Anti-money laundering authority still on the cards -Norton

The establishment of the Anti-Money Laundering Authority is going ahead as planned, according to the Chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Appointments Dr George Norton, who said recently that no Cabinet decision was ever made to stop its creation.

“Obviously,” Norton told Sunday Stabroek when asked whether the motion to approve the persons nominated to form the authority will still move forward in the National Assembly.

His comments and those made by Minister of State Joseph Harmon conflict with the utterances of Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams SC, who had said on November 15 that government will be returning to the National Assembly to repeal the Section of the Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering of the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act that makes provision for the establishment of the Authority.

“That was overkill. Why would you put such a heavy superstructure over the FIU [Financial Intelligence Unit]?” Williams was quoted as saying in a Demerara Waves report. The comments were made on the sidelines of a Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) Plenary and Working Group meeting.

Speaking to Sunday Stabroek last Wednesday, Norton said that Williams is not “too accurate.” He informed that Cabinet has made no decision with respect to scrapping the Authority and to the best of his knowledge its establishment will be going ahead as planned.

The Authority was meant to be a key part of the architecture of the anti-laundering act passed by the APNU+AFC government but it has been delayed for a long period as the Committee on Appointments had to gather names after consultations with various stakeholder groups.

Solidifying his position further, Norton informed that he recently received a letter informing him that two key positions, including that of legal officer, needed to be filled. He said that he received the letter because, like with the members of the Authority, the filling of these two posts needs has to be approved by the Parliament. He could not recall when he received the letter but he was adamant that the document is in his possession.

He said that the establishment of the Authority has to be done within a specific time period. He assured that once the 2018 budget debate and consideration of estimates are completed, the setting of the Authority will be back on the front burner.

Christopher Ram, Gerry Gouveia, Nicholas Deygoo, Wayne Fordyce, Hance Manohar, Thomas Bissessar Singh, Frederick Collins, Mohamed Alli, Melissa De Santos and Sadie Amin are the proposed nominees to be considered by the House.

The motion to approve their appointment, which was in the name of Norton, stated that the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Guyana Association of Bankers (GAB), the Institute of Chartered Accountants Guyana (ICAG), the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI), the Guyana Bar Association, the Insurance Institute of Guyana (IIG), the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) and the Guyana Securities Council (GSC) were consulted on the nominees.

Deygoo and Gouveia were nominated by the PSC, Fordyce by the GAB, Manohar by the ICAG, Singh and Collins by TIGI, Ram and Alli by the Bar Association, De Santos by the IIG and Amin by the GAWL.

During a post-Cabinet press briefing on November 16, Harmon also informed that he was unaware of any decision to scrap the establishment of the Authority. “What is the decision that you are talking about? No, I cannot confirm that. I am not aware that there is such a decision,” he said, when this newspaper asked about the issue.

He stated that the  AML/ CFT legislation makes provision for the establishment of such an Authority.

When told this was the information emanating from the Attorney General, Harmon reiterated that there is no decision to abandon the establishment of the Authority.

“I said there is no abandonment. If the AG is saying that we may have to repeal, that is a process we have to go to the National Assembly. It’s a whole legal process but I can say to you there is no abandonment of anything,” he told reporters.

According to Harmon, government has been addressing all money laundering issues and the AG has been at the forefront. He said that Williams has been very aggressive in making sure that all of the institutions under the Act are in place and ensuring that the needed follow up work is done. “So I am not aware of that abandonment …that you are talking about,” he added.

The Authority’s specific responsibilities, according to the Act, are to include ensuring that the work of the FIU is conducted in an efficient, fair and cost-effective manner, in accordance with policy guidelines determined by the Assembly and the Finance Minister; ensuring, in the national interest, the performance of the FIU accords with international obligations and commitments; monitoring and reviewing compliance with all relevant legislation, policies and measures; ascertaining the need for any legislation or amendments to existing legislation; causing to be investigated any complaint, irregularity or mismanagement concerning the FIU; and proposing remedial action and assisting in the dissemination of information on the work of the FIU, and enlightening the public of the need for cooperation with the FIU.

Norton had previously explained that the compilation of the list of nominees took some time since organisations were slow in submitting nominees. He had said that once a nominee was identified, the name was sent to the police for due diligence to be done. He had said too that one of the difficulties faced was the ability to find suitable nominees, who are not politically-exposed.

PPP/C MP Anil Nandlall had told this newspaper in an invited comment, shortly after the Demerara Waves report was published, that the imminent scrapping of the Authority is not only a major embarrassment for government but also confirms that the current parliamentary opposition was correct when it argued that the creation of the agency was unnecessary.

“I warned that such an authority to which the FIU was made responsible, would undermine the independence of the FIU and this would render Guyana’s AML/CFT structure defective,” Nandlall said.

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