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Govt to pass tight amendments to anti-money laundering law

Parliament Building.

by Zena Henry

With just over a week more to go for the expected re-opening of Parliament, the Coalition government is prepared to use its majority to push through the required amendments to the 2009 Anti-Money Laundering (AML) legislation to avoid the country from being black-listed as an uncooperative jurisdiction.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon told State media that the government has always been interested in having the legislation passed, but several obstacles were experienced in the failed Tenth Parliament. During an interview with the Presidential Secretary on May 20, he explained that the legislation will be placed on the front burner and this would, “test the truthfulness and positions of the former People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Administration,” who bitterly blamed the then Opposition for the House’s failure to pass the law.

The previous minority administration had begged the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and the Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) not to blacklist Guyana in light of the refusal by the then APNU+AFC opposition not to pass the recommended amendments unless they had been further tightened. If the amendments are not passed, Guyanese could eventually face difficulties conducting basic money transfers for personal use or large amounts for the purchase of essentials like fuel and pharmaceuticals.

The government said that during their time on the opposing side, their contention was that the legislation did not deal adequately with potential money launders and the enforcement of penalties.

“We are going to put it back on the front burner and let Guyanese see that it is something that we are going to push for. We have always said we wanted a Anti-money laundering legislation that was wholesome, that dealt with the mechanisms for enforcement,” said Harmon, a lawyer by profession.

Harmon said that currently those things exist in the drafts before the Special Select Committee, “So it is just a matter now of getting back there… getting the arguments finished quickly and getting it before the floor of the National Assembly.”

He said the previous Administration was “hamstrung” despite being a minority government, “But I think our position in the National Assembly when it is convened, we will be able to push through that type of legislation.”

He said the AML Bill is important for the country, but, the issue was politicized by the former Administration because they were not genuinely interested in passing it. He said even though they had the minority in Parliament, “the (former) President (Donald Ramotar) used his pen judicially to stop what was happening.”

Harmon even accused the former Administration of trying to railroad the entire process which was connected to debates on the AML legislation by creating “inaccurate” deadlines that raised the bar of concerns for Guyanese and business people even though they were not realistic.

“I believe if we had sat down in the Tenth Parliament and rather than trying to create this situation that the opposition was blocking this and blocking that, that if the PPP were really interested in getting this legislation passed, it could have been passed.”

“And what we are saying is once these legislations go before the Select Committee and are passed in the House, Brigadier Granger has said as President he won’t be blocking these things. Once the debate is done, active considerations given to these things, there is absolutely no reason why it should be languishing on the desk of any Officer,” Harmon posited.

Sworn-in Attorney General, Basil Williams told Demerara Waves that Constitution reform is high on the agenda. He said the AML Bill and the delay in criminal trials are just a few of the burning issues.