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Approval of anti-money laundering Bill hangs in balance

Mere hours before a parliamentary select committee was expected to wrap up fine-tuning amendments to the financial crimes law, it was still unclear whether the combined opposition would vote for the Bill if it goes back to the House on Monday.

The stumbling blocks are government’s failure to establish the Procurement Commission (PPC) unless the provision for Cabinet’s no-objection is restored, the activation of several laws and the signing into law of a number of opposition-approved Bills.

A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Joseph Harmon told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com) at noon Monday that his party had so far not received a response from government to its demands for already assented laws to be operationalized. DemWaves understands that President Donald Ramotar and Opposition Leader David Granger spoke informally Sunday night at the opening of an Islamic Conference.

Other APNU sources said that even if the President does not respond to Granger’s latest correspondence dispatched Sunday, the government could send an early signal on its posture through a statement by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds in the National Assembly at Monday’s sitting of the National Assembly.

Government representatives on the select committee were at loggerheads up to late Sunday night with their APNU counterparts over whether there should be an Anti Money Laundering Authority, the mechanisms to hire and fire staff of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and empowering the police and customs to seize huge amounts of cash from anywhere if there is reasonable suspicion that the proceeds are being laundered.

Even if the parliamentary select committee reaches consensus,  APNU has said that it would only vote for the Amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act  if the President commits to his MPs voting in favour of Bills that he has refused to sign into law on grounds that they are unconstitutional. The Bills would have to be debated again and at least two-thirds of the 65-seat House would have to vote ‘Yes’.

The Alliance For Change (AFC), for its part, earlier Monday insisted that the constitutionally mandated PPC must be set up before that party adds its seven seats to the government’s 32 to allow safe passage of the AML/CFT amendments.

“The AFC’s position is that the flow of illicit funds must be stemmed at its source; in the award of contracts, and this will only happen when the Public Procurement Commission is established. If the legislature wants to demonstrate its full commitment to stamping out money laundering it will act to ensure a fully functioning PPC,” stated that party.

The AFC maintained that passage of the AML/CFT Bill on Monday without the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission would be “a half-baked attempt to stem the flow of illicit gains.”

“Apart from the proceeds from illicit drugs; bribery, kickbacks and payoffs form the main artery feeding corrupt officials and draining away the lifeblood of poor, ordinary taxpayers,” said the party.

The AFC noted that since the passage of the original AML legislation there has been little or no implementation and added that there was no reason to believe that there would be any implementation of a revamped Bill. “Amended AML legislation will be used by the PPPC government as cosmetic to hide the truth that corrupt officials would continue to benefit from nefarious deals,” added the AFC whose two top executives are former senior members of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP).