President reached out to Opposition on AML Bill, but every attempt at reasonableness, compromise was shot down -Finance Minister
Georgetown, GINA, March 14, 2014
Calls continue to be made by citizens for Government and the Opposition to find common ground so as to expedite the passage of the already overdue Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill. However, the records will show that all efforts to get the Bill passed have thus far have been one-sided.
At the national stakeholder consultation at the Guyana International Conference Centre on March 13, there were a few calls for the President to work with the Opposition, to resolve the issue. Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh responded that the President has been doing just that, and recalled that when consensus was reached on the Bill at the select committee on February 9, the President called Opposition Leader, David Granger the following day asking for his support to pass the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF)-approved Bill.
Further, he gave a commitment to engage the Opposition and domestic stakeholders on the amendments that they were proposing to the Principal Act. He assured that if it is found that their amendments do not collide with the interest of domestic stakeholders, and do not place the country in peril with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), then his Government will fully support the enactment of the said amendments.
This phone call was followed up with a letter later that same day reiterating his assurance and commitment.
“I do not believe that one could reasonably ask for a more reasonable proposal than what the President put to Mr. Granger…he did not throw the APNU’s amendments out of the window, he simply said that while we are addressing the legitimate concerns of people, let us not put the country in jeopardy,” Minister Singh said.
He lamented that despite that reaching-out, the Government is still unable get the support of the Opposition amendments even though they are fully aware of the consequences.
The Bill, which has its genesis from a review conducted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), was tabled in the Parliament by the Government, so as to bring the country into compliance with international standards.
Dr. Singh reminded that as it stands, the contents of the Bill in question are not the subject of any controversy as they were fully supported by both Opposition Parties since February 9. Minister Singh said since consensus has been reached, there is no logical reason why the country is standing on the dangerous precipice on which it currently stands.
“There is no reason why a responsible parliamentarian should not say let us approve this Bill to bring Guyana out of a perilous situation even as we continue to consult with other stakeholders on the Opposition’s amendments,” he said.
The Opposition proposed amendments are to the Principal Act which was unanimously passed in the National Assembly in 2009. They were since cautioned by no less an authority than CFATF itself of the dangers which their amendments pose to the country.
After several alterations, one of their amendments is now seeking to empower police, customs, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and other relevant agencies to seize cash in excess $10M if they have reason to believe the said cash is crime proceeds.
Minister Singh explained that money laundering is not only about drug trafficking or terrorism. The legal definition of money laundering is the laundering of the proceeds of crime. The word ‘crime’ on the other hand, has an extremely broad concept in the Act.
Apart from trafficking in narcotics, crime in this case also means: fraudulent conversion, tax evasion and a number of other illegal activities. This therefore means, that any officer authorised by the powers that the Opposition’s amendments will repose in them, can stop any citizen (anywhere in the country including their homes) on suspicion of fraudulent conversion or tax evasion and seize their currency.
“A police or customs officer can stop you and say I suspect that you have been committing tax evasion, you haven’t been filing tax returns and this money is money that should have been paid in taxes, so this money is the proceeds of crime that you are laundering…these are legitimate concerns,” the Minister illustrated.
Stakeholders at the forum echoed the call for other Guyanese of all strata of society for the bill’s passage, but these have since fallen on deaf ears.