Facing a Friday deadline for passage of amendments to anti-laundering legislation to avoid being referred to a global watchdog, government is working on two tracks for opposition support which will include a public statement on the long-delayed procurement body.
President Donald Ramotar has proposed the setting up of a committee to re-examine four bills deemed “unconstitutional” by the government in an effort to make them constitutionally compliant and is also prepared to give a public commitment that the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) would be established at the earliest possible time, Attorney-General Anil Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday.
In return for their support of the long-stalled Anti-Money Laundering/ Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill, the main opposition APNU wants an “iron-clad” public guarantee that the president would assent to the four bills while the AFC says its support is hinged on the establishment of the PPC.
The government needs the support of either APNU or the AFC to get the bill through.
The four bills passed by the House and not assented to by Ramotar are the opposition-crafted Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amend-ment) Bill 2012, the Form-er Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Bill 2012 and the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2013 which were passed by the combined opposition parties using their one-seat majority in the National Assembly but which were not assented to by the President over concerns about their constitutionality. Ramotar has also said that he would not assent to bills passed without executive input.
The remaining bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012, was passed with the support of both government and opposition but Ramotar subsequently said that he found the bill to be unconstitutional.
Leader of APNU David Granger told Stabroek News on Friday that a public “cast-iron” guarantee that the four bills rejected by Ramotar will be assented to, would see the main opposition APNU supporting the anti-money laundering bill. “We want to ensure that there is a public guarantee that the bills that we are concerned with are going to be assented to,” he said when asked whether APNU’s support of the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill is contingent on assent to the four bills or a guarantee that the bills would be assented to by the President.
The anti-money laundering bill has to be approved and assented to by February 28 or Guyana could face further blacklisting by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and be referred to the global body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for review.
Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday that a guarantee that the President would assent to bills that are “unconstitutional” cannot be given by government but Ramotar has committed to setting up a committee to re-examine the bills, a proposal which Granger is yet to respond to.
“The government cannot give a guarantee for the president to assent to bills that are unconstitutional,” Nandlall said while emphasizing that something that is unconstitutional cannot be assented to. The constitution mandates the president to refuse to assent to unconstitutional legislation and it is not something which can be the subject of a political bargain, the AG said.
Nandlall said that the president has committed to setting up a committee comprising both government and opposition members to examine the four bills in order to see how they can be refined to make them constitutionally compliant.
The AG further pointed out that he has also said that if APNU feels that his opinion on the question of the constitutionality of the bills is wrong, they are free to go to the court and get the court’s direction. They have failed to do so, he noted.
The AG said that those are the options that government has given APNU. “They can choose either one or both,” he said while pointing out that Granger is yet to respond to the president on the proposal to set up the committee. Nandlall noted that Ramotar is likely to speak on the matter shortly.
Earliest possible time
Meantime, in relation to the AFC’s position that they would not support the anti-money laundering bill unless the PPC is set up, the AG said that government is willing to publicly commit to have the body set up at the “earliest possible time.” He maintained the government’s position that Cabinet keeps its no-objection to contracts.
Setting up the PPC in a week’s time – by the February 28 deadline for the anti-money laundering legislation to be enacted – is impossible, Nandlall said as he noted that the establishment of such a body is a constitutionally driven one. It begins with names of nominees being submitted to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly, the PAC then has to assess the candidates and put them before the National Assembly, and the House by a two thirds majority will have to approve the constitutional number of candidates who they find acceptable, he noted.
The AFC should know that this cannot be accomplished within a week, the AG said. “They are participating in the process of the PAC and therefore they are not unaware of it yet they continue to make an impossible demand,” he asserted.
“The president has indicated that he is prepared to make a public statement giving his commitment to the establishment of the PPC at the earliest possible time having regard to the constitutional procedures which are required to be observed,” Nandlall said while adding that the Prime Minister would also make a statement to that effect in the National Assembly. “I am unclear what else government can do to demonstrate its bona fides and commitment in these circumstances,” he said. The formation of the PPC has been stalled for 11 years.
On Friday, CFATF adviser Roger Hernandez expressed concern about amendments to anti-laundering legislation proposed by APNU and has also said that once passed, Guyana will have to implement those laws before it could be removed from a regional blacklist. Hernandez was here to brief the parliamentary committee examining the stalled AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill.
As proposed now, the bill itself without any additional amendments is compliant with the recommendations that were made concerning Guyana meeting the AML/CFT standards, he had said. Without naming APNU, he had said that there are certain concerns arising out of some of the proposed amendments.
Hernandez said there are “two perils” going forward with the proposed amendments. “Some of the amendments that have been put forward deal with previous areas of the Act that were deemed compliant. The concern that we have is that the amendments being put forward may make those areas that were formerly compliant, non-compliant. There is a risk with that,” he said.
Additionally, there were some amendments that are outside the remit of the recommendations made by CFATF that deal with measures not mentioned in the recommendations, the official added. CFATF has no opinion on those things because they only deal specifically with the recommendations. It is up to the legislature to decide about those particular measures, he said. “Our only concern, we made a comment about some of those recommendations with regard to the effectiveness, whether they would be able to be implemented and how it might affect the whole system,” he added.