The government never wanted the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill (AML/CFT) passed. Having straddled the fence to give the impression to regional and international institutions it is committed to upholding the convention and covenant against corruption (which the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission, Integrity Commission and Ombudsman are critical to) no serious efforts are being made to match words with deeds.
This country has been on the global watch list for long. Professor Clive Thomas and international reports have highlighted and expressed concerns about the presence and influence of the narco/illegal economy paralleling the formal economy within the ballpark of 40-70 percent. And this at-ease co-relationship, suspected for years, became clear when drug lord and U.S fugitive Roger Khan made public his relationship with the administration and what he called helping them in crime fighting, even though he was himself a criminal on the run.
There are some in the PPP who have to answer to bigger bosses-not the rank and file whose votes they rely on to secure political power – whose orders they execute under the protection of State office. So while the diplomatic community has an understandably abiding interest in having the AML/CFT passed because it allows opportunity through partnership to catch the big fishes and eliminate the State being a conduit/participant for money laundering and financing of terrorism, the Act and Bill in their current configurations will not achieve same at the local level. In fact, these culprits walk safe and free in broad daylight knowing they have the protection of officialdom. And this must be of concern to us, as Guyanese. Hence, this is why it is important the constitutional provisions be established which would buttress international conventions and regional covenants.
Clive Thomas, Christopher Ram, Ramon Gaskin, et al, have been writing incisively on the AML/CFT and it is expected the opposition pays heed. For as Gaskin rightly points out, while the Constitution vests the authority to determine who should be charged in the Director of Public Prosecutions, the AML/CFT Act vests this authority in the Minister of Finance, which is a violation. Equally, it is a violation to retain Cabinet’s no-objection as a precondition for the government to name its representatives to the Public Procurement Commission and having the body established, since the Constitution vests authority for public procurement oversight in this body, along with the power to hold all entities, officials, government and persons to account via appearance before it, a Tribunal and the Court.
So on one hand while the government sought to ignore the National Assembly’s protocol and moved ahead with the Select Committee absent the input of the opposition, its intent was to give the regional/international community the impression it is committed to move the process forward, even as it seeks to undercut it as pointed out above. Its strategy was to blame the opposition when it has devised a cunning network to make the AML/CFT ineffective.
Those who engage in legitimate financial transactions have nothing to fear. While there may be additional bureaucracy with Guyana not meeting the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force deadline, those playing by the rules have nothing to fear. For the spirit and intent of the AML/CFT, were it to be upheld, does not set out to deny the law-abiders, instead it seeks to protect them from rogue elements.
The workers playing by the rules and still continuing to struggle to make ends meet as they watch businesses which operate contrarily ‘prosper,’ should see the benefit of this. Equally, traditional businesses facing unfair competition emboldened by laundering practices will have the opportunity to compete in a legitimate environment and better reward their workers for their labour.
Workers who through their sweat continue to fund public projects and can only shake their heads in sorrow at the wanton waste, fraud and abuse that come with corruption (human rights violations) which deny them better incomes, improved social services and holistic national development, must see this as an opportunity to right the wrongs and getting this nation back on the track where the Rule of Law reigns supreme.
Finally, while the new corrupt business class and its cohorts in the corridors of power can applaud the voting down of a Bill so their time to account is deferred, which was their intent from the get go, the long arms of the law will eventually get you. The flaws in the Act and Bill and the machinations put in place to secure this by shutting out the opposition and civil society’s input are mere challenges in the struggle to restore law and order. Let’s not forget this bill could have been passed prior to the 2011 Elections. And if financial probity and the Rule of Law shall return to Guyana through the sanctions of external institutions, then it is a price we must be prepared to pay.