Anti-money laundering law stalemate
Attorney General Anil Nandlall says that Cabinet will have to finally decide on opposition conditions for passage of the anti-laundering bill but he won’t recommend that the President assent to several rejected bills as is being sought by APNU and the AFC.
With a month to go before Guyana is likely to face more rigorous sanctions by the international financial community because of the absence of an upgraded Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) law, Nandlall yesterday said he could not in all good conscience recommend that the President accede to the opposition’s demand on the bills.
Battle lines were sharpened over the weekend after a high-level team from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) heard from the opposition that it was not backing away from its demands for further amendments to the AML/CFT law to make it more effective and to tie the passage of the amendments to a clutch of bills which were passed with the opposition majority but not assented to by the President.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Joseph Harmon, when asked yesterday if the coalition would alter its position in light of the grim picture painted on Saturday by the CFATF officials, offered Stabroek News a simple yet resounding “no.”
Asked the same question, Nandlall, in whose name the AML/CFT bill was brought,” told this newspaper yesterday that while the decision was ultimately one for Cabinet to make he cannot, in good faith advise government to give into the opposition’s demands.
Last week Presidential Advisor Gail Teixeira, who chairs the committee tasked with considering the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill, announced that officials from the CFATF would be visiting the country on April 26th to meet with stakeholders ahead of the regional body’s next plenary on May 29th.
The team was led by Chairperson of the CFATF, Allyson Maynard-Gibson and included Executive Director of the CFATF Calvin Wilson. Secretary-General of Caricom Irwin LaRocque also accompanied the team as it met with government, the Alliance for Change (AFC), APNU, and the Private Sector Commission.
Among the matters discussed were the consequences that will follow Guyana’s failure, again, to pass the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill. While the CFATF team declined to speak to reporters on its meeting with stakeholders, several members of the government and opposition relayed statements made.
Nandlall, according to the Government Information Agency (GINA), said that Maynard-Gibson “made it very clear that the consequences are going to be devastating,” while APNU MP Basil Williams told a press conference that the team “indicated to us the perils that are associated with being blacklisted.” He further stated that “the picture that they painted seems to be very draconian and we were assured that they have advised government equally of those perils and we trust that government would understand how important it is.”
On Saturday, AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan told reporters that the party still requires a framework for the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), including the allocation of resources so it can commence pursuing its mandate. The setting up of the PPC is also another demand of the opposition for the passage of the amended bill.
For its support to pass the amendment bill, APNU requires the president to sign the Former President’s (Benefits and Other Facilities) (Amendment) Bill 2012, the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2012, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2013 and the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2012.
“No,” was Harmon’s response when asked if the coalition would amend its position in light of CFATF’s warnings.
Meanwhile, Nandlall charged yesterday that the coalition continues its attempt to blackmail government. He further stated that while having the bill passed is of the utmost importance, he cannot, in good faith, advise government to assent to bills which he said try to deny the executive of its constitutionally attributed powers, and which are in violation of the constitution.
Meantime, the select committee on the AML/CFT bill will meet this week to continue the consideration of the amendments proposed by the opposition parties, amendments which Nandlall says the CFATF officials have voiced their disapproval of.
Though this was not part of his initial statement on Saturday, Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday that the team expressed the preliminary opinion that the opposition’s amendments would not meet with the acceptance of the CFATF. He said that the officials did not view with favour the proposal to place the power to appoint the membership of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in the hands of the National Assembly as opposed to the hands of the Finance Minister. He said the officials told government members that the opposition’s proposed model of oversight is not in keeping with models set out by the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations.
“The model put forward by the opposition is absolutely repugnant to the prescriptions of the WB and the UN Security Council and therefore will not meet the international standards,” Nandlall stated.
Nandlall said he believes this message was also communicated to the opposition parties, hence their decision to play up the unassented bills as a prerequisite for their support of the AML/CFT (Amendment), and not their proposed amendments.
Harmon however, told Stabroek News that no such information was communicated to the opposition parties. He said that the officials who visited on Saturday have not even seen the proposed amendments, and therefore could not have offered the preliminary opinion alluded to by Nandlall. Harmon said that Wilson made reference to documents sent to a CFATF official by government, but Wilson told the coalition that the team had not yet examined the documents. Therefore, Harmon lamented, “It is unfortunate that government has stated that CFATF gave an indication that they have disapproved of the amendments proposed by the opposition”.
The validity of Nandlall’s assertion, Harmon says, is questioned further when one considers that the officials also explained that they will make no reviews of such documents until they are invited by the parties involved to give such.
A similar situation played out last year when CFATF financial advisor Roger Hernandez visited Guyana to meet with government and opposition representatives ahead of the November deadline. On that occasion as well, government members said that Hernandez stated that the opposition’s proposed amendments would render the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill non-compliant. On this occasion too, the opposition parties said no such statement was offered.
Stemming from these experiences Harmon said APNU has established its own line of communication with CFATF. This way, he shared, the opposition parties will be kept in the loop on the position of the regional regulator. He said CFATF offered to provide technical assistance to the committee following the opposition’s decision to establish its own line of communication.
Meanwhile, neither side gave any substantial responses to the possibility of mediation by Caricom on the bill although Nandlall said this too would be a matter Cabinet would need to decide on.