Government yesterday granted the main opposition a one-day postponement of a planned meeting of the parliamentary committee handling the reform of the anti-money laundering laws, accusing it of showing scant interest in concluding the work as calls grow for the passage of the amendments before of a crucial country review next month.
Presidential adviser Gail Teixeira, who is Chairperson of the Special Select Committee responsible for the amendment bill, announced last evening that she had granted a 24-hour postponement to APNU, as opposed to a one-week delay suggested by the coalition.
“The completion of the work of this committee is critical to the economic and social well-being of Guyana and its citizens. The opposition members, cognizant of the deadlines which have been passed in May and August, 2013, cannot claim to be unaware of the absolute necessity to return this bill to the House for debate by early November and the consequences to Guyana if this deadline is again missed,” Teixeira said in a statement. “I expect that the gravity of the situation will compel all members of the [committee] to attend the rescheduled meeting,” she added.
The statement comes as government is pressing for the overhaul of the existing legislation ahead of a November deadline set by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) after Guyana failed to meet its original May deadline. CFATF has threatened to call for sanctions in the event that the recommended changes are not implemented.
In recent days, the Private Sector Commission and the Insurance Association of Guyana (See story on page 19) have warned of the consequences of the failure to pass the amendments and have urged the National Assembly to see to its swift passage.
In her statement, Teixeira referred to the missed deadlines, saying that crucial time was lost when the opposition by majority vote adjourned the Committee meeting to October. “The request for the postponement today again indicates that the opposition seems to have scant interest in concluding and or supporting this bill,” she charged, echoing criticisms voiced days earlier by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh.
Yesterday’s meeting, she noted, was set by members of APNU at the previous meeting on October 14, despite her efforts to reconvene at an earlier date.
However, Teixeira said yesterday morning she was approached by APNU MP and Committee Member Debra Backer, who was due to attend a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition David Granger and therefore sought a postponement.
Backer, she added, also informed her that AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan would probably not attend the committee meeting either and stated that they were thinking of reconvening next Monday.
Teixeira, who said she advised that she would need to consult with the members on the government side on the request for a postponement, noted that she indicated that they would not agree to next week since the committee must meet this week. She said asked for their views on meeting either today or tomorrow and Backer committed to discuss the dates with the opposition members.
She pointed out that the quorum of a parliamentary committee is three members and noted that many meetings were held in the 9th Parliament and also in the current Parliament with either side having less than the requisite numbers.
“The rule of thumb is that the committees’ work must continue,” she observed, while adding that the government members have indicated that they remain convinced that the committee meeting yesterday could have proceeded with the three government members and the other APNU members Basil Williams and Carl Greenidge.
APNU MP Joseph Harmon yesterday sought to justify the coalition’s handling of the amendments, saying its decision to be meticulous should not be taken to mean that it is dragging its feet.
APNU has said that it shall not be moved by deadlines or looming penalties, but will instead work to ensure that Guyana’s financial regulatory infrastructure is one the Guyanese people can live with.
The AFC, meanwhile, has been unwavering in its demand that government should move to constitute the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) before the party gives its support to the passing of the Bill. The AFC has also tied its support for the Bill to government’s re-consideration of two bills which President Donald Ramotar withheld his assent from earlier this year.
In relation to government’s proposals for additional meetings, Harmon, one of APNU’s representatives on the Special Select Committee, said the fact that many opposition members are part-time parliamentarians makes the proposition difficult. Unfortunately, he said, the opposition members have other things do on any given day. There have also been instances, he said, where government committee members have not attended some meetings because they were otherwise engaged.
This is why, he explained, the meeting days are determined after every meeting.
This is done so as to ensure that every committee member is in agreement with a proposed meeting date.
Despite the inability of the opposition members to meet as frequently as government would like though, Harmon gave assurances that APNU is working “feverishly” towards the completion of a “strong” piece of legislation.
APNU has called for a stronger Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). During a press conference last week APNU Leader David Granger explained that the coalition wanted to see the FIU fully staffed and empowered to carry out its responsibilities.
APNU wants the FIU to have a full staff compliment and wants the body to start submitting regular reports in keeping with its mandate, Granger told reporters at a press conference last week.
APNU as well as the AFC also want to see impartial operatives employed by the FIU, and want the body to be able to function independently. But, aside from this particular recommendation, APNU has not revealed any other detailed changes it would like to see.
Instead, Granger has said that recommendations for amendments will be made as stakeholders in the area of finance are invited to make recommendations to the committee. If these recommendations are in keeping with APNU’s position, Harmon said yesterday, they will be championed by the coalition for implementation as amendments to the Bill.
He added, however, that there are other pieces of legislation, apart from the anti-money laundering law that will have to be altered before the “strong” legislation the party is looking to create is realised. He said that the CFATF has made recommendations for changes to be made to Guyana’s Insurance Act, the Companies Act, the Foreign Exchange (Miscel-laneous Provisions) Act, and several others which regulate financial transactions.
CFATF, he said, has advised that the oversight bodies in the various areas be given the mandate to seek out and report suspicious financial activity. Time must be taken to address this matter in particular, since to rush the process might mean leaving these laws in disarray.