AML/CFT dilemma is fixable; it is not a natural disaster- President -calls for patriotism, not deal-making

Georgetown, GINA, March 13, 2014

 

An overwhelming crowd of the widest range of stakeholder grouping today adumbrated the self-same sentiments of thousands across the country, demanding the immediate passage of the Anti-money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill. The signatures on a petition board at the end of the meeting speak for themselves.

The main conference was filled to capacity resulting in stakeholders having to occupy other rooms at the facility. Nevertheless, they were able to interact with President Donald Ramotar and Cabinet members via closed-circuit television.

Packed to capacity- President Donald Ramotar addressing the large turnout at the Guyana International Conference Centre on the Anti-Money Laundering Bill and the need for its passage

From the highly interactive session it was clear that citizens are deeply concerned about the Opposition’s proposed amendments. Citizens across the country have made no secret of the fact that they are not in support of unwarranted seizure of their property on the mere basis of suspicion, and today the private sector made it clear that they will not support a Parliament-appointed Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

President Ramotar, in chronicling the events that have transpired since the Bill was initially tabled, said that, “if we see ourselves as part of the international community and we are serious about fighting drug trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism then this Bill should not have created any issue.”

Rapt attention being paid to the screens in another room at the Conference Centre

He reminded that as it stands, Guyana is the only country in the Western hemisphere that is yet to pass this important piece of legislation that will bring the country into compliance with the standards of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and its parent body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

CFATF came to review Guyana for the first time in 2010, it subsequently issued a report in November 2011 detailing the deficiencies in Guyana existing money laundering legislation and outlining recommendations on the steps that must be taken to correct the said deficiencies.

Thus far, the Government has already addressed the non-legislative aspects of the CFATF’s recommendations; only the passage of the Bill remains outstanding.

The President lamented that even though, CFATF’s Financial Advisor, Roger Hernandez came to Guyana and explained to the Opposition the risks that their amendments pose for the country, they remain adamant in their position.

Several rooms were occupied by stakeholders at the consultation forum. They were able to interact with the President via closed circuit television.

“This is fixable, this is not a natural disaster, this is a human disaster that we are facing,” he said.

He noted that thus far Guyana has managed to stave off as much as possible, the more serious of repercussions on the country’s economy and its people.

The President’s most recent efforts at garnering external support saw CARICOM issuing a statement expressing its profound dismay, Guyana’s inability to enact the requisite legislation aimed at implementing the recommendations of CFATF calling on the relevant parties to enact the necessary legislation in the national and regional interest.

“When we use our diplomacy to try to stave off and prevent these measures from being implemented immediately, we are being lampooned as creating hysteria…we have to continue to fight to safeguard the welfare of the Guyanese people,” the Head of State emphasised.

President Donald Ramotar interacting with citizens after the meeting

One stakeholder at the forum pointed out that very little or no indictments have been made under the 2009 Act. Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall explained that this is the case in the entire region and is precisely reason why CFATF undertook the review.

The recommendations that it subsequently made are designed to strengthen the existing law and address the loopholes. It also includes the establishment of a unit to deal specifically with specialised, organised crime.

The AG added that the regime of changes that the Opposition are now calling for are not only unwarranted, but they do not form part of the recommendations of CFATF as well.

Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ronald Webster said that non-passage of this Bill will result in weakening of the local currency, higher electricity rates, and difficulty with financial transfers.

“We do not support a politically selected FIU, we like the Barbados model where the FIU reports to an authority,” he said.

He explained that the membership of that authority will be drawn from agencies responsible for managing the issues associated with money laundering and terrorism.

President Ramotar responded that the Government is keen on passing a Bill that is CFATF compliant. He also noted that CFATF is beginning to have problems with the Barbadian model.

“My contention is we have a Bill that CFATF has pronounced on and found it to be compliant, and that is the Bill we should pass. If there is any amendment to that, it has to be within the framework with what CFATF will want,” he said.

The petition board on which citizens affixed their signatures

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh said that the insertion of a politically appointed body, exercising supervision and issuing directives to the FIU would impair the independence of this body and potentially bring Guyana into non-compliance with FATF’s standards.

The President concluded by expressing the hope that the calls made by Guyanese citizens will fall on receptive ear. He reiterated that the situation at hand calls for patriotism and not deal-making.

On Wednesday, Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Cecil Durjohn was finally able to complete the drafting of the “problematic” amendments as termed by the AG.  Once the committee has completed the process of fully perusing the APNU’s draft amendments, it would then have to examine the Government’s counter proposal.

The Select Committee is scheduled to meet again on March 25, 2014.

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