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Updated: Opposition defeats amendments to anti-money laundering law

Guyana’s opposition-controlled National Assembly Thursday night voted down the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) bill, placing the country on the path to international sanctions.

“Guyana is now in jeopardy of being labeled a high risk country for international financial transactions, the ramifications of which have already begun to see delays in banking and money transfer transactions. These financial delays will result in increased commodity pricing and higher transaction fees to all Guyanese,” said Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh moments after the defeat.

The parliamentary coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change teamed up to vote solidly against the financial crimes bill 33- 28.

Among those on the government side not voting was Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee who was hospitalized Thursday night for an undisclosed medical condition. He was an in-patient at the Woodlands Hospital where he was undergoing a series of tests.

Voting down of the AML/CFT was almost a foregone conclusion after the combined opposition voted to throw out a petition by the Private Sector Commission for the 65-seat House to approve the amendments as required by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the global watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Government and the Western diplomatic community have repeatedly warned that if the amendments are not approved by this month, Guyana ccan face serious sanctions by the Financial Action Task Force. They include severe restrictions and higher costs in conducting international cash transactions including remittances for ordinary people and the purchase of necessary commodities like fuel and pharmaceuticals.

The AFC has said that it would support passage of amendments to the Anti Money Launderiing and Countering of Financing Terrorism (Amendments) Bill if government first establishes the constitutionally required Public Procurement Commission aimed at ensuring transparency. APNU’s support is hinged on ensuring that the law is properly amended and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is adequately staffed and equipped.

Amid deliberations by both sides of the House and procedural discussions by the Speaker and Clerk both sides vented their views regarding the bill’s movement to its Third reading.

After the bill was brought to the floor for its Third Reading by Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, Shadow Minister of Finance , Carl Greenidge called for the bill be re committed to the Select Committee since according to him , the government members on the committee overturned decisions made at prior meetings of the committee on recent days when the Opposition MPs were not present.

” There are a number of different issues that had been agreed”, he said adding that ” we are not in a position to entertain consideration of the report. We urge that it be sent back to the committee for proper deliberations”. He said that there was discussion between both sides on the date and time of meetings, noting that the opposition had indicated to the government members their time of availability.

But Governance Adviser to the President , Gail Teixeira stated that it was the opposition MPs who were delaying the process by being absent at meetings , as the two sides played the blame game amid loud cross floor heckling from both sides of the House . The bill was read on April 22 and was committed to committee in May 7 where it remained until October 22 when government members alone considered it and decided to wrap up work.

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh said the records of the committee showed that substantive provisions of the bill did not cause much difference between both sides of the House. He said he could not recall any clause generating division or controversy during deliberations. He accused the Opposition deliberate foot-dragging to delay the Bill’s passage.

“Let us be clear that recommit is nothing but a transparent fig leaf through which all unsung can see the true colours of the APNU and the AFC”, as he referenced the earlier voting down of the PSC’s petition by the Opposition. Singh said the intent of the Opposition is to engage in “economic sabotage” of the nation.

MP Basil Williams said government appeared uninterested in having the legislation passed. He said that the structure of the Financial Intelligence Unit was among the issues which needed to be addressed.

After a 10 minute break during which Speaker Raphael Trotman met with Clerk of the National Assembly ,Sherlock Isaacs and MPs to discuss the bill and its final moments , Nandlall made a valiant effort to have it passed . He said after November 18 , Guyana woukd face certain financial sanctions from the international community if the legislation was not passed.

In the end , the vote was put to the floor and was voted 33 to 28 in favour of the Opposition .

Singh at a press briefing called by government after the sitting Thursday night charged that the death of the bill was in his view “one of the most explicit display of the abuse of the one seat majority” by the Opposition. As regards a way forward, he said that both sides would have to meet to discuss the issue but he noted that the bill could not be brought back during this session of Parliament.

Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill noted at the briefing that MPs represent the interest of their supporters and as such, he asked “whose interest they (opposition) were representing”. He said the persons who depend on remittances, those who shop Online and persons who use credit cards would face the consequences of the non- passage of the legislation.

Following is a statement issued by Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh moments after the bill was defeated:

It is highly disappointing that the National Assembly was unable to pass the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism Amendment Bill (AML/CFT). It is even more disappointing that the much needed amendment has been impressed upon the Joint Opposition by the People and Government of Guyana, the Business Community and the Diplomatic Community.

Government has made exhaustive efforts over 6 months through 17 meetings to involve, inform and accommodate the Opposition in the Special Select Committee (SSC) of the National Assembly, to discuss the amendment to the Bill. Due to numerous failed attempts by the Joint Opposition to meet, Government proceeded with the business of the SSC as the Amendments are critical to the economic and social wellbeing of Guyana and its people. At no point in time did the Opposition offer any recommendations or suggestions on how the committee can move its business forward. Therefore, the Government representatives proceeded to conclude the work of the Committee without any input from the APNU or AFC and tabling it in the National Assembly.

It is disappointing that they have made no effort to cooperate or involve themselves at this critical juncture, over such vital legislation. Yet this lack of involvement and cooperation by the AFC and the APNU further supports Government’s long held position, that the Joint Opposition has but one intention: to disrupt the economic, social, infrastructural and international credibility of Guyana through its one seat majority. This is evident in their constant attacks and inflexible opposition to any and all developmental projects proposed by Government. The more prominent projects that have been subjected to the AFC and APNU’s unwavering opposition are the Amaila Falls Hydro Power Project, the Marriott Hotel Project, the Specialty Hospital and now, the AML/CFT amendments.

The failure of the National Assembly to pass this legislation has far reaching consequences that have been shared with the Opposition and the public over recent months. Guyana is now in jeopardy of being labeled a high risk country for international financial transactions, the ramifications of which have already begun to see delays in banking and money transfer transactions. These financial delays will result in increased commodity pricing and higher transaction fees to all Guyanese.

Despite this delay, the public should be assured that Government has done all it can, within reasonable scope, to prevent these unfortunate consequence from ensuing. While this was not the anticipated outcome, Government remains committed to finding a solution to this impasse so that the common man and woman will not have to bear the consequence to this failed legislative action. Government will now return to the drawing board where it will collectively regroup and weigh its options to decide on the most feasible course of action that will benefit all of Guyana.