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Gov’t, opposition volley blame for latest CFATF blacklisting

Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh

The government and opposition remain firmly entrenched in their respective positions on the anti-money laundering legislation as a regional financial body recommends further sanctions against the country for its non-passage of the legislation a year after it was initially due.

The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) in a statement released by the government on Thursday noted Guyana’s failure to meet the timelines of the Action Plan for enactment of the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill.

The CFATF called on its 27 members to consider implementing “further counter measures to protect their financial systems from the ongoing money laundering and terrorist financing risks emanating from Guyana.” It had recommended similar steps last year when another deadline passed without finality on the bill.

According to CAFTF, it considered Guyana to be “a risk to the international financial system” and it has referred the case to its international governing body the Financial Action Task Force. That body is set to meet later next month where it is expected Guyana’s case will come under further scrutiny.

“The responsibility for the advisory issued by CFATF today lies squarely and firmly at the feet of the opposition,” Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh told reporters Thursday afternoon. He added that the government remained available for talks on the legislation since it was imperative that it be enacted.

“We have said repeatedly this matter goes to the core of the integrity of our financial system, you cannot trifle, you cannot gamble with the integrity of your financial system.”

In response to a question on possible government intervention to counter rising prices which could result from sanctions that could see the exchange rate go up the minister said the means at the government’s disposal was limited given that the rate was market-determined.

“The government has at its disposal a few, very limited instruments but we don’t control the exchange rate and so the government’s latitude to intervene is extremely finite and very limited. I don’t wish to speculate on implications for the exchange rate and I don’t wish to speculate on the exchange rate but I will say that it is a fact that this advisory is very clear in its language, it is a fact that this development will have an implication for foreign inflows into this country and for trade transactions with this country,” Dr. Singh said.

CFATF in its advisory stated that countermeasures against Guyana could include enhanced due diligence measures; introducing enhanced reporting mechanisms or systematic reporting of financial transactions; or refusing the establishment of subsidiaries or branches or representative offices in the country.

It added that others wishing to do business with financial entities in Guyana could also take into account the absence of adequate Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) systems and limit their business relationships or financial transactions with the local entities or the country.

But those possibilities have not budged the parliamentary opposition parties from their positions with APNU Chairman David Granger telling Demerara Waves Online News that the government was responsible for the predicament in which the country has found itself.

“As far as we are concerned the PPP administration had been warned by the CFATF since 2011 that they must put certain things in place to correct certain deficiencies by November 2013 and this has not been done and the PPP must take full responsibility for the impending blacklisting of Guyana. APNU has put its conditions on the table and we have cooperated fully with the Special Select Committee.”

The APNU has submitted a number of amendments to the bill to which the government has objected. The administration has pointed out that the bill as it is now is in compliance with recommendations from the CFATF, a contention the regulatory body has supported. However, the APNU has said its amendments could make the eventual Act enforceable and strengthens governance.

It has also tied the passage of the AML/CFT bill to the president’s assent to a number of bills passed in the House which the government has deemed unconstitutional.

The AFC for its part has been holding out for the establishment of a Public Procurement Commission as a prerequisite for the bill’s passage, a position it reiterated in a statement on Thursday.

“The AFC proposes that a process to fast-track the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission be implemented, with the Public Accounts Committee selecting the five nominees at its next meeting. These five names can then be submitted to the National Assembly for approval by a two-thirds majority.

Once the House approves the nominees they can be appointed by the President. Following this the Alliance For Change would have no hesitation in giving its support for the passage of the AML/CFT Bill,” the statement read.

The government has indicated that it is willing to set up the Commission only if it gets to retain the right to the no objection to contracts it currently enjoy. But this is a condition the opposition has rejected in keeping with the procurement legislation which calls for the phasing out of the government’s involvement in the process. The administration has called for an amendment to the legislation which it had voted for when it enjoyed the majority in the House.

According to Granger he believed that the whole matter could be resolved in a day or two but that the governing PPP/C was “dawdling.”