By Jeff Trotman
Opposition Leader, David Granger, has accused the PPP/C administration of lacking the political will to implement strong recommendations for the contentious Anti Money Laundering and Counter-ing the Financing of Ter-rorism (AML/CFT) bill.
He made the accusation at an APNU town hall meeting at the Egbert Benjamin Interpretation Centre, Linden, on Wednesday. Referring to a series of similar town hall meetings that were held across the country by representatives of the government, the leader of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said: “They run all around this country hysterically, trying to criticize the opposition, trying to criticize APNU. But we are the only people, who have been fighting for a strong, enforceable money laundering Act.”
The APNU leader was accompanied by Carl Greenidge, shadow Finance Minister, Joseph Harmon and APNU Chairman, Basil Williams, who all spoke at the meeting, which was chaired by Renis Morian, MP for Region Ten.
The APNU leader told the audience of almost 250 people that the meeting was called for the Region Ten residents to understand what money laundering is all about. He pointed out that Greenidge, Harmon and Williams, are members of the Special Parliamen-tary Select Committee, which is working on preparing amendments to the AML/CFT bill.
Stressing that “money laundering is not for little shots, it’s for big shots,” the APNU leader highlighted that money laundering is a process by which dirty money is cleaned up just like how a housewife launders dirty clothes. He said such dirty money is garnered from smuggling, narco trafficking, gambling, tax evasion, road cambios and smuggling fuel. He said sometimes people have so much illicit money, they don’t know what to do with it. “So, they keep building five- storey buildings. They keep buying up lands over and over. They get more and more properties … and it is cleaned up through the banking system … through pretending to go into legitimate enterprises.”
He said the problem with money laundering is that it distorts the economy. “So, if you are manufacturing beer and a smuggler is bringing in beer from Venezuela and you are selling your beer for a hundred dollars a bottle and he’s selling for fifty dollars a bottle soon you’ll be out of the beer business.” Noting that it is a frequent occurrence, Granger said a few people get fantastically rich because they’re involved in illicit activities and they launder their money while honest businessmen and poor people suffer because manufacturing starts to dry up and the economy is distorted.
PPP/C not serious
Granger said the PPP/C administration raised the money laundering issue sixteen years ago under the late President Janet Jagan, which was followed up by her successor, Bharrat Jagdeo. He said the first anti money laundering Act was passed in 2000 but it had deficiencies and it was criticized by the Americans.
Noting that the PPP/C government claimed to advance the process in 2009 by legislating the AML/CFT Act, Granger said the government came in for criticism in May 2011 by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) even before APNU was formed.
Granger emphasized that CFATF had criticized the Act for ineffectiveness in strategic areas and gave the Guyana government “up to November 2013 to put themselves in order”. That is what this hysteria is about, he stressed, adding that Ashni Singh, the present Minister of Finance, spent a year from 2007 to 2008 in a Special Select Committee and another year from 2008 to 2009 before the bill was passed.
“As far as I am concerned, we should not agree with this legislation until … the government does the things it’s supposed to do,” Greenidge told the meeting.
He said although APNU agrees that legislation needs to be completed to meet the CFATF deadline, the opposition is calling on the President to sign the opposition-piloted bills that have been passed in Parliament before the opposition passes the AML/CFT bill. Addition-ally, the bill must include governance safeguards.
Greenidge stressed that if there is a President, who is more powerful than the legislature, the freedom and liberty of citizens are at stake.
In highlighting the importance of the preservation of civil rights, Greenidge said “people have died … all over in this country for rights that, I think, many of us and especially the young forget. You don’t born with rights. You have to fight for them and even in this country, especially in our community we have guides to those rights. We have no right to sit down and allow a stupid government to hoodwink us into passing legislation that is damaging to us.”
He said the position of the APNU is quite simple: “We want to ensure that when the legislation is passed, the scope of the PPP to do whatever they like is clipped …. You’ll have oversight. You’ll have qualified people looking the institutions that can affect your well-being and welfare.”
He said in Guyana today, money laundering takes place in the movement of large amounts of cash by a variety of means such as the movement of gold and diamonds because they are easy to hide and fuel smuggling. He said a more practical example in Guyana, which causes people to worry at the international level, is when someone collects money overseas from narco sales and cannot bring the money through the ports. That person buys things such as building materials, car parts, even trucks and can subsequently show that income is being legitimately generated.
He said the mafia uses the internet to send small amounts of money from several different sources and locations to an account, which does not show unduly large depo-sits. He, however, stressed that moving money frequently through an account is not necessarily money laundering. “It has to be investigated. You have to examine how the money has been flowing. You have to examine the businesses that are associated with it. How much is accumulated at the end of a process that you can identify. So, it is something that needs attention because the people, who are involved in money laundering, are involved in hiding the generation and movements of money. So, you need to understand that it requires a lot of work.”
“The legislation sets out to do a number of things,” Greenidge explained. “Much of which has to do with tightening the net – ensuring more information is obtained, ensuring that information is exchanged between Guyana and other countries, ensuring that the banks have means to check upon people making large deposits or transferring large amounts of money. It’s a legislation to ensure that the work of the central bank, the Bank of Guyana, and other agencies such as the police can be done in a more coordinated way ….”
Noting that seventeen sections of the law have to be amended, including specifying whether a driver’s licence can be used as an instrument of identification, Greenidge said the legislation also enables the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to coordinate the work of a number of agencies such as the Central Bank, the Police, and the GRA that would be looking at money laundering operations.
Pointing out that those are very powerful state agencies with respect to citizens’ civil rights, which the citizenry must take seriously “because it can affect each and every one of us”, Greenidge said the APNU representatives on the Special Select Parliamentary Committee, have called for mechanisms to be put in place to protect citizens from wanton abuse or misuse of such power before the government and the relevant institutions receive additional powers that would be enshrined in the legislation.