Guyana’s environment more conducive to fight corruption, drugs- US diplomat

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 May 2015, 15:49 by GxMedia

US Embassy Charge D’Affaires, Bryan Hunt.

The United States (US) is expected to support the new Guyana government’s quest to improve security, fight corruption and hold long overdue local government elections, according to a top embassy official here.

“I think there is not going to be a tremendous change necessarily in what we are prepared to offer. I get a sense there may be a change in what the government is prepared to accept and the fact that we may be prepared to see a broader partnership on some of these areas because our interests do fairly closely align,” US Embassy Charge D’ Affaires, Bryan Hunt said on an interview on HJ 94.1 Boom FM.

He listed the US priority areas of cooperation as security, governance, transparent management of natural resources, corruption, local government election, parliamentary oversight and the participation of women and youth in decision-making. The government hopes to hold local government elections this year, but from all accounts that will have to be pushed back until next year because an amendment to one key law has to be passed in the House and the Guyana Elections Commisison (GECOM) has to make the necessary arrangements.

While the US hopes that the presence of Exxon Mobil, which has a found a “significant” oil reserve offshore, and Marriot Corporation would stimulate more American investments here by small and medium sized businesses, the issue of corruption would have to be tackled frontally.

“I think if the new government is able to deal with the problems in the business climate, the problems of the perception of corruption which have been cited by Transparency International repeatedly that we will be able to see  a broadening of that trade and investment relationship between the United States and Guyana,” said Hunt.

Prior to the May 11, 2015 general and regional elections, the previous administration had granted approval for United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents to work in Guyana alongside their local counterparts to go after drug lords.

Hunt credited the previous administration with improved collaboration during the past year through the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU), the Guyana Police Force’s Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and the Ministry of Home Affairs. From all accounts, the America diplomat expects that cooperation would continue under the administration of President David Granger in dealing with “serious trafficking.”

“The indications that I have received to date are that the new government takes the fight very seriously and that they want to continue that level of collaboration that we have built, that they welcome the continued cooperation between the counter-narcotics forces here and the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States,” he said.

Ahead of planned review of Guyana by the global financial crimes watchdog, Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in September or October, Hunt said the US was keenly interested in seeing Guyana approve amendments to the 2009 Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act that would make it easier to go after proceeds of crime such as drug trafficking and money laundering.  “I think immediately. I would hope that it is one of the first items on the agenda of the new Parliament. I know that there are a number of competing interests that will need to be balanced as the government goes through the legislative agenda but this is one on which there is a finite time clock,”  said the American envoy.

The then opposition had used its one-seat majority in the 65-seat National Assembly to block several amendments to the financial crimes law on the basis that they had not been tight enough. While the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) had said it could not intervene in the work of the legislature, it maintained that the proposed amendments had been compatible with international best practices.