The anti-terrorism bill is crucial to meeting requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Attorney-General Basil Williams said yesterday even as he drew rebukes after telling attendees at a “consultation” on the bill that it is not feasible to have consultations on every piece of legislation.
Guyana is seeking to fulfil recommendations to strengthen anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism laws to avoid the increased scrutiny it is under from the FATF – an inter-governmental body that set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
Williams had previously told the National Assembly that Guyana is under an obligation and has received notice to attend a face-to-face meeting in Panama around January 12 in order to deal with questions and explain the provisions that would have been implemented to ensure that the country is compliant with the FATF regime. At the December 17 sitting of Parliament, government took the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill through all the stages and passed it so that it would fulfil some of its obligations.
However, following an outcry, government backed away from attempting to take the Anti-Terrorism and Terrorist Related Activities Bill 2015 through all its stages at that sitting and the Ministry of Legal Affairs set yesterday for public consultations on the bill at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre, Liliendaal.
The bill is on the Order Paper for tomorrow’s sitting of the House and is expected to be passed given government’s majority. It is not clear if any changes will be made arising out of the consultation. Some stakeholders remain dissatisfied with the consultation and the answers provided including a response by Williams that “you’ll know a terrorist when you see one.”
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) had previously said that it had submitted well over 30 amendments to the Attorney General but none were incorporated into the bill. The entity was not present at yesterday’s meeting.
In his address to the attendees, Williams played down concerns expressed by stakeholders and said it was not feasible to have consultations on every piece of legislation. He argued that government is not “cherry picking” which pieces of legislation are in need of public consultation.
“You know when it goes to special select committees, the history of Guyana, of parliament and getting bills out of special select committee that could take, that could take some time too. So we will ask stakeholders to understand and to relate to the things we are trying do, bear in mind that we are not trying to hide anything from the people of Guyana,” he added.
According to Williams, for the array of legislation up for consideration, those who want consultations are not actually affected by the pending legislation.
Williams was rebuked for his comments. Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), retired Major General Norman McLean and PSC member Gerry Gouveia highlighted that all industries throughout Guyana are in some way integrated with the private sector and adherence to the law is not optional.
Mclean declared that it is government’s job to ensure that the private sector is allowed to partake in consultations to create an environment where there is a high level of cooperation. Gouveia added that “nothing is off limits to consultation.”
During the open floor discussions, Williams said he was impressed by the GHRA’s recommendations, adding that he had the upmost respect for the organisation for going through the bill so thoroughly.
Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC) Cecil Dhurjon was present at the meeting and said many of the recommendations could not be incorporated for various reasons including redundancy in that there are other laws in Guyana that covers those areas. He said the 12 conventions and protocols that were cited in the bill were sufficient. According to the CPC, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the GHRA wanted to be placed in the bill as a convention to be adhered to, was out of context.
Dhurjon said the bill followed similar legislation in Jamaica but was tailored for Guyana.
Both the CPC and Williams addressed the impact the legislation could have at Guyana’s next meeting with the FATF. According to Williams, not until the bill is passed and following the meeting with the FATF, would Guyana know if the bill and subsequently, the law, is sufficient.
Some attendees were of the view that the bill was facilitated though the FATF and, as such, was written in such a way to be compliant with international anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation.
Various persons in attendance raised concerns regarding their understanding of the bill and its definition of what makes a terrorist.
Stakeholders raised concerns about how persons who handle chemicals and elements that are listed as prohibited in the bill will be treated as well as how protesters will be viewed under the legislation should it be passed as is.
Williams told stakeholders that while in some cases the definitions were vague, the intent behind one’s actions would determine how the judicial system would react. Concerns relating to measuring intent in an unbiased manner were not addressed.
The consultation ended before its scheduled time after it was decided that those in attendance were satisfied with the answers provided. However, some stakeholders told Stabroek News that their concerns were not alleviated but they felt that since it was only a short time before the bill would be passed, consultations at this point meant very little.
The GHRA has said the bill in its present form “would allow the State to perpetrate serious violations of due process and fair trial rights and should not be allowed to pass into law.”
The bill seeks to criminalise terrorism in its various forms and to provide for the detection, prevention, prosecution and punishment of persons involved in terrorist activities in and outside Guyana.
The 107-page bill sets out penalties for committing a terrorist act, harbouring, accommodating, and offering financial support to a terrorist, among other offences. Many of the penalties are imprisonment for not less than 15 years and no more than 20 years. However, for a terrorist act that results in the death of another person, the penalty is death.
The bill defines “terrorist act” as “an act whether committed in or outside of Guyana which causes or is likely to cause loss of human life or serious bodily harm; damage to property; prejudice to national security or disruption of public safety including disruption in the provision of emergency services or to any computer or electronic system or to the provision of services directly related to banking, communications, infrastructure, financial services, public utilities, transportation, or other essential infrastructure and is intended to compel a government or an international organisation to do or refrain from doing any act; or intimidate the public or a section of the public, for the purpose of advancing a political, ideological or a religious cause; or any act which constitutes an offence within the scope of, and as defined in any of the Convention.”
It excludes from this definition acts which causes death or serious bodily harm to a person taking active part in armed conflict in accordance with the applicable rules of international law; or disrupts any service and is committed in pursuance of a demonstration, protest, or stoppage of work and is not intended to result in any harm referred to in the definition of “terrorist act.”