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Stop the politicking, pass anti-money laundering bill now- British envoy

British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre (left) looks on as Prime Minister Samuel Hinds cuts the cake in honour of Queen Elizabeth II birthday

Britain on Tuesday called for an end to politicking and instead the swift approval of amendments to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act in a last ditch effort to avoid Guyana from being blacklisted.

“The UK also calls upon the political parties to adopt, without further delay, the revised AML/CFT bill. The time for playing politics was over months ago,” said British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre at the Queen’s Birthday reception held at his residence.

He warned that the likely blacklisting of Guyana by the global financial crimes watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) “may reverse many of the hard-won gains.” “It was avoidable , and might yet still be avoided.”

With Guyana already identified by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) as a jurisdiction to which banks and other financial institutions need to be careful because of heightened risks of dirty money, the High Commissioner said that it is not only the passage of the legislation that would avert blacklisting. “But to do so needs immediate action to adopt and implement the numerous recommendations that FATF requires us all, including carrying out investigations into complex financial crime.”

He expressed concern that Guyana has not investigated any financial crimes although the United Kingdom, with its American and Canadian partners, has worked hard over the past 18 months to assist, including through offers of training and mentoring. “I do not know why this work, which requires no new legislation, has not been done,” added Ayre.

Responding to the High Commissioner’s concerns about the AML/CFT, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds said “I agree wholeheartedly with you that the necessary legislation must be passed soon to avoid the escalation of the difficulties already being experienced.”  The Private Sector Commission and a number of commercial banks have voiced grave concern that the non-passage of the amendments would result in higher costs and much delay in bank transfers because of additional information that will be required to prove that such transactions are above board.

The opposition parties- A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC)-which control the majority in the National Assembly have vowed not to approve amendments to the AML/CFT unless certain demands are met. They include the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission and the President signing into law several Bills that have been approved by the opposition-controlled House.

The opposition also wants the principal AML/CFT amended to improve the governance mechanism by setting up an Anti Money Laundering Authority and a Civilian Oversight mechanism to monitor the enforcement of the law and make recommendations wherever necessary.  The powers of police and customs, according to the opposition, must be widened to allow either agency to seize the equivalent of UD$10,000 anywhere in Guyana if there is reasonable suspicion that the money is dirty or is intended to finance terrorism.

All of those recommendations have been rejected by the government in the Parliamentary Select Committee that has been established to examine the laws.

The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) has since pointed to several weaknesses in the opposition’s recommendations, but at the same time has said that jurisdictions have a right to strengthen their laws and systems over and beyond those that are CFATF/FATF-compliant.

America, Britain, Canada and the European Union as well as the Caribbean Community and the Organisation of American States (OAS) have all called for the passage of the AML/CFT amendment bill.