Government Chief Whip Gail Teixeira yesterday accused the opposition of deliberately derailing the efforts to pass the anti-money laundering amendment bill since it was tabled in April, saying its sole focus seems to be to bring down the government at all costs.
Teixeira said the record of the participation of APNU and the AFC in the parliamentary select committee that worked on the bill clearly shows that they had no intention of supporting it and she pointed out that not one amendment was ever presented by the opposition on the discussions of the bill.
“The opposition gleefully saw this as an opportunity to harm the government and if it cost Guyana, its economy and the wellbeing of its people, then so be it,” Teixeira, who chaired the committee, said in a seven-page statement released last night, in what is the latest government reaction to the defeat of the bill in the National Assembly last Thursday. “The bill became the opportunity to assault the country, all those who supported and urged for the bill to be passed, and people in general,” she added.
Government and the private sector have warned that the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) has put Guyana on notice that it will face penalties if the country is not found sufficiently compliant with recommendations to strengthen its anti-money laundering laws during a November plenary which gets underway on the 18th.
APNU has continually maintained that the bill in its current form is insufficient, while the AFC has demanded that the Public Procurement Commission be set up before it gives support for it.
But Teixeira said in her statement that from the time the bill surfaced in the National Assembly, the treatment it has received has been unprecedented.
“I have been an MP for 21 years and l cannot remember any bill on the floor of the National Assembly or in committee being subjected to such undue delays, misinformation, “political horse trading and political football” as the AMLCFT (Amendment) Bill, No 12.2013,” she said.
She noted her experience, having brought the controversial Medical Termination of Pregnancy bill, which she said was actually rewritten in the committee and passed on a conscience vote. In that instance, she said the committee’s work, including hearings, was completed in six months. The Domestic Violence bill, she added, was also controversial but work on it was completed in a relatively short time. “Neither one it should be noted was driven by international obligations and deadlines. And I could go on and name many complex and controversial bills which went before committees,” she said.
According to Teixeira, for the opposition members in the committee—where they commanded a majority—and those in the House to say that the bill was rushed and lacked their input “is a downright lie.”
She noted that there were opposition members present at 14 of the 17 select committee meetings and they did not bring one amendment to the discussions on the bill. “They said they had amendments to bring and they were encouraged to bring them so that they could be discussed. But nothing was produced. Not even on November 7, where they could have demonstrated their sincerity by tabling further amendments to the Bill as amended in Committee, but did not use that option. In fact arguments on amending the bill were discussed in the media by the opposition more than in the committee,” she pointed out.
In hindsight, Teixeira said, the defeat of the bill last Thursday appears “even more sinister.” She pointed out that the select committee met on 17 occasions between May 8 and October 22.
During that time, she said opposition members consistently moved to delay meetings in spite of the CFATF deadlines.
She cited a May 23 meeting, where she said the opposition members used their majority to delay the next meeting of the committee until the next month, thereby ensuring that Guyana would not meet a May 28 deadline for passage of the bill. In the interim, she said Guyana then went before the CFATF and appealed for more time and was warned and advised to report on progress in August 2013.
She said opposition members did not attend the meetings of July 24 and 29. However, in their absence and in keeping with the Standing Orders with regard to a quorum being present and the urgency of meeting the August deadline, she said the committee continued to work on the bill and to draft amendments to strengthen and bring it into compliance with all of the CFATF’s recommendations.
When it concluded its work and submitted its report, she said, there were 81 amendments to the amendment bill in keeping with the CFATF recommendations. Further, she noted that throughout the process the CFATF was receiving copies of the amendments to ensure that what the committee was doing was in compliance with their recommendations.
However, once more, she said, the opposition members used their majority to adjourn the meetings of the committee to October, again ensuring that the country would not meet its deadline. “There is no doubt in my mind and the verbatim record and minutes illustrate that the sole purpose of the presence of all 5 opposition members was to derail the second deadline of August 26, 2013 by ensuring that no Report was submitted to the National Assembly before the recess. The meeting took all of 27 minutes,” she noted, while adding that it was at this meeting that AFC MP Khemraj Ramjattan indicted the AFC’s insistence that the set up of the Public Procurement Commission was a prerequisite for his party’s support of the bill. She said Ramjattan attended seven of the 17 meetings and on all occasions his presence was either to support the APNU or to lead the action to stymie the committee’s work.
Teixieira noted that Guyana missed the second CFATF deadline and again Guyana appealed and was given up to November 17 for the enactment of the amendments. “There was no mistake that this would be final deadline. Guyana was already being regarded as a country at risk since Guyana missed the May deadline,” she further said.
While the opposition has sought to blame the government for the bill’s defeat, Teixeira said neither APNU nor the AFC were willing to consider a specific timeline for the consideration of the bill if returned to the committee so that Guyana could meet the November 17 deadline. “I proposed that this bill was so critical to our country that when it would be put to the vote the opposition could consider being silent to allow it to go through and or leave the chamber during the vote, these are tactics used in parliaments,” she also noted.
According to Teixeira, the sole goal of the opposition parties is bringing down the government at all costs. “…and they believe they will be installed as the next government. At least they have been consistent – cut the 2012 and 2013 Budgets, threaten to cut the 2014 Budget, killed the Amaila Hydro Electric Project, etc., defeated 6 government bills, and now the AMLCFT Amendment Bill,” she said, while adding that she knows few opposition parties, even with similar a majority, refusing to take national positions and voting against the protection of the country and its people, even when they are viciously opposed to the government. “I trust our people and am confident that they will not be manipulated and made pawns of the opposition’s grand design,” she said.