFATF recommendations from July 2011 took almost two years for revision by the government and that the National Assembly was expected to pass the legislation with three weeks to meet the deadline. “If the opposition had any difficulty with any of the changes—and this was discussed—why wasn’t anything raised in the public?” Ali questioned, saying that the opposition was acting without a care to the potential ramifications if Guyana does not comply with international recommendations. It was noted by Stabroek News that the opposition parties have indeed raised concerns, which they cited in commending the bill to a Special Select Committee.
PPP/C MP Juan Edghill stated that the original bill stayed in a special select committee for two years, beginning in 2007. He noted that the same level of commitment could not be given to the amendments because of the deadline.
PPP representatives refused to provide answers to critics who have claimed that the government’s slow response to tabling the bill, almost a year since the final recommendations were made on behalf of the CFATF, was because it failed acknowledge the change in dynamic in the National Assembly.
Edghill stated that the bill was only tabled on May 7 “because a process of consultation was conducted, the legislative drafters… the Attorney General chambers had to fine tune all the necessary language with support from experts, which aided this process, which was heavily supported by the international community.”
PPP representatives during the press conference repeatedly called the amendments “complex” but would not concede that the complexities necessitated revision and understanding prior to the amended bill being passed into law.
Ali emphasised that the consequences for missing the deadline would weigh negatively on the private sector, including local importers and exporters. “…because their transactions will be subjected to more intense scrutiny. More than that, funds or banks or financial institutions outside this jurisdiction may refuse, as they have done in the past in many other cases, to do business with the country, to do business with any firm operating out of the country,” he said, while noting that Guyana, which currently ranks 140 out of 155 on the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, can expect trade to suffer.
Ali said that for the everyday Guyanese who access money transfer services, this could cease.
He noted that Guyana sees a high level of remittances from overseas, which would be virtually inaccessible if sanctions are put in place and the country is blacklisted.
“There seems to be a comprehensive understanding among members of the opposition that they are going to block development; that they are going to block economic advancement; they are going to block financial reforms because they want to see the government fail,” he said.