Anti-money laundering bill…PSC flays APNU over walkout

The Private Sector Com-mission (PSC) last night said it was astonished to learn that opposition coalition, APNU  opposed a motion on Monday to grant it observer status at all of the sittings of the Parlia-ment committee which is addressing the anti-money laundering bill.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) walked out of the deliberations on Monday night after it disagreed with moves to promulgate a motion for the PSC to have observer status at all of the sittings of the Select Committee on the Anti-money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill. APNU wants attendance to be at the discretion of the committee.

In a press release, the PSC said it wished to state that, at a meeting held with APNU on 10th December, 2013, over  the delay in the passing of the AML/CFT Bill “APNU gave an unqualified undertaking to support the PSC proposal `that the meeting of the Special Select Committee be held in public’, facilitating observer attendance by the PSC, the media and, if they wish, representatives of Labour. “

The PSC said it made the same proposal at a meeting held with the Alliance for Change (AFC) on 18th December, 2013, to which the AFC indicated they had no objection.

“The PSC finds it inexplicable that APNU would now renege on its undertaking made at a meeting chaired by its leader Brgd.(retd) David Granger and considers this to be a disturbing display of bad faith on the part of the major opposition party.

“The PSC has requested an urgent meeting with APNU on the matter”, the PSC said.

The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), a member of the PSC, also weighed in on the matter.

It urged  all parliamentary representatives “to leave political grandstanding out of the negotiations” on the AML/CFT Bill.

“The Chamber notes with deep disappointment the position adopted by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to withdraw and not allow outside observers to the Parliamen-tary Select Committee debates concerning the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT).

“It is the GCCI’s view that the issues to be deliberated on the AML/CFT Bill do not constitute sensitive information that would require secrecy by the Committee. Moreover, during meetings with both government and the APNU, the lament from both sides was to cast blame on the other for not attending meetings or adhering to appropriate procedures of the Select Committee. At those meetings, the private sector delegation received assurances from all parliamentary parties that they would welcome public screenings and observations of the Select Committee deliberations on the said Bill.  It is therefore surprising, and discouraging, that the APNU has deviated from this position”, the Chamber said.

The GCCI said it believes that public access to parliamentary committees is an important part of government transparency and hopes that APNU would rethink its position.

“The AML/CFT Bill is too important to our nation’s economy and development to have partisan and petty political tactics and grandstanding affect its consideration, augmentation and eventual passage”, the Chamber said.

Deliberations  of the Select Committee have been mired in disputes and the problems continued on Monday when the opposition walked out over what it said were the actions of the chairperson of the Committee, PPP/C  MP Gail Teixeira.

The government is supporting the presence of the PSC at all of the meetings as an observer while the view of APNU is that in accordance with the Standing Orders governing such meetings, the PSC can be invited to attend as the need arises.

On Monday night, the Ministry of Finance and APNU issued duelling press releases on the walkout. Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh said: “This is a most unfortunate development, and reflects yet another attempt by the Opposition to frustrate the timely passage of this bill”.

APNU’s position was that the first matter on the agenda on Monday was a request by the PSC to participate as observers at the meetings of the committee. APNU said that at the previous meeting of the committee it had said that it had no objection to the participation of stakeholders in the committee’s deliberations but only on an “ad hoc basis and as the need arose”. At Monday’s meeting, APNU said that its spokesman on Finance, Carl Greenidge reminded the meeting of the earlier decision and proposed that a response to the PSC be sent setting this position out. APNU said that this motion was passed on Monday evening.

APNU said that the Finance Minister then proposed an additional motion authorizing the PSC to be invited as observers to all future meetings of the committee. APNU says that Singh’s motion was seen by the majority of members as contradictory to the motion that had already been approved and therefore considered it improper and decided against putting it to a vote.

“The Chairperson contended that she was not bound to be guided by the meeting and put the matter to the vote. Her Government colleagues invited the Opposition to oppose the motion, if they dared. When a majority of members called for the matter to be resolved by way of a vote Ms. Teixeira refused. The Opposition members therefore refused to participate in the vote and walked out of the meeting”, APNU said.

In his release, Singh maintained the Govern-ment’s position that the private sector has a legitimate interest in the timely passage of the legislation given the grave consequences that would befall Guyana’s economy should Parliament fail to pass the amended bill.

“Their refusal to allow the PSC to observe the committee’s proceedings reflects the fact that they are unwilling to be unmasked and have revealed to the world at large the blatant delay tactics they have been attempting in frustrating the work of the committee.”

Referring to  Monday evening’s meeting, Singh said  “They attempted to evade and contort the matter and, eventually, when the Chairperson of the committee attempted to put to the committee the specific matter of whether the PSC should be permitted to attend all meetings of the committee in an observer capacity, the Opposition walked out.”

This is the second select committee to deliberate on this matter. The first was dissolved without the final opposition input on the bill and this resulted in a new committee having to be constituted.

Guyana has been blacklisted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force as a result of numerous missed deadlines over the absence of the amended anti-money laundering bill and there may be further trouble for the country if the global body, the Financial Action Task Force takes the matter up this month.

In attendance at Monday’s were MPs Basil Williams, Carl B. Greenidge, Joe Harmon and Jaipaul Sharma for APMU and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Juan Edghill for the government. The Chairperson was PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira.

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