The government finally acknowledged in Parliament on Thursday that the Caribbean watchdog has said that a key part of the anti-money laundering framework is unacceptable and this sparked heated exchanges with the PPP/C that culminated in the APNU+AFC benches securing the deferral of a related motion by one vote.
What will be seen as an embarrassing about-turn by the government had its genesis in a November meeting last year in Georgetown by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) when Attorney General Basil Williams was told that the planned Anti-Money Laundering Authority would be illegal and should not be proceeded with. While Williams had later been reported as saying that the authority would be scrapped, other members of government appeared to be at sea as to what was happening. Both the Chairman of the parliamentary Appointments Committee, Dr George Norton, and Minister of State Joseph Harmon had said subsequent to Williams’ reported statement that the authority would be going ahead.
However, Thursday’s vote by the government to defer the motion on the approval of the members of the authority would likely signal that it would not be proceeded with. The authority had been insisted upon by APNU and the AFC when they were in the opposition and was introduced as a law by the coalition in 2015 when it acceded to government.
Mover of the motion for deferral, Dr. Norton, informed the House that “there is some action with regards to this motion and I beg that it be deferred”. Prior to his statement on Thursday, Dr Norton had not indicated any problem with the motion to approve the members of the authority.
Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland then ask Dr Norton to explain what it was that he wanted to have deferred. Dr Norton in response said, “I beg to defer the presentation of the motion.”
Christopher Ram, Gerry Gouveia, Nicholas Deygoo, Wayne Fordyce, Hance Manohar, Thomas Bissessar Singh, Frederick Collins, Mohamed Alli, Melissa De Santos and Sadie Amin were the proposed nominees to be considered by the House. They had been selected after a drawn-out process that entailed extensive background checks.
The motion to approve their appointments, which was in the name of Dr Norton, stated that the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Guyana Association of Bankers (GAB), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of 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.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira then rose to respond to Dr Norton’s request. She said that the parliamentary opposition was in “total disagreement” with any further deferral of the motion.
She reminded that this matter had been before the House since last year and that government passed amended anti-money laundering legislation in 2015 which provided for the establishment of the authority.
Teixeira pointed out that the appointments committee, in accordance with the law, conducted consultations and later put forward ten names of “fit and proper men and women” to sit on the authority.
“We find that it is highly irregular on the part of the Chairman [Dr Norton] to come to this House and ask for deferral without enlightening the members of this House as to the reason of a deferral after ten months of it sitting here. We are privy as members of the committee, Sir, that the February 9th  meeting of the Committee decided to ask the Minister of Legal Affairs [AG Williams] for an opinion because it appeared that the …members of the committee on the government side did not want to further proceed on this and the Legal Affairs Minister wrote a letter back to the committee advising that they shouldn’t proceed with it as the CFATF did not support the authority and therefore the matter should be held,” she said.
Ironically, it was Williams who had on June 26, 2015 successfully piloted the bill catering for the authority.
Teixeira told the House that Dr Norton should explain the reason for the deferral. “The matter is in law right now. If the government has problems with the law and wishes to change it, it has to come with an amendment to the law,” she added.
Teixeira stressed that it was government MPs who brought amendments to the law, which included the creation of the authority with appointments to it to be made by the parliamentary appointments committee. She said that existing legislation was amended after being held up on two occasions in the last parliament.
Arguing that the sudden request for a deferral is suspicious, she questioned whether the 10 nominees are “no longer fit and proper.”
Holding up a thick stack of papers, she said that she could find no reference in any of the reports on Guyana, which were posted on the CFATF website, that the authority does not comply with the anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism legislation.
Williams, rising on a point of order, asked for clarification on what basis Teixeira was speaking in relation to the issue at hand.
He said that the mover of the motion [Dr Norton] had asked for a deferral and “we have been regaled for the last several minutes.” He inquired whether the Chief Whip was objecting to the deferral and on what ground. “If so I have the grounds,” he said, as loud chatter erupted from the opposition side of the House. “I have the reasons why…this motion is being asked to be deferred,” he said, contending that Teixeira produced an erroneous report on which the House is to rely on.
The Speaker interjected at this point calling for a settlement of the difference of opinion, which included the option of a vote. Scotland stated that he did not find favour with voting to resolve the impasse.
Teixeira, in response, said that she was opposed to a deferral of the motion on several grounds including the fact that the matter has been before the House since July 2017; that the AG’s claim that the CFATF wanted to make this change in the 2015 Act cannot be found on any document on the CFATF website and that the Committee worked hard to ensure that there were ten persons of integrity chosen. She said that as a member of the committee she was calling for the report to be adopted “today, now and put to the vote.” Fellow opposition member Irfaan Ali seconded her request.
The motion for deferral was then voted on and the government won by one vote. Had all of the 32 PPP/C members been present in Parliament, the motion would have been defeated as the government side has been weakened by the absence of several members.
Williams later stated that the CFATF has written government stating that the proposed national anti-laundering authority has no relevance and is inconsistent with recommendation 2 of the FATF recommendations.
The authority, he said, is “illegal” as it does not coincide with the recommendations. He said that if it is pursued, Guyana could end up back “in the black hole.”
He said that the CFATF Secretariat agrees with the position that “the authority as created by the legislation is too narrow in scope and applies solely to the [Financial Intelligence Unit].” Williams stressed that it was for this reason that Norton had asked that the motion be deferred.
Prior to Thursday, Williams, had not laid out this case formally, even though the government had been advised on it by the CFATF in November last year.
When APNU and the AFC had signalled the intent to proceed with the authority, the PPP/C benches had warned that it would not be compatible with the anti-laundering law.