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Britain offers to help tighten Guyana’s financial crimes law

Left to Right: British High Commissioner, Mr. Greg Quinn; the Programme Manager for the Caribbean Criminal Asset Recovery Programme (CCARP), Mr. Eamon Kearney and Legal Advisor for the CCARP, Alex Ferguson in discussion with Guyana’s Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams.

United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner Gregory Quinn says the passage of amendments to 2009 Anti-Money Laundering Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act was the main discussion when he paid a courtesy call on Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General (AGC) Basil Williams on Monday.   

Contentions on the details of the bill led to several failed attempts to pass the legislation. As a result, Guyana was and remains blacklisted by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF). Such blacklisting occurred after the CFATF found on two separate occasions that the country had failed to take sufficient steps to curtail money laundering or terrorism financing that may be taking place in the jurisdiction.  

As a consequence, regional states were informed to take steps to insulate themselves from any money laundering or terrorism financing that may be emanating from Guyana.

“This (was) an opportunity for us to talk through the plan for submitting the legislation to parliament in the next 100 days before recess, and on the sorts of things which we might be able to provide advice based on our own experience,” said Quinn, who shared his conviction that the current administration seems “150 percent committed to the passage of this bill.”

Asked how Guyana’s failure to pass the amendment bill has affected the country in the eyes of the UK the High Commissioner said he was unable to give specifics. He nevertheless noted that “a country blacklisted becomes significantly more difficult to do business with…”

Guyana may face furthering blacklisting unless it passes sufficient amendments to the existing AML/CFATF Act before a CFATF Plenary later this year. Speaking on the matter following the courtesy call, Williams shared that the coalition administration will seek to pass the bill with the same amendments it, as the then combined opposition, proposed in the 10th Parliament.

The opposition parties had proposed that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) be taken out from the supervision of the Finance Minister and placed under the supervision of an independent entity which would be determined by the National Assembly. The opposition parties had also proposed a system that would eliminate government’s powers to hire and fire FIU employees, including its Head.

Another proposed amendment by the opposition parties would have seen the FIU having less financial dependence on government. “We thought that was really an all government thing and it needed to have independence and security of tenure,” Williams said.

Each of these proposals was rejected by the former administration.

 “Whereas the former government was dealing with the CFATF and FATF and the Americas Regional Review Group (AARG) in relation to their version of the bill, our government will be proceeding with the bill we had put in the Select Commit in the last parliament.”

The opposition Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) is likely to oppose the bill’s passage, as it did in the 10th Parliament when it controlled the executive reins of government. The party’s opposition will prove inconsequential to the bill’s fate however, as the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition holds both the Executive branch of government and a majourity in the Legislature.

“With our majority we can take it to the house and pass it,” says Williams. Asked if government will take into consideration any dissenting view put forward by the PPPC he said “there is nothing new that could really be put forward. If you are talking about time being of the essence I do not see the need for us to go back into a Special Select-Committee.”

Williams believes that “anything that is new can be dealt with on the floor of the house.”

He says the UK High Commission has indicated that it has no qualms with the amendments that were put forward by the APNU when it sat as one of the opposition parties. He shared though, that he High Commissioner has indicated his interest in proposing entirely new amendments.

Commenting on the nature of proposals to be made, Williams said “they are designed to be futuristic…so that you would not have to run back to parliament in a short space of time.” Nevertheless, he continued, “our compliance (with international requirements) by the passage of this bill will really be the crux of the matter.”

Williams also disclosed that he has met with Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) Paul Geer. He said that Geer was given an update on government’s intentions regarding the bill, and that he was appraised “of the need to have a bill passed in time for the FATF meeting is October.”

The first failed attempt to pass the amendment bill was made in 2013. The opposition parties eventually voted against the passage of the bill after government “prematurely” terminated the life of a Select Committee in which the opposition’s own amendments were to be asserted. Guyana was blacklisted again last year for failure to pass the bill by a deadline. Again, the government and opposition parties failed to come to a mutually acceptable compromise.