The opposition this afternoon voted against the reading of a petition in the name of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) urging favourable consideration of the anti-money laundering bill.
The opposition parties –A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance for Change – initially attempted to prevent the petition from being presented to the National Assembly, however this bid failed. Their vote against the petition was an ominous sign that the third reading of the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill. set for later this evening would be defeated, deepening the divide between the government and the opposition.
The petition, signed by Private Sector Commission Chairman Ronald Webster and sub-committee head Gerald Gouveia on behalf of 17 private sector groups, sought to urge Members of Parliament (MPs) to note the “potential for great harm to be done to the economy and citizens of Guyana if Guyana fails to enact the legislation,” and that “the future of the country lies in (their hands).”
But, House Speaker Raphael Trotman was not even done announcing the intention of People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) MP Manzoor Nadir, who brought the petition on behalf of the PSC), to move for the petition to be read in the House when APNU MP and Financial Spokesman Carl Greenidge rose, on a point of order.
According to Greenidge, the petition violated several of the Assembly’s Standing Orders (SOs) and therefore should be allowed to come to the National Assembly. Elaborating on his position, he said that the petition, because of how it was prepared violated several SOs including SO 15 (4) (a), which reads that: “The Assembly will not receive any Petition: – (a) which is not addressed to the Assembly and which is not properly and respectfully worded.”
In the petition, the PSC said that it noted “the concerns expressed by the Opposition Parties and also notes that the no written submissions have been forthcoming as it relates to adjustments to the bill as deemed amendable by the opposition parties.” Greenidge labelled this, and several other such statements, as misleading and “vexatious”.
“Vexatious” because though the petition pointed out what the PSC saw as the opposition’s shortcomings, it excluded the fact that the government, having been engaged by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) on the inadequacy of its AML/CFT legislative and other deficiencies some time ago, failed to act upon the recommendations made by the body.
What the petition does, he stated, is flay the opposition parties for dereliction of duty, making it seem as though it is the opposition alone which has contributed to the delay in the passing of the Bill, a contention which he described as “malicious and ignorant.”
As Greenidge spoke, various Government members MPs unleashed a tirade of disapproving statements. Amidst the hubbub of government voices, PPP/C MP and Housing Minister Irfaan Ali could be heard accusing Greenidge of attempting to muzzle the PSC. Despite the government’s expressed disapproval though, Greenidge continued
He went on to argue that the petition contained inaccurate information. In the petition the PSC asserted that the non-passing of the Bill may lead to the devaluation of Guyana’s currency, and can decrease remittances sent to Guyana. Such a development is very serious, the PSC contended, since this flow of finances accounts for about “forty percent” of Guyana’s GDP.
By stating such “inaccuracies,” Greenidge said, the PSC is engaging in “scaremongering.”
He said that the contribution that remittances make to GDP is closer to 17%, and was probably 25% at its highest. He also said that the PSC’s argument that the non-passing of the Bill might lead to devaluation is baseless, and posited that passing the Bill, “inadequate” as it is, might actually be the cause for devaluation.
Trotman though, highlighted the point that petitions are the only means by which the public is able to bring their positions to the National Assembly, and cautioned Greenidge, as well as APNU MP Deborah Backer and AFC MP and Leader Khemraj Ramjattan who reiterated Greenidge’s sentiments, against making attempts to curtail this “important” communication avenue.
PPP/C MP and Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, on a point of order, also rose to rebuff the opposition’s attempts to stop the reading of the petition. Teixeira said that the right to bring petitions to Parliament has always been enjoyed by members of the public and is thus “sacrosanct”. Even the government, she said, has allowed petitions they were not fond of to be read, and argued that Greenidge was simply, “clutching at straws” in his attempt to stop the petition from being read.
Ultimately, Trotman decided that he found nothing disrespectful in the petition and, since Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs has sole jurisdiction in determining if a petition will be allowed, he inquired of Isaacs if the petition should be brought. Isaacs responded in the affirmative and so Trotman granted Nadir the permission needed to put the petition to the House.
The petition was therefore put by Nadir, who argued that it was important that the document be read since the PSC represents all economic sectors in all of Guyana’s 10 regions. Despite Nadir’s arguments though, when the motion was raised for the petition to be read, it was defeated by the opposition.
A call for “division” by Backer, who beat Prime Minister Samuel Hinds to the punch in this regard, revealed that the combined opposition won 33-29, an outcome which was greeted by government MPs with chants of “shame shame shame.”