President Donald Ramotar yesterday accused the opposition of shifting the goalpost on the stalled anti-money laundering bill as he led a “stakeholders” consultation on the contentious legislation in the city.
Leading the line-up of government functionaries present at the Guyana International Convention Centre (GICC) to face the stakeholders gathered, he wasted little time in informing them that the legislation is at the mercy of the APNU-led political opposition. He later ignored queries on whether he was prepared to go to the polls or hold a referendum on the matter.
“The goalpost is being shifted and every effort is being made to prevent this bill from being passed. This is a human disaster that we are facing not a natural disaster and the opposition continues to carry the line that we are creating hysteria in the country,” Ramotar said.
He charged that the opposition’s position on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT) bill has changed considerably, shifting from one thing to another while they engage in “blackmail politics”. In the light of this, he said, the country is now at an important and dangerous juncture.
Critical consensus is absent but according to Ramotar, what is also missing is a patriotic approach, and a willingness from opposition leaders to put the interest of the citizenry first.
His address mirrored similar public speeches on the issue, emphasising that his government is prepared to work with the opposition but that the passage of the legislation depends on whether Opposition Leader David Granger and his side would be reasonable.
Key amendments that APNU wants to the bill have been transformed into legislative language and the select parliamentary committee looking at it is to have another meeting shortly. In the meanwhile several deadlines set by the Caribbean watchdog body have lapsed over the 10 months that this matter has been debated and the government has warned of serious repercussions. The APNU amendments pertain to the manner of the appointment of the anti-money laundering unit and the powers of certain law enforcers in seizing monies in the value of $10m for which no proper account can be given. The opposition is also concerned about adequate enforcement of the amended Act and the passage of the bill is also being linked to the President assenting to several bills passed by the majority opposition and the establishment
Throughout the consultation yesterday, government ministers made the word “reasonable” their mantra, arguing that they have been negotiating all this time with an opposition side that is not only unreasonable but unpatriotic. The legislation, they said, is a question of patriotism because of how important it is to the country.
The government team, which included Attorney General Anil Nandlall, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill used the public forum to stress that the administration has a compliant bill, which has been cleared for passage by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), but that there has been no real movement on it because of the opposition’s foot dragging and delaying tactics.
Singh, during his brief remarks, stressed that the government did not throw out the opposition’s amendments. “We are studying it, but we are saying let us proceed with the CFATF amendments and not place the country in jeopardy.
“We still cannot even get their support on the CFATF recommendations.”
‘This is our life’
Private Sector Commission Chairman Ronald Webster echoed the government’s call for urgent passage of the legislation saying, “This is not a political issue. This is our life. We must pass this bill.”
The implications of non-passage, he said, range from capital flowing out of the country, weakening of the currency and problems with transfers in the country among other serious problems. This, he added, must be avoided at all costs.
He reiterated that the PSC does not support a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) that is politically selected and proposed yesterday that the model in Barbados, which has an oversight body, could be adopted here. But President Ramotar later said that model was cited as one which CFATF is already having some problems with.
“We have a bill at the moment that CFATF has already pronounced on and found it to be compliant and that is the bill we should pass. Any amendment to that has to be within the framework of what CFATF wants,” Ramotar added.
Webster, in referencing the Barbados model, said he liked that the FIU reports to an authority which is chaired by a representative of the University of the West Indies and the deputy chair is drawn from the private sector. Other members of the 11-person commission include the Commissioner of Police, Solicitor General, Controller of Customs, the Supervisor of Insurance, Registrar of Companies, the Central Bank of Barbados and two members of the private sector who have expertise in banking and insurance.
Former PNCR activist Julianna Gaul, later addressed the forum and dismissed Webster’s suggestion about university representation on an oversight body because the University of Guyana’s Council, “looks like a PPP board.”
What are the APNU amendments?
When the consultation shifted from the President’s address to questions from the floor, one particular line emerged from some of the questions: “What exactly are these APNU amendments?”
APNU boycotted the national consultation, linking it to the government’s public relations machinery yet a few citizens stood up and directed questions at them. One man asked: “What are these amendments? Is it necessary to amend the Act? What means are needed to pass this bill?”
There was a particular comment from an Albouystown resident, who described the impasse as an unnecessary distraction that is robbing ordinary citizens of proper national representation across the board.
This observation was echoed through some of the public contributions at the forum; people expressed disappointment in the current political situation and the “back and forth” with the legislation. It was also clear that the issues which are in contention have not been properly communicated to the public.
One of the participants said he blamed both the government and opposition for the impasse but Ramotar rejected this saying the record would show who was delaying passage of the legislation.
However, the opposition and critics have repeatedly pointed out that the PPP/C’s Bharrat Jagdeo administration had several years in which the amendments could have been easily passed particularly since it had a majority in Parliament.
Another question put to the President was this: Where do the parties go from here? He simply responded that the opposition continues to play politics on the issue.
But before the consultation wrapped up, he called on the stakeholders gathered to raise their voice in booming unison and demand that the National Assembly pass the bill.
There were suggestions from the floor for the government to “go back to the polls” and one participant also called for a national referendum to break the gridlock but the President offered no response to either of these. The man who raised the issue of the referendum later returned to the microphone to say that his question was ignored, but again, the President offered no response.
The consultation drew a massive audience spilling outside the main conference hall at the ICC at Liliendaal, separate rooms were added to accommodate the crowd. Students from a city school were also part of the session.