CFATF head fails to move opposition on anti-laundering bill

-APNU floats Caricom mediation to break impasse

A team from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) yesterday warned of harsh consequences should Guyana fail to pass anti-money laundering legislation before a May 29 conference but failed to sway the opposition, which maintained that the “crisis” requires a political solution.

The team led by Chairperson of the CFATF Allyson Maynard-Gibson and which included Executive Director of the CFATF Calvin Wilson, met with government, opposition parties APNU and AFC as well as the Private Sector Commission yesterday. Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Irwin LaRocque also accompanied the team to the meetings.

Both government and the opposition yesterday reported that the CFATF team warned of harsh consequences should Guyana failed to pass the long-stalled Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill. The CFATF team declined to speak to reporters when approached yesterday.

Attorney-General Anil Nandlall told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that Maynard-Gibson indicated that Guyana is the only country yet to implement all of the body’s recommendations. “She made it very clear that the consequences are going to be devastating,” Nandlall was quoted as saying. GINA reported him as stating that government members reported their concerns to the team.

Meanwhile, at a press briefing following a two-hour meeting with the CFATF team, APNU’s Basil Williams told reporters that Guyana comes up for review by CFATF on May 29 and the team “indicated to us the perils that are associated with being blacklisted and the picture that they painted seems to be very draconian and we were assured that they have advised the government equally of those perils and we trust that the government would understand how important it is.” He said that the coalition trusts that good sense would prevail and government would see the light of day and agree to the conditions set out by the opposition.

APNU and AFC have made their support for the amendment bill conditional, with APNU asking for presidential assent to be given to legislation that was passed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly, among other things and the AFC seeking the setting up of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

Both parties yesterday indicated that their positions had not changed. Williams said that APNU “haven’t had any cause” to retire from any position that the coalition has had while AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News that the party is sticking to its roadmap for the setting up of the PPC. Government has a “credibility deficit” when it comes to implementing laws, he said, adding that they want the legislation to be implemented.

In terms of the legislation being passed by May 29, APNU’s spokesman on finance Carl Greenidge said that it was “possible but not likely” and Ramjattan said that it can happen but government has to change its position in being intransigent as it relates to what the opposition is asking for.

‘A political solution’

APNU further reiterated that the “crisis” needs a political solution and suggested that Caricom could be a mediator. “…at a certain stage, faced with Guyana going over the cliff, Caricom found it necessary to intervene and our argument is that until we resolve what is essentially the political crisis we have around the money laundering bill and all of the other issues that we have as it were attached to the Bill that these required a political solution and we are available to work at that,” APNU’s chairman Rupert Roopnaraine said.

Asked whether Caricom could serve as a mediator, Williams said that the proposal was floated. “There was no intervention whatsoever on the part of the Caricom Secretary General. He accompanied the CFATF team and he had a listening brief. He didn’t have to respond to anything. We did put that proposal out that he could be a mediator but there was no response of course in the circumstance,” he said.

Greenidge said that the opposition tried to be candid with the teams and recounted that they emphasised that they were not simply confronted by technical issues. He said that they explained the context in which the negotiations have been taking place, the problems, and their concern to ensure that the “precipice” was avoided and that in this governance framework, it require action by both sides. “It’s not a question of the opposition failing to approve the bill. The bill has to meet the requirements of the majority as well and that they understand that and to the extent that Caricom feels that it would be affected and we share that assessment that they would be adversely affected by a blacklisting then they should recognise that they also have to do something both to understand the current situation and to facilitate a movement from the precipice,” he said.

Williams had earlier noted that the CFATF delegation conveyed the importance that CFATF and the region attaches to the passage of the relevant legislation in order for Guyana not to be blacklisted. “They felt it was of the highest importance that Guyana averted being blacklisted,” he said.

Roopnaraine said that Maynard-Gibson related that the CFATF was available to the parliamentary committee examining the legislation and to Guyana in relation to assistance on technical matters. She maintained that their intervention could not go beyond the technical, he said. “The fact of the matter is we are confronted in Guyana with more than technical problems. In fact we went so far as to say that the technical issues that were preventing the passage of the bill were eminently solvable, they were not gross problems, they were problems that could be resolved but that in essence we have a political crisis and it requires a political solution,” Roopnaraine said. While that was not her mandate, they were happy that the Caricom SG was there because the body is not unfamiliar with Guyana’s political environment, he said, recalling the body’s intervention which resulted in the Herdmanston Accord.

APNU executive Joseph Harmon also underscored that it was important that the Caricom SG was there and therefore understood that “it seemed that a political solution will have to be found to this matter and it is not just a technical matter.”

Work will continue at the level of the committee and also at a broader level as the governance issue has to be dealt with outside the committee. Williams said that there is need for an engagement with the government in order to resolve the conditionalities that they want.

While the possibility of the legislation being passed by May 29 is slim, CFATF has indicated that if the legislation was passed by that date, that they couldn’t turn a blind eye to that and it would be factored in, Williams said. The ball is now in the government’s court, he added.

At the CFATF’s 39th Plenary next month, Guyana could potentially face a call for stronger sanctions in light of its failure to pass the needed legislation in keeping with recommendations by the regional body. Guyana has already been placed on a list of non-compliant countries after it failed to pass the bill last November.

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