Still no deal on anti-money laundering bill

– committee to meet again tomorrow

Last minute efforts to have the Anti-Money Launder-ing Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill re-introduced and passed in the National Assembly yesterday failed, prompting yet another agreement by committee members to meet tomorrow to conclude work – one day before FATF’s plenary concludes.

The meeting might be a little too late though, as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, and the next National Assembly sitting is set for February 27, although House Speaker Raphael Trotman noted that a request could be made for a special sitting.

After a seven-hour meeting on Sunday, a six-hour meeting on Saturday, and three other meetings during the course of last week the committee members of the Select Committee on the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill met again yesterday at midday in an effort to conclude their scrutiny of the bill and return it to the house to be passed yesterday.

However, the same reason that prevented the committee from wrapping up on Sunday evening was also the impediment to concluding the committee’s work during yesterday’s meeting.

Finance Minister and committee member Dr Ashni Singh had told reporters on Sunday night that “two separate… papers were presented by two separate opposition members of parliament, and clearly [they]… 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.

Before the amendment could be properly considered by the committee, they had to be properly drafted and so the process commenced on Sunday night, and was to continue yesterday with the hope of having them dealt with before the sitting at two.

Minister within the Finance Ministry Juan Edghill told Stabroek News yesterday that the bid had been unsuccessful. He said the meeting took place as scheduled, but the Deputy Chief Parliamentary Cou-nsel indicated that the time allocated for the completion of the drafting and other needed work was too short. He said the committee members were told that the proposed amendment would have affected Principal Act, and that much more work was required before the drafting of the amendments was complete.

Further, it would be necessary to scrutinize the amendments to ensure that their provisions and effects pose no legal conundrum, Edghill said the committee was told.

He continued that since the amendments proposed had nothing to do with the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill put to the committee, and since the clause of the Amendment Bill are not a matter of contention between the members of the committee, he moved a motion to send the bill back to the National Assembly so that it could be passed yesterday.

The motion was defeated by the opposition’s superior numbers as Alliance for Change (AFC) Leader Khemraj Ramjattan, showed up to the meeting after several instances of absence. Ramjattan has vowed that his party will not support the bill unless the government makes marked movements towards setting up the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

Meanwhile, APNU members, Edghill said, were adamant that the bill would not go back to the house unless the amendments were drafted and considered.

As such, Edghill continued, the committee has agreed to meet again tomorrow at 18:30 hrs to continue its work. He added that the opposition has also requested the audience of Chief Parliamentary Counsel Cecil Dhurjon.

APNU MP and point person on the bill Carl Greenidge explained that Dhurjon’s presence has been requested because the opposition wants him to look at the legal ramifications of the amendments.

Again, he said that the drafting of the APNU’s amendments at such a late hour was to be blamed on the government. Greenidge lamented that the opposition was not given access to drafter, and therefore has to wait on the appointed time at the level of a committee to benefit from that service.

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.

The coalition is also asking that authorities be granted the ability to seize money suspected of being the proceeds of crime at any domestic location.

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