In the absence of opposition members, government representatives on Tuesday concluded the select committee work on the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Amendment Bill, which is to be re-tabled in the National Assembly once its preparation is completed.
With this move the government has set up a likely showdown with the opposition, which maintains that the bill remains inadequate to fulfill its intended purpose.
PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira, who chairs the committee, said that on Tuesday the committee went ahead and went through the bill, the proposed amendments, as well as the Draft Report on the meetings’ proceedings. The report was adopted by the present committee members. The bill will eventually be brought back to the National Assembly and Teixeira was not optimistic that it would find favour with the combined opposition.
In the off chance that either or both APNU and the AFC opt to vote with the government for the passage of the bill, Guyana will be able to report some progress to an upcoming Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) review next month, thereby holding off a possible call for sanctions, government has said.
The decision to finish the committee work of the committee, says Teixeira, was taken after the members who were present on Tuesday – all from the government’s side – determined that further deliberations were not required.
As for the opposition’s absence, Teixeira said that she gave APNU and the AFC representatives an opportunity to respond to suggestions for an alternative date after Monday’s meeting was cancelled, but received no definitive response, and therefore, considering the pressing nature of the bill, decided to move ahead with the meeting on Tuesday.
However, issues regarding the determination of meetings date back to last Monday, when the committee met for the first time since the National Assembly came out of recess. After the meeting last Monday, suggestions were made by government members to the committee to have another meeting either Thursday or Friday.
Finance Minister Ashni Singh, who also sits on the committee, had said that these options were turned down by the opposition. APNU MP and committee member Joseph Harmon had told Stabroek News that his representatives, because of other commitments, could not meet these days.
A decision was therefore taken to hold the next meeting this past Monday, but this meeting was postponed after key APNU representatives, Harmon and Deborah Backer, were asked to attend a meeting at the Office of the President (OP) concerning the Venezuela/Guyana border maritime issue.
After Monday’s meeting was cancelled, very few options were left as alternative days to meet. The opposition, Teixeira said, had suggested Monday October 28, but with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association of Clerks meetings scheduled for next week, this was impossible. Thursday and Friday were also out she said, which left Tuesday and Wednesday as the only alternatives.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, APNU MP Basil Williams, who also sits on the committee, said that both he and Backer had suggested Wednesday as the next day to meet, while Teixeira had suggested Tuesday. Teixeira, he said, was supposed to confirm the date with the Backer, but he said that she never did.
Teixeira, on the other hand, said that she went ahead and held the meeting Tuesday afternoon after the opposition members failed to confirm when they wanted to meet. Williams, she said, indicated that he would not be able to meet on Tuesday because he would be tasked with the budget appeal case currently ongoing.
Williams told Stabroek News that he told Teixeira that a Tuesday meeting was out of the question since the APNU holds its weekly Shadow Cabinet on that day, although she denied that this was mentioned to her.
“He never raised the matter of Shadow Cabinet,” Teixeira said yesterday but argued that government also has its Cabinet on Tuesday and she said that this reality did not stop their members from attending the meeting.
It should be noted though, that the meeting on Tuesday was scheduled for 5 pm, and that the government’s cabinet meeting convenes in the morning hours while the opposition’s shadow cabinet convenes in the late afternoon hours.
The government has been pressing the combined opposition for several months now to pass the amendment bill but for their individual reasons they have refused to give their support, or at least the kind of support being sought after by government. As a result, Guyana missed a deadline for passing the legislation in May and also missed an opportunity in August to report that the legislation had been passed. Barring another extension, November would be Guyana’s last chance to be found sufficiently compliant before CFATF calls for members to consider sanctions.
Meanwhile, speaking at a press conference yesterday, AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan told reporters that his party’s position on the bill has not changed and it would act accordingly whenever the matter comes to the National Assembly.
The AFC has declared that while it would continue to support the work of the Select Committee, it would not support the passage of the bill unless government moves to set up the Public Procurement Commission (PPC). Nevertheless, Ramjattan said that the committee has been resolved prematurely, since many of the amendments that needed to be made have not been made.
“The bill, as it is, is incomplete,” Ramjattan told reporters, while noting that even if it were completed the AFC would not shift on its position.