APNU aiming to pass anti-laundering reforms before Feb 14th -gov’t skeptical

The main opposition says it wants to complete the amendment of the anti-money legislation before the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary on February 14th although government spokespersons remain unconvinced.

The Anti-Money Laun-dering Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill was re-tabled in the National Assembly on December 12th and recommitted to a Select Committee for consideration on December 19th, on the insistence of both APNU and the AFC.

Although both sides have pledged to work towards consensus on the bill, since its formation the committee has met only twice–one meeting was held to select a chairman and the other to actually work on the bill–and there have already been complaints by Both Govern-ment Chief Whip Gail Teixeira and Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Anil Nandlall that their opposition counterparts are using delaying tactics and are not taking the work seriously.

The bill had been before a select committee earlier last year but the inability of opposition and government representatives to reach a consensus prompted Teixeira to conclude the committee’s work and refer the bill back to the House.  This was done in the absence of opposition members, who subsequently voted the bill down when it was brought up for consideration.

Nandlall told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that the actions of the opposition are keeping the work of the new committee back.

He maintained that the opposition has been trying to delay the passage of the bill since it was tabled last March. Even when it was sent to a select committee, “the work of the committee suffered incessant delays at almost every meeting for approximately four months.”

Nandlall also said that since the government is satisfied with the bill’s content, a proposal was made for the opposition members to put forward any amendments they would like to make. This proposal was rejected, Nandlall said, and instead the opposition has called on the committee to re-advertise for more stakeholders to come forward to make presentations/proposals.

APNU, in particular, has been called upon for months both by the government and the media to make its proposals known. However the coalition has repeatedly said that it is too early to make those revelations.

Nandlall said that proposals were already made to the previous committee by stakeholders, including the Guyana Association of Women’s Lawyers, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Professor Clive Thomas and the chartered accounting firm Ram and McRae, and added that some of the proposals have shaped the re-shaping of the bill.

According to Nandlall, APNU MP Jaipaul Sharma was the only opposition representative who seemed willing to agree with his proposal. However, he said Sharma ceded his position to the position of the coalition.

Nandlall also said that government representatives, following a meeting on Monday, asked that the committee meet again as soon as possible, but that the opposition members indicated that they want the next meeting to take place on January 29th.

Such a late meeting puts Guyana at risk since the FATF will be meeting in France on February 14th and can call on Guyana to be reviewed, he warned.

Guyana has been flagged regionally by FATF-affiliate, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), and a negative finding by FATF might affect Guyana on a global scale, Nandlall also warned.

The reality of this threat is in question though since the February meeting is a mere three weeks away and Guyana has not yet been contacted by FATF and informed that its presence will be required. Before Guyana attended CFATF’s plenary meetings last May and again in November, notice was given months in advance.

But even if Guyana is called to the FATF plenary next month, APNU is optimistic that the regulatory body will find that Guyana would have passed “good” anti-money laundering legislation. During a press conference yesterday, leader of APNU and the opposition David Granger said that the coalition’s representatives are working to have the legislation fully considered before the February 14th plenary.

If Granger’s optimism is to materialize, the committee will have a mere eleven days, from January 30th to February 9th—this count includes four weekend days—in which to consider any proposals made by stakeholders, make any amendments which stems from these proposals, and bring the amendment bill back to the House before its next sitting on February 10th.

It would be critical to meet this deadline since the FATF plenary is four days later. However, if Guyana does not get called to the plenary, the next deadline, given by CFATF, is in May.

Nandlall and Teixeira have little confidence in the opposition’s proposed commitment and they have said as much. Nandlall also told GINA that the government, in the interest if transparency, has requested the presence of the press during the committee meetings. The same is done for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which meets every Monday.

Though Nandlall’s says the move is aimed at enhancing transparency, it is more likely that the minister is hoping that the presence of the media and other stakeholders will influence the opposition to work faster.

Whatever Nandlall’s intentions, the opposition has indicated that it is not willing to have such an audience, and according to Nandlall, requests to have other stakeholders observe the work of the committee have also been denied. He said that access to the press in particular has been refused because the opposition feels that it would be dangerous to expose the workings of the committee.

When questioned on this Granger confirmed the opposition’s reluctance to have the meetings opened to the media, arguing that it is too early to do so. He said though, that the coalition has not closed the door to such a possibility.

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