Human rights body welcomes deferral of debate on anti-terror bill

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) yesterday applauded the decision by the APNU+AFC Government to postpone passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill in one Parliamentary sitting but also raised concerns over how the administration sees the process of consultation.

On Wednesday, the GHRA had expressed shock over the government’s plan to proceed with all three stages of the bill at Thursday’s sitting, arguing that in its present state the proposed legislation would allow the state to perpetrate serious violations of due process. The government on Thursday relented on the anti-terror bill while proceeding with two other bills, one of which amended the anti-money laundering bill.

Yesterday, the GHRA said that while calls for further consultation are welcome, its primary concern is the lack of evaluation of the bill by agencies familiar with such legislation worldwide, particularly the UN.

A further troubling matter is how consultation is understood by government agencies.

Well over 30 amendments had been submitted by the GHRA to the Attorney General but none was incorporated into the bill, according to the statement from the human rights body on Wednesday.

“The fact that none of the GHRA recommendations was accepted in the Anti-Terrorism consultation would have been defensible if there were evidence of amendments from elsewhere having improved the original draft.

In the absence of such evidence, an explanation of what ‘consultation’ means for the Attorney-General’s Chambers in particular would be helpful”, the human rights body said in its statement yesterday.

It said that the early months of the new Government saw a “blizzard of consultations” and civic bodies such as the GHRA were hard-pressed to fulfil the many requests for input to these processes which often involved going to the Arthur Chung Convention Centre. The GHRA said that in some cases these activities became building-blocks for more constructive exchanges between civil society and Government, reflected in superior policy-making outcomes. In other cases, they appear to have been little more than symbolic gestures to international funders, without strengthening ties between civic and public sector agencies, the GHRA lamented.

It further said that the length of time the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act has been on and off the Parliamentary agenda in recent years provided justification for disposing of all remaining stages in one session.

“Nonetheless, the Coalition Government needs to dispel any suggestion that Parliament is an inconvenient process. Efforts to curtail the Parliamentary budget debate are still fresh in peoples’ memory. What comes across as short-circuiting democracy may in fact be more accurately ascribed to poor planning, in which side-lining consultation becomes the quickest route to make up for lost time”, GHRA cautioned.

It welcomed the amendment of the term “beneficial ownership” in Section 2 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act which was passed on Thursday. It said that transparency campaigns are being fought worldwide to legally enforce a requirement that the real names of natural persons who own or benefit from businesses be made available to the public.

“Too often, real ownership is veiled behind anonymous names, encouraging widespread financial criminality.

The new definition will require all persons to be named, who through their exercise of significant ownership and control of companies are major beneficiaries”, the GHRA said.

Equally significant in the interests of transparency, is the amendment to Section 15(4) (c) of the new Act which extends the beneficial ownership requirement to business partners when setting up a business relationship, the GHRA said.

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