A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) on Friday said in principle it supports the appointment of a multi-stakeholder board to receive reports from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
APNU’s point-man on the Special Parliamentary Select Committee that is considering amendments to the 2009 Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act, Carl Greenidge, however, insisted that government must agree to the establishment of an oversight body- the Anti Money Laundering Authority.
Word of the Barbados model 11-member board surfaced at a government-organised National Consultation on Thursday when the Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Ronald Webster touted it as a way out of the more than year-long deadlock between the opposition and government.
Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill later said in a brief statement about a Demerara Waves Online News article that government’s recent counter amendments submitted to the Select Committee consisted of changes to the Barbados model to fit the local AML/CFT law and take account of concerns by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force.
Speaking with DemWaves, Greenidge said he was unaware that government’s amendments were tailored from Barbados’ AML/CFT legislation. While he could not respond to the details of the amendment because he had not yet read it, he recalled that it provides for the Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to be part of the group of law enforcement agencies- police, Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and other agencies related to the fight against money laundering.
Greenidge stressed that the Board could not be considered an oversight body like the one being recommended by APNU because those security heads are all public officials appointed by the President. “We would have no difficulty with those offices somehow be associated with the oversight but they cannot constitute the oversight body on their own,” he said.
The APNU financial czar vowed that his coalition representatives on the Select Committee would block any amendment that allows the Finance Minister or the Attorney General to oversee the FIU’s work because, unlike Barbados, ministers in Guyana do not take responsibilities here. “We are looking at a different jurisdiction. You just can’t pick up what happens in Barbados and plunk it down in Guyana because it can’t work,” he said. He noted that the Public Service Commissions (PSC) were vibrant and active in Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago and free of conflict of interest. “There is no chance that the institutions will function in Guyana in the same way that they work in Barbados,” he said.
The former Finance Minister under the Peoples National Congress-led administration up to 1992 disagreed with government’s repeated claim that the appointment of APNU’s proposed Anti Money Laundering Authority would be the product of conflict of interest by the 65 members of the National Assembly because they are all classified as “politically exposed persons”. He explained that APNU’s proposed 10-member authority does not have to consist of financial experts but “upright persons in society”. “These people would provide oversight to ensure that the international obligations are honoured, that general constitutional and legal issues are honoured or that where policy is missing either they provide the policy guidance or they refer it to the parliament to cover any gaps,” he said. That opposition coalition also wants the Authority to appoint the Head and Deputy Head of the FIU who would in turn hire their other staff members.
APNU envisages that the Appointments Committee of Parliament would appoint the Authority after they would have invited applications from the public. “It isn’t less or any more political than the minister appointing. It is more democratic,” he said, adding that the political parties would be critically watching each other during the process.
Greenidge wants the FIU to be treated as a constitutional commission whose budget would not be subjected to “fiddling” by the Finance Minister.
Barbados’ AML/CFT law provides for an 11-member Board which is chaired by a representative of the university and the deputy is drawn from the private sector. The others are the Solicitor General, the Head of Customs, the Supervisor of Insurance, Registrar of Companies, the Central Bank of Barbados and two members of the private sector who are specialised in banking and finance.
The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and the Guyana government have cautioned that passing amendments other than those that have been introduced by government risked being non-compliant.
Western diplomats, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) have all called on Guyana to pass the amendments and avoid being globally blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force has already blacklisted Guyana regionally. That regional watchdog has said that Guyana would be whitelisted only after the amendments are passed and the country’s enforcement is monitored over a considerable length of time ranging from one to three years.