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Anti-money laundering select committee report returning to House; APNU noncommittal on support

Parliament Building

The fate of amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation now hangs in the balance as A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on Wednesday was noncommittal on whether it would vote in favour of the changes.

APNU’s Chief Whip, Amna Ally said her 26-member opposition coalition had no part to play in crafting the report and would deal with it on the floor, but she could not say clear-cut whether it would be rejected. “I cannot tell you whether or not we will reject it. We have to see what the report says when it comes to the fore. We don’t know what is contained in the report,” she said.

She said her coalition’s members had attended previous meetings and so APNU would first want to determine what government might have eventually included in the document.

Ally explained that APNU was absent from the Parliamentary Special Select Committee because of its scheduled shadow cabinet meeting and had asked for the meeting to be held instead on Wednesday or any other day.

Leader of the seven-seat Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan was, however, definitive in saying that his party would not support the amendments in the absence of opposition input. “There is incompleteness about the work simply because we (APNU and AFC) were absent and they decided to send it back up to the National Assembly so they are going to have problems having that passed because the AFC is not going to support it,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).

Ramjattan had also tied his party’s support to government establishing the long-awaited constitutionally mandated Procurement Commission. Government has since said that it first wanted the commission law to be amended for cabinet to continue enjoying a non-objection role as is currently the case with the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board.

Given its one-seat minority status in the 65-seat House, the amendments can pass with the support or abstention from either APNU or AFC.

Chairwoman of the Parliamentary Select Committee for the AML/CFT, Gail Teixeira confirmed that the committee met on Tuesday in the absence of opposition members, concluded its work and decided to compile a report for submission to the 65-seat National Assembly.

Asked to what extent was she optimistic that the government would get the support from one or both opposition parties, she said “well we are always cautiously optimistic that people will see the light of day.”

She said the committee exercised great patience but so far no written submissions have been provided by the opposition. “We have been patient for August, September, October for the opposition to bring forward any amendments they had, any changes and comments on the draft work we have done. We have received nothing in writing from any member of the opposition and that we, therefore, decided to proceed,” she said

Teixeira said time was of the essence because of a visit by the Speaker of Suriname’s National Assembly from October 24 to 26 and the 16th Biennial Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks of the Caribbean, the Americas and the Atlantic Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association from October 26 to 31. “Therefore, there will be no parliamentary committee meetings in that period so I convened a meeting for yesterday (Tuesday) at which the opposition did not attend and we proceeded,” she said.

Government, bankers and insurance associations have warned that the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) would blacklist Guyana if the amendments are not passed before the next review meeting to be held in November. Teixeira reiterated that if sanctions are imposed on Guyana, payments for fuel, pharmaceuticals, books and incoming money transfers can all be affected. “This is an issue that will impact on everybody and we believe that the opposition has not treated this issue with the seriousness it deserves,” Teixeira said.

The original Bill was tabled on April 22 and sent to the Select Committee on May 7 and met from that date to August 5 at which time the meeting was adjourned to October.  A draft report and “quite voluminous” amendments to the bill were completed in late July.

At the end of the recess, three of the five opposition members attended the reconvened meeting on October 14 but said they needed more time. Teixeira said that she again compromised and agreed to arrange the meeting for October 22 after a number of members said they could not have made it on October 21.