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Private Sector, APNU in ongoing tussle over anti-money laundering bill

Guyana’s Private Sector Commission (PSC) on Friday heaped scorn on the combined opposition for rubbishing its petition to the National Assembly for passage of amendments to the financial crimes law.

But A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) administration for not acting on a number of key proposals by a number of professionals and also not genuinely facilitating APNU and Alliance For Change’s (AFC) participation in the work of the Special Select Committee.

The PSC said it was “disgusted at the treatment” of the combined opposition of its petition to parliament on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill (AML/CFT), and the Bill itself. The business umbrella organisation stopped short of denouncing the opposition, saying that the two parties denied the engine of growth a voice in the National Assembly on Thursday.

“This action reveals an inexplicable contempt for the stakeholders of this country and/or a lack of understanding of how the economy functions,” said the PSC.

The 65-seat House, which is controlled by 33 members of the combined opposition, is being held “accountable for any damage that may accrue to the Guyana economy going forward.”

Government and key Western nations have warned that if the amendments were not passed, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and the Financial Action Task Force could impose severe sanctions on Guyana which could result in delays and higher costs in international transfers of cash for remittances and the purchasing of fuel, pharmaceuticals and other necessities.

The PSC felt that it had a right to be heard in the House because of its broad-based representation across all areas of economic life including rice, mining – gold and bauxite, banking and insurance, construction, telecommunications and associated services, domestic aviation, manufacturing, fishing, tourism and forestry. 

“The Private Sector collectively is one of the most important stakeholders in this country with a legitimate and irrefutable interest in preserving the health and stability of the domestic economy and it is for this reason – to protect against further economic slippage – that the Private Sector Commission petitioned Parliament.

APNU suggested that it should share no blame for the Bill because government rejected calls for the Bill to be taken back to the Select Committee. “The Government insisted on putting the bill to a vote despite strong recommendations by the APNU and the AFC that the bill be returned to the Select Committee to correct the deficiencies were rejected. The National Assembly was therefore forced to vote against it to prevent an inadequate, incomplete and imperfect bill from being foisted on the Guyanese people,” said APNU which has 26 seats in the House.

APNU wants the amendments to be further tightened and the Financial Intelligence Unit strengthened as conditions for supporting the Bill. For its part, AFC wants the Public Procurement Commission to be established as a means of ensuring there is no corruption or money laundering through the award of contracts.

The Select Committee, which was chaired by government, abruptly ended its work in the absence of the opposition members at a meeting held on October 23.

According to APNU, the  Committee had met seventeen times and several useful amendments were made on the basis of suggestions from both sides. The Opposition made proposals for amendments to the principal act (Anti-Money Laundering Act). However, the coalition said opposition concerns about supervision and governance required that the composition and functioning of the Finance Intelligence Unit be addressed but that was  not allowed. The memorandum of the Guyana Bar Association and Professor Clive Thomas’s submissions along with many others were denied, APNU said.

“The PPP/C Government must accept full responsibility for the consequences of failure to amend the Act by inserting and implementing the recommendations of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF),” added the political grouping.