A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MPs yesterday finally submitted proposed amendments to the anti-laundering bill for consideration in the select committee of Parliament which will require an additional day for drafting and consideration by the committee.
After three days of meetings this past week – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday – the committee members agreed on a meeting on Saturday and again yesterday with the hopes of having the bill back in the House today. However, the process required to formalize APNU’s amendments so that they could be properly considered by the committee requires work and so after a more than seven-hour meeting yesterday, deliberations remained incomplete.
A meeting will therefore be held at midday today as the committee scrambles to finish considering the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill by or before the National Assembly sitting at 14:00 hrs. Guyana was blacklisted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force last November over the absence of the legislation and there are fears that a range of financial transactions can be adversely affected.
Ever since the Bill was committed to a parliamentary special select committee last April, APNU has argued that it has amendments to propose, although last evening is the first time the opposition made a formal presentation of their proposed amendments to the committee.
APNU is asking that an independent authority of some sort be charged with oversight of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and that the personnel of the authority as well as the FIU be selected by the National Assembly, as opposed to government ministers. This, according to APNU MP Joseph Harmon will remove any idea that the FIU and its operatives are biased.
The opposition, as stated by APNU MP and Shadow Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams during a press conference on Friday, also wants to expand the locations where money suspected to be the proceeds of crime, could be investigated and seized, and increase the classifications of officers endowed with the authority to carry out such actions.
Currently, money suspected to be laundered or terrorist finance can only be seized at the point of entry and exit, but APNU wants such seizures to become possible at any point domestically.
Though APNU members obviously think highly of their recommendations it was clear that government representatives to the committee are not impressed.
Finance Minister Ashni Singh told reporters that the opposition’s recommendations did not address the legislation before the committee, but the Principal Act of 2009. As a result, the opposition, by virtue of making such recommendations, has forced the committee into considering matters outside its remit, he added.
Even more troubling, Singh says, is that the opposition’s amendments, in addition to being several months late, are poorly articulated, and that government members were still not entirely clear on what they are asking for.
He explained that “two separate pieces of papers were presented by two separate opposition members of parliament, and clearly two pieces of paper which were uncoordinated, as they collided with each other.” As a result, the committee had to break for approximately one hour as opposition members worked to consolidate their proposals, which they eventually succeeded in doing, Singh continued. Despite the consolidation of their proposals though, Singh lamented that the recommendations remain flawed and disjointed.
He said that the government’s protests were communicated to the opposition, while Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall said that he pointed out that the opposition’s recommendations, if implemented, could collide with the standards set by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF). As it relates to the seizure of money at any point in Guyana, Minister within the Finance Ministry Juan Edghill said that such an act would make money contraband – a dangerous thing to since Guyana was a cash-based society and deals with big cash sums to carry out transactions.
Finally, the government pointed out that the majority of the clauses contained in the bill were non-contentious, and said that the work of the committee could have been finished a long time ago if the opposition had come forward with their recommendations earlier.
On the other hand, APNU MP and point person on the committee, Carl Greenidge, told Stabroek News that there is nothing wrong with the coalition’s timing, especially since APNU does not have the convenience of its own drafting personnel and has to depend on the state for same.
As 22:30 hrs. approached the committee members realised that the work could not be finished last evening and so they adjourned after agreeing to meet at midday today. But, the government said that the opposition members did not seem keen on trying to meet before the sitting today and only agreed to today’s on their insistence. Singh says that he hopes the opposition abandons their unreasonable demands by today’s meeting.
Today is Guyana’s last chance to pass the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill before a Financial Action Task Force Meeting and possible further blacklisting.
Additionally, even if the bill is successfully laid in the house, the opposition has threatened to vote it down if the President does not commit to giving assent to bills he has refused same.