Time’s up for anti-laundering bill

-Guyana to miss latest deadline

Guyana will miss another deadline for the updating of its anti-money laundering legislation after the Chief Parliamentary Counsel Cecil Dhurjon was unable to complete drafting APNU’s amendments in time for them to be presented with the completed bill for yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly.

Though the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) is scheduled to hold its next Plenary in May, it requires Guyana to submit documents on any and all progress towards becoming more compliant with its requirements, which would include the passage of the stalled

Khemraj Ramjattan
Khemraj Ramjattan

amendment bill. As part of its submissions today, government was hoping to inform CFATF that the bill has been passed in order to avoid a call for stronger action to be taken against the country.

The Special Select Committee on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amend-ment) Bill met yesterday morning at 11am, following a meeting on Wednesday  night, during which time the government was hoping to complete the committee’s work and send the amendment bill back to the House to be passed.

Members of the ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), along with those from opposition groups A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) were hoping that the amendments proposed by APNU would have been fully drafted by the end of Wednesday evening’s meeting. (The AFC did, however, yesterday report that despite the lack of progress on the amendment bill, the government during a meeting on Wednesday promised to identify its nominees for the long delayed Public Procurement Commission, which the party has been lobbying for as a prerequisite for its support on the anti-laundering legislation.)

Dhurjon explained that what was required of him could not have been completed by the end of Wednesday and a decision was taken to recommence work yesterday in the hope of finishing work on the opposition’s amendments so that they as well as the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill could be sent back to the House in time for yesterday’s sitting.

However, a letter seen by Stabroek News and sent from Dhurjon to the committee members during yesterday’s committee meeting scuttled all such hopes.

In his letter, Dhurjon said, “We have been working on the above bill for the last ninety minutes. Judging from what we have accomplished under no circumstances can we meet the deadline which I wrongly gave to the honourable members of the committee.”

Responding to the developments, PPP/C Chief Whip and Chairperson of the committee Gail Teixeira reiterated her frustrations. She made reference to the position communicated by Dhurjon, arguing that the lateness of the submission, coupled with the ambiguous nature of the amendments continue to stymie the bill.

Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Anil Nandlall also flayed the opposition, blaming APNU and the AFC for Guyana’s inability to make the deadline and any fallout. Both government officials also noted that whenever Dhurjon completes his task, the committee is still required to deliberate on the amendments.

Anil Nandlall
Anil Nandlall

In his letter, Dhurjon requested additional time to complete the work but he did not specify how much time would be required. The committee is slated to meet again next Wednesday to continue deliberations.

The members of the opposition, particularly those from the AFC, are confident that both the government’s amendments and those of the opposition can be concluded by Wednesday, for passage during the National Assembly’s next sitting, providing that the government demonstrates its willingness to compromise.

 

‘If the heavens fall’

 

During a press conference yesterday afternoon at Parlia-ment, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that he is now waiting to “see if the heavens fall” as a result of the non-passage of the bill by or before the February 28th deadline. The AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill was introduced to the House by the Finance Minister Ashni Singh last April, and during the government’s nearly one-year bid to get the bill passed before several set and revised deadlines, various government ministers have warned that seriously negative implications loom.

Ramjattan, though, says that negative implications will only interfere seriously with the businesses or operations of those who generate their funds via illicit routes. He added that people who generate money using legal methods will see no impediments to their progress, barring the probability of increased paperwork, and longer transactional timeframes.

Nevertheless, he said that the AFC is willing to help get the Bill passed in time for the next sitting, if the government is willing to be reasonable about the AFC’s demands, and those of APNU. Since the introduction of the amendment bill, the party has maintained that it will not support the proposed legislation unless the government moves to set up the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

The government, on the other hand, has said that it will only move to set up the commission if it is allowed to keep its no-objection powers in the procurement process.

Guyana’s laws stipulate that once the PPC is set up, the government will gradually lose those powers. An amendment intended to ensure government retains its no objection has been tabled by the National Assembly, but up until recently, both opposition parties have maintained that it will not support the amendment.

The AFC has announced its willingness to compromise on its demands, relating to the PPC. AFC General Secretary David Patterson told this newspaper yesterday that he personally handed Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall a document outlining his party’s amended position.

Instead of demanding that the government lose all no-objection powers in the procurement process, the AFC is now suggesting that government and other stakeholders have the right to raise objections. Additionally, objections would have to be made within 21 days. This is a testament of the AFC’s ability and willingness to compromise, says Patterson—a sentiment echoed by Ramjattan during the press conference yesterday.

However, during a meeting between government and the AFC yesterday, Patterson said that government members denied knowledge of the party’s amended position. The only person, he continued, who admitted to having knowledge of the proposed compromise was the Legal Affairs Minister. This, however, did not prevent the discussion of the amendments, and Patterson said that several government members expressed interest in the party’s revised demands.

According to Ramjattan, a meeting between government and the opposition political parties on Wednesday ended with a promise that the PPP/C would name its nominees for the PPC, so that the process to set up the commission can move forward. However, the PPP/C had not yet nominated any candidates up to yesterday, which diluted the AFC’s optimism that progress on the matter is imminent.

It should be noted that both APNU and the AFC have made their nominations, but the process cannot continue without the PPP/C’s nominations. In the meantime, a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is working on other aspects of the process.

 

‘Win-win-win situation’

 

The AFC has also expressed its support for APNU demands, particularly the coalition’s demand to have the president give his assent to several bills, from which he has withheld assent on the basis of their “unconstitutionality.” Ramjattan also said that he believes that the amendments proposed by APNU will only serve to strengthen the existing legislation, and revealed that the party has asked the government to be reasonable in the consideration of the amendments.

Ramjattan said that while the government has given some commitment to setting up the PPC, the names nominated to the committee will eventually need to be approved by two thirds of the National Assembly, a feat that cannot and will not be accomplished without the support of the two major parties.

He said that it was this very realisation which, in part, prompted the re-evaluation of the party’s position on the setting up of the PPC. Ramjattan says that the government needs to now accept the AFC’s compromise.

To do this would constitute a compromise for the government as well since it would be forgoing the exclusive right to no-objection powers. Government, if it accepts the AFC’s proposal, will also be agreeing to a deadline by which it, and any other stakeholder, is able to make objections in the tendering process.

Ramjattan also said that government needs to support APNU’s proposed amendments, as well as its call for the President to give his assent to previously refused bills.

He said that such give and take is imperative, and expressed confidence that adopting this posture will lead to the successful passage of the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill, the setting up of the PPC, and will see effect being given to several additional pieces of legislation via the president’s assent.

He said that taking such actions would produce a “win-win-win” situation, where all three parties would have to give up something, but would have also gained something in the process.

But to allow the implementation of some of the opposition’s amendments might reduce the level to which the AML/CFT (Amendment) is seen as compliant by CFATF. Last Friday, CFATF Financial Advisor Robert Hernandez, following a meeting with the AML/CFT committee, told reporters that amendments brought by the opposition could pose problems and this message was reiterated by the president on Wednesday.

Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday though, APNU MP and representative to the select     committee on the AML/CFT    Bill Basil Williams said that Hernandez never communicated that position to APNU.

Meanwhile, Ramjattan said that such an issue is easily solvable.

He said that once the drafting of the opposition’s amendments is complete and stitched into the existing amendment bill, the document can be sent off to Hernandez who can then say whether or not the proposed legislation meets, or falls short of the compliance model before the bill is sent back to the house.

 

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