Anti-money laundering law hurdles more political than legal- Opposition

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015, 20:59 by GxMedia

Chairperson of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and Attorney General of the Bahamas Allyson Maynard-Gibson (left) chatting with Caricom Secretary General, Irwin La Rocque and APNU’s Carl Greenidge

The Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) could soon send technical experts to hammer out differences over amendments to Guyana’s financial crimes law but the opposition insisted that political issues first need to be resolved before the opposition can support passage of the bill.

“In essence, we have a political crisis and it requires a political solution,” Vice Chairman of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine told a news briefing on Saturday immediately after meeting top CFATF officials.

The combined opposition controls the 65-seat National Assembly with its 33.

CFATF Chairperson and Attorney General of the Bahamas Allyson Maynard-Gibson refused to speak with the media at the end of her 90-minute meeting with representatives of APNU and the Alliance For Change (AFC) at the Opposition Leader’s Office, Hadfield Street, Werk-en-Rust. She earlier met with top officials of the Private Sector Commission and the government. The Secretary General of the 15-nation Caribbean Community, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque was also present at the meeting.

However, APNU representatives told a news conference that the opposition delegation was told that CFATF could dispatch specialists to address some of the legal hurdles.

“The Chairperson of CFATF was very careful to say that they were available to the Select Committee or to Guyana in relation to assistance on technical matters and she continued to maintain for the duration of the meeting that their intervention or help could not go beyond the technical,” added Roopnaraine.

Saturday’s meeting, APNU officials said, did not discuss in detail the opposition’s proposed amendments aimed at setting up an Anti-Money Laundering Authority to appoint the Head and Deputy Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit. The opposition also wants the law to provide for civilian oversight of the implementation of the AML/CFT. “What we did draw to their attention broadly is the issue of governance and the broader principles that may apply elsewhere have to be assessed in the context of the peculiarities of Guyana,” said APNU Shadow Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge.

APNU officials maintained that even if agreement was reached in the Special Select Committee on amendments to the 2009 Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT), there were several political issues to be resolved. They include the simultaneous passage of amendments to the parent act, presidential assent of Bills that have been approved by the House and the establishment of a Procurement Commission.

President Donald Ramotar has refused to sign a number of those Bills into law, saying that they are unconstitutional.

Attorney-at-Law, Basil Williams recalled that the top officials of the regional financial crimes watchdog pointed to the grave danger of Guyana being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) if AML/CFT is not amended to make Guyana compliant.

“The team has indicated to us the perils that are associated with being blacklisted and the picture that they painted seem to be very draconian and we were assured that they have advised the government of those perils,” he said.

Meanwhile, President Ramotar along with Presidential Advisor on Governance, Gail Teixeira, Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, Minister within the Finance Ministry, Juan Edghill, and the Attorney-General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, were part of the early Saturday morning meeting with visiting CFATF representatives at the Office of the President.

Nandlall was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as saying that “One point that we made clear was that Guyana has a completed Bill that has been examined by CFAFT, and deemed to be compliant.”

He added that the proposed draft amendments made by the Parliamentary opposition do not address the completed Bill on which there is agreement, observing that it seeks to amend the principal act.

The AG stated too “we emphasised our concerns that the draft amendments proposed now are unlikely to be found acceptable by CFAFT and, more fundamentally, expose Guyana to becoming non-compliant in areas we are compliant.” He added that Government emphasised the importance of passing the Bill, not only for its effect on Guyana and its economy, but the region as a whole.

The AG also stated that the CFATF Chairperson Maynard-Gibson has indicated that Guyana is the only country yet to implement all of the body’s recommendations. “She made it very clear that the consequences are going to be devastating,” AG Nandlall said.

Guyana has been blacklisted by the CFATF, and when it submitted its report earlier this year it was documented that the nation was yet to enact the required laws. CFATF will be holding a review next month at which point in time it will refer Guyana to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)/ International Corporation Review Group (ICRG). At the FATF review of Guyana, the nation stands to be blacklisted internationally.

The task force maintains that Guyana must pass the relevant legislation and implement all the outstanding issues within its Action Plan, fully criminalise money laundering and terrorist financing offences, address all the requirements on beneficial ownership, strengthen the requirements for suspicious transaction reporting, improve international cooperation and ensure the freezing and confiscation of all terrorist assets, and implement fully, the Conventions of the United Nations.

Should Guyana be sent to the ICRG by FATF, the process will be extremely critical. Officials will physically visit Guyana and make more recommendations all of which will have to be complied with before Guyana can be removed from the blacklist. This process could take an average of four to six years while the country is still being blacklisted. This would cause economic slow-down, and would be a disincentive for anyone wanting to transact business locally.

In February, CFATF’s Financial Adviser Roger Hernandez had visited Guyana and met with members of the AML parliamentary committee. He had explained that in order for the bill to be considered by CFATF’s Plenary in May, it would have had to be passed by February 28.

Hernandez has said the regional watchdog body has concerns in relation to the amendments that the APNU was proposing to the AML Bill, explaining that some of those put forward deal with previous areas of the Act, an Act that was deemed compliant