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More than GUY$10 million in your possession could soon be seized

If the newly-elected government gets its way, Guyanese in possession of more than GUY$10 million could have their cash seized if reasonable grounds are established when amendments to the money laundering law are passed.

Using its simple majority of 33 seats in the National Assembly, government is expected approve the 2009 Anti-Money Laundering Act that would empower police and customs officers to seize such assets after being authorized by the Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

Additionally, the National Assembly, by a simple majority and on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments, will be empowered to appoint the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Authority, which will play a supervisory role over the FIU.

The above provisions are encapsulated in Sections 37 and 4 of the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill 2015 which the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) + Alliance for Change (AFC) coalition government will lay in the National Assembly next Thursday- June 25, 2015.

They are also two of three main amendments which APNU proposed to the principal Act when the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) tabled their own version of amendments in 2013 – the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill 2013.

The former administration, however, had insisted that the bill be passed as it was originally laid, but conceded to have it sent to a Select Committee after the opposition parties, which held the majority of seats in the National Assembly, threatened to withhold support for its passing.

On the matter of empowering police, customs, and other officers to seize such large sums of money the former administration has argued that the provision was impractical in a cash-based economy such as Guyana’s where many large transactions are done with cash.

The former administration had also criticised the proposal to have the National Assembly appoint the FIU’s oversight body, arguing that it created a situation where Members of Parliament (MPs) would be put in a position of authority over persons who may be charged with investigating them if necessary.

The former government’s bill would have placed this oversight responsibility in the hands of the Finance Minister.

The 2015 amendment bill also proposes to empower the National Assembly, by a simple majority, and on the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments, to appoint the Director as well as the Deputy Director of the FIU. These officers are also given security of tenure in a bid to bolster the independence of the FIU. Under the former government’s amendment the President would have been vested with the power to hire and fire these officials.

Former Legal Affairs Minister and Atorney General, Anil Nandlall, as well as former Finance Minister, Ashni Singh, had claimed that officials from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) had indicated to them that the opposition’s proposals were inconsistent with recommendations that were made and would have made the bill, if passed with those amendments, non-compliant.

Today, following a courtesy call on current Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, Chargé d’ Affaires of the United States (U.S.) Embassy in Guyana, Bryan Hunt said “what I can say is that the bill that the government is currently tabling has been reviewed by a number of international bodies” and is “fully consistent with the recommendations that have been laid out by both the Caribbean Action Task Force (CFATF) and the Global Financial Action Task Force (FATF).”

In 2013, after the bill was sent to a Select Committee several meetings took place before its Chairman, Gail Teixeira, ended the committee’s life in the absence of opposition members. Teixeira had said that the deadline for the bill’s passage was approaching and the opposition parties were yet to put forward their amendments.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge, who was then the Shadow Finance Minister, had said that opposition’s inability to present the amendments was the result of the unavailability of a legislative draftsperson in the National Assembly.

When the bill was sent back the National Assembly to be passed the opposition parties combined their numbers to vote against it, effectively killing it.

AFC and APNU agreed to vote to bring the bill back on the condition that it be sent, again, to a Select Committee. This was done, at which time the opposition parties presented their amendments.

Unlike what obtained in the tenth Parliament, the government holds the majority of the seats in the National Assembly and therefore does not need the support of the PPPC opposition to pass this amendment bill.