President floats possibility of early general elections if anti-laundering sanctions hit hard

President Donald Ramotar yesterday floated the possibility of early general elections if sanctions against Guyana for its failure to pass anti-money laundering legislation hit hard, even as he took a hard line against giving concessions in the legislative process.

“It’s not that we don’t want local government elections but…there is a certain level of uncertainty. I don’t know what will happen if the impact of this anti-money laundering bill hits home very, very hard on our economy and whether we might have to go back and have another mandate,” he said, responding to a question from Stabroek News during a news conference at State House yesterday.

“This is something I don’t want. I would prefer to go to the local government elections, but I can’t shut my eyes to the political reality that exists and make a bland promise that I will go to local government elections tomorrow as I would have done [if] we had the majority in the parliament at this point in time. And we would not have been in the position that we are in today,” he said. He has not put a timeline to what point when the sanctions hit, the elections could be called, he said.

Earlier, the president had stressed that the stalled Anti-Money Laundering/ Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill, is the most important issue facing Guyana.

The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) last month called for countries in the region to step up countermeasures against Guyana over its failure to update its anti-money laundering legislation. CFATF has also referred Guyana to the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is scheduled to hold its next Plenary in Paris, France later this month.

CFATF’s call comes in the light of the failure of the country to meet repeated deadlines for the passage of the bill, which is expected to make the country compliant with international anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism standards. The bill remains in the custody of a parliamentary select committee, while government and the opposition APNU and the AFC are deadlocked over conditions for its passage. While the government has demanded the unconditional passage of the bill, APNU and the AFC are seeking the enactment of bills passed by the National Assembly but vetoed by the President as well as the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission.

The President met Opposition Leader David Granger last week and said that they agreed to try to continue to pursue trying to pass the Bill before FATF meets. “That is what we are trying to work on and we have set some processes in motion,” he said declining to elaborate as he said that he does not want the media to be “hounding” some of the people when they still have to meet. Ramotar said they agreed that they will do their best and work hard to try to get agreement as early as possible.

Over the months that they have been wrangling over the Bill, the government and opposition have not been able to reach a compromise. Questioned on the “politics of no” he had alluded to in his Independence Day address and whether there were any concessions that the government could make in relation to the AML/CFT Bill, a visibly agitated Ramotar lashed out: “Why do we need quid pro quo for a Bill like this?” as he thumped the lectern.

“I said publicly before, right, that there is a danger that we are having in this society by introducing that kind of politics to us,” he said. “What it will introduce would hurt poor people even more. It creates lobbying, creates heavy lobbying to our politics and who will be able to lobby but those who have deep pockets?” he said.

“Looking down the road what do we see can happen? That parliamentarians could be bought? That political parties could be, in fact some of it I am even concerned now to think about it. Only someone who is mad or has another agenda will oppose a specialty hospital when you [have] cancer killing so many people in our society, heart disease and so forth killing…people …why should a political party not want us to have a specialty hospital…. Are they defending any vested interest? What other conclusion can I come to?

“This is the danger I’m afraid of. Of introducing into our politics, a new culture… that can… probably satisfy a problem now but looking down the road, it’s a moral dilemma in a way. I’m not saying that I will not do it but I’m just telling you that I have a moral issue sometimes with some of these problems coming up because of what it could mean. It could mean an undermining of your democracy in a way.”

He said the “politics of no” is not only restricted to that Bill and listed the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project and the airport expansion project which the opposition have voted against due to accountability concerns. “That is the politics of no that I’m talking about and I don’t think you can accuse us of that. Desperately, as much as you try, you can’t accuse us of that,” he said.

Earlier in the news conference, the President emphasized that the Bill is extremely important and it calls for patriotism and love of people and country to avoid the worst form of sanctions. “I am even advised that even if we pass the Bill today that it will not be automatic that everything will be ok… there are still some hoops that we might have to go through on this,” he said even as he appealed for patriotism to ensure the passage of the Bill.

According to the President, when the PPP was in the opposition, the party supported every Bill without conditions when it thought there was a national basis for this. He said many of the linkages that the opposition put out do not exist and said that even Granger had said so last year. “This is a Bill that calls for patriotism, it doesn’t call for any kind of linkages and we should pass this Bill as early as possible so that we can minimise the length of time that Guyana will be hurting as a result of this,” Ramotar said.

He noted too that the CFATF had said that had the Bill been passed, Guyana would have been more than 90% in compliance. This means that on the non-legislative side, the country has gone a far way and government is still working to conclude all of the commitments on the non-parliamentary issues, Ramotar said. He said that quite a lot has been done in setting up the required institutions and an enforcement arm will be established very soon.

The President said government has constantly tried to engage different bodies and hoped to get all of the non-legislative issues within its control completed as quickly as possible and hopefully, this can have some influence on some of the measures that can be taken against the country and ease some of the pressure. However, there is no guarantee of this, he added.

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