Guyana yesterday missed the deadline to submit documents on anti-money laundering legislation to the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the private sector is concerned about the ramifications.
Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall, speaking on the issue in June, had said that August 26th was the date given by CFATF as the deadline for the submission of documents necessary to qualify Guyana for a review which is to take place in November.
The November review was decided on by CFATF after it found that Guyana had failed to take sufficient steps to address its concerns by the original May 27th deadline.
Similar to efforts in the weeks and months preceding the May 27th deadline, government pressed the opposition parties to have the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill sent back to the National Assembly and passed before August 26th, but a successful vote by the parties earlier this month to adjourn the work of the Select Committee until October killed any such hopes.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has said that it was bent on giving the people of Guyana “a law that they can live with,” while the Alliance For Change (AFC) has maintained that it will not support the bill until the government properly sets up the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
Nandlall, when contacted yesterday to comment on the development, told this reporter that he was on his way to Guyana and would convene a press engagement on the matter once he arrives. However, this news publication was not invited to any such engagement and the AG failed to immediately respond to numerous attempts to contact him later in the evening.
However, the Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ronald Webster and President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) , Clinton Urling yesterday voiced their concerns.
Urling said that both the government and the opposition parties need to create an atmosphere conducive to the progress of work on the bill. Asked if he was concerned that Guyana had missed the deadline, Urling responded in the affirmative, but added that meeting the deadline would mean nothing if institutions to enforce the bill’s provisions were not created.
“The institutions will give the laws teeth, and prevent money laundering from occurring,” Urling told Stabroek News.
He asserted that even if Guyana submits the required documentation, “the country can still face penalties if enough emphasis is not placed on setting up enforcement institutions.” As such, he said, both aspects need to be addressed.
Webster too argued that the legislation needs to have “teeth,” in addition to being passed. He was also of the opinion that this matter should have been treated as a priority and dealt with already.
As a result of the inadequacy of Guyana’s laws, several members of the private sector are already being pressured by external banking systems which are seeking to verify the source of monies being used to conduct transactions, Webster revealed, and added that a sound AML/CFT legislation would serve to raise the confidence of external bankers etc.
Outlining additional challenges Guyana can face if it fails to satisfy the requirements of CFATF, Chartered Accountant and Analyst Christopher Ram on Monday shared that external banks may very well terminate relationships with local correspondents. Furthermore, he said that the systems through which remittances are sent may also be affected.
This is especially troubling since remittances make up a significant percentage of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product. Ram suggests though, that Guyana can evade such implications if recommendations made are heeded.
One of the stakeholders invited to make recommendations before the Select Committee on the AML/CFT, Ram said he suggested that the Bank of Guyana or another independent authority be made the agency responsible for overseeing these matters. This, he said, should not be an issue because the Bank is already tasked with ensuring the integrity of the country’s currency.
Asked if the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) headed by Paul Geer was not capable of carrying out those responsibilities, Ram was of the opinion that “there has been a loss of confidence in the unit and Geer,” and said, “I would not take that Unit seriously.”
The opposition parties have also criticized the FIU and Geer, arguing that he has failed to produce a single document since the Unit was established several years ago.
APNU MP Joseph Harmon in particular had also said that the party wanted to address the lack of adequate staffing for the FIU, as well as amend the way in which its head is appointed. Harmon argued that the head of the Unit ought to be independent and impartial, lest he/she feel the need to act in a patrician nature.
Ram has also urged government to bring in Sherene Baily, Director of Trinidad’s AML/CFT Unit, to give assistance. Bailey was instrumental in drawing up the plan which enabled Trinidad and Tobago, once a victim of CFATF sanctions, to meet the necessary requirements, and Ram is convinced that she will be able to assist Guyana.
He maintained that taking this step would do much to prevent Guyana from suffering the problems described by Webster.
Nandlall had said that the August 26th deadline was indicated by CFATF after opposition members of the Special Select Committee charged with considering the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill, dispatched a letter to the body requesting the actual deadline for the submission of the bill as passed by parliament. “We received a reply that indicated to us that August the 26th is actually the deadline that we have to submit the amendment passed into law to the CFATF to have it considered at the November plenary,” Nandlall had said.
The government has also been criticized for not acting several years earlier on the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill. There had been numerous warnings from the CFATF and missed deadlines.