APNU executive Joe Harmon yesterday declared that Guyanese doing legitimate business had nothing to fear from the deadlines set for the passage on the anti-money laundering bill.
His statement came amid a torrent of dire warnings from the government, the various arms of the ruling party and the constituents of the private sector ahead of an upcoming country review by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), the regional body with oversight of this area.
When the National Assembly convenes next Thursday for the first sitting since the end of the parliamentary recess last month, the bill is to be considered once more by the House.
Speaking at an APNU press conference, Harmon also said that opposition MPs will do what they think is important for the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill and would not be dictated to by the CFATF.
Harmon noted that Guyana’s future was not dire as the People’s Progressive Party has made it out to be. Harmon stated that “for the government to say that look all the people [are] going to suffer, I want to say to all of the people…who invest their own money to do business that you are not going to be affected in this way unless your business has to do with drug laundering money.”
Harmon stated that the various deadlines were checks to ensure that Guyana was working to effectively manage how to deal with money laundering. He said, “if you are doing legitimate business, you should not be afraid because you will have to do some additional paperwork,” and that the goal of CFATF was to monitor Guyana’s effectiveness in prosecuting illegalities.
He said that the Mutual Evaluation Reports (MERs) that were first conducted between CFATF and Guyana found that Guyana was not in compliance with over 17 of the recommendations and severely non-compliant in 10 of the key or core recommendations. He said that the government was misleadingly making it seem that if the bill
was passed “everything would
be all good,” although this is not the case.
Harmon stated that Guyana had been in the “grey” area for years since joining the CFATF in 2002. He reiterated that the MERs were concerned with a variety of areas, including the revision of the institutional framework relevant to the anti-money laundering and countering of terrorism laws as well as the capacity and effectiveness of the regulatory and other systems in place.
Harmon noted that the government has not been forthcoming from the onset and as a result while deadlines come and go, all of the relevant information is not necessarily given to the opposition and that the “dribbles of information” that are passed on from the government continue to frustrate the process. He said that the CFATF’s amendments were “designed to support the existing law to focus on identification, record keeping, reporting and training procedures.”
Harmon also stated that “CFATF can dictate what they wish to see in the bill but they cannot dictate to us as parliamentarians in an independent country how we approach legislative work” and that the special select committee had to be allowed to do its work.
Leader of the Opposition and APNU David Granger was adamant yesterday that if the government puts forward the Bill for its final reading when parliament reconvenes next week, it will not be considered in its current state.
Granger stated that the special select committee was arbitrarily shut down at the behest of the government and the committee’s Chairman Gail Teixeira and thus the work needed to be done to amend the bill has since stalled. Teixeira had said that the opposition was delaying the process and so the government representatives went ahead and concluded the work of the committee.
He stated that “Guyana is already on the dark grey list. I don’t think that the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force or any other international financial institutions are going to be moved simply by the passage of a law. They look at enforcement and they have criticised Guyana over the last four years because of the level of enforcement.”
Granger added that the CFATF has consistently sent down teams and demanded reports while being aware that “not a single prosecution has taken place. That is why they know not a single report has been submitted by the Financial Intelligence Unit.” He stated that the government has been complaining for months that the various amendments and discussions have been stalled, however, he noted that it has been over 21 days since parliament was to reconvene.
Granger told Stabroek News that “the special select committee had put in place a procedure by which memoranda were being submitted and those memoranda had to be considered. During this, the government side has more or less abbreviated the sessions.” He said that currently APNU was in the process of compiling information from various stakeholders who were allowed to address the special select committee. Granger did admit that “we don’t have a set of amendments which we can hand [over]. We are in a process of listening to stakeholders.”
The Opposition Leader stated that the random suspension of the special select committee and the government’s disregard has been the primary reason for stalled actions. He reiterated that “they are in the driver’s seat,” and as a result the opposition has had to conform and in many regards he called discussions with stakeholders as a “work in progress.”
Granger said that “this government has had the bill for four years and they tried to push it through the opposition in the National Assembly in four months and it was quite impossible.” He said that as it stands APNU would like the special select committee to reconvene immediately.
Guyana’s next deadline is November 18, at which point the CFATF will hold a plenary meeting before making any decisions on Guyana’s supposed blacklisting. The bill was first tabled in parliament on April 22 and the deadline for passage was stated as April 30. Guyana missed that deadline and government and opposition could also not agree on passing legislation before August 26, when the CFATF was set to meet before giving the final November 18 deadline.