Anti-money laundering bill on ice

-after gov’t, opposition row

In a move described as “unconscionable” by Finance Minister Ashni Singh, the combined APNU/AFC opposition yesterday opted to adjourn to October, the Special Select Committee charged with considering the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment ) Bill.

According to a GINA release, Singh said that the insistence in adjourning the committee’s work until October destroys all chances of the amendments being passed before the Parliamentary recess at the end of this week.

After Guyana failed to meet the initial deadline earlier this year, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) extended the deadline to November but in effect the bill had to be ready by the end of this month. Both Singh, as well as Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall have said that the failure to meet this deadline would result in serious repercussions. The opposition has disputed this.

Singh is reported by GINA as saying that the opposition is well aware that the amendments should be enacted before the recess if Guyana hopes to achieve the deadline. Singh further expressed his bewilderment at the opposition’s decision, especially since he said they have had the opportunity to scrutinise the document during the 15 or so meetings that have been held.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on the other hand, says that the deadlines could have been met if the government was willing to address all their concerns.

When contacted last evening, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News that he returned to the meetings yesterday despite promises not to, after being referred to as a “terrorist” in a GINA release. He said that he had indicated to APNU MP Carl Greenidge,  his party’s desire of bringing a motion that the meeting be deferred until October since several of their suggestions and amendments had not been added to the bill.

In a statement, APNU said that during yesterday’s meeting they “objected to the fact that committee chair, Government Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, attempted “to conclude the work of the committee without giving full consideration to serious issues raised by members of the committee and Guyanese citizens in general.”

Furthermore the party said that as long as the type of governance being demonstrated by government continues, “the non-implementation of the current legislation and the absence of   prosecution” when the laws are violated will continue.

One concern, according to the party, related to the appointment and function of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). The party argued that the Governor of the Bank of Guyana, very early in the life of the committee, advised that  the obligations placed by the
principal act, sections 8, 9(3) (a) and 21(d) should be placed within  the purview of the FIU. This recommendation however, APNU said, has not been satisfactorily dealt with.

APNU also stated that they had their own recommendations as it relates to the Unit’s head, a position which they felt was much too important to be filled by someone picked by the Finance Minister.

The party said that as things stand, the system allows friends of the administration to escape sanctions for which the laws make provisions. They also lamented the fact that under the current system, which the government controls, “previous legislation has not been implemented and the FIU has never produced a report.”

The party also voiced concerns that the government has failed to allow relevant members of the civil society to weigh in on the consideration of the amendments to the bill. In keeping with their position, APNU says it considers the AML/CFT bill as an important piece of legislation and will not be threatened by deadlines into rushing the process.

These were the issues, Ramjattan said, which necessitated the adjournment. He said that Teixeira appealed to the opposition members not to take the position they had adopted, while Singh and PPP/C MP Juan Edghill asked Ramjattan not to link support for the AML/CFT to the setting up of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC)

Ramjattan, nevertheless, said that the lack of will on the part of the government to set up the PPC prompted him to support the APNU’s motion for the deferral. As such, he said, the decision went to a vote, and with only two government committee members present, the combined opposition defeated the government five to two.

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