APNU+AFC set on course to guarantee FATF blacklist of Guyana – says PPP/C
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) criticized the coalition government of A Partnership for National Unity/ Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) for its Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financial Terrorism (AML/CFT) bill, with its current amendments.
The PPP stated that not only were the amendments in breach of the Financial Action Task Force/ Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (FATF/CFATF) regulations, but that the government’s intended actions would propel Guyana from its current gray list position to black list.
The Party also had heavy criticism for US ChargÉ d’ Affaires, Bryan Hunt, who had previously expressed his support for the revised bill. The PPP stated that the envoy “was not fully informed or was speaking about the wrong Bill”, by stating that the Bill was fully compliant with CFATF/ FATF regulations.
The government subsequently went ahead with the tabling of the AML/CFT on Thursday. It debated the Bill yesterday. The party expressed its views at a press conference on Wednesday at the Party’s headquarters at Freedom house.
Hosting it were former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, former Chief Whip Gail Texeira and former Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill.
The amendments which, according to the PPP/C do not meet international standards are contained in Section (2), Sections (8) and (9) and Section (37).
The first amendment in contention dealt with removing the words ‘Attorney General’ and replacing them with the words ‘Director’. However the party had an especially harsh view of amendments, Section 8 and 9, which provide for the establishment of an AML/CFT authority, whose members are appointed by the National Assembly, as well as the removal of the powers of the Minister of Legal Affairs to appoint/dismiss the Director and placing these powers with the authority.
Nandlall labeled the proposal to appoint the authority, from such a pool of members, as an “incestuous and banal fancy” that could not and would not find favour with the regulatory body. According to him, the Bill took politically compromised persons and in effect made them managers of the FIU.
This, he declared, was a direct breach of FATF Recommendation 26, that “the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) should have sufficient operational independence and autonomy to ensure that it is free from undue influence or interference.”
“What they have done is take politically exposed persons, who are MPs and make them the appointing authorities for the FIU. What this document (proposed amendments) does is insulate these individuals from the investigative and monitoring arm of the AML/CFT infrastructure and bodies that are there to investigate. The FIU is central in this process.”
According to Nandlall, with the new stipulation on the appointment of these persons, it was “inconceivable” how the bill could meet the international requirements in terms of the FIU being an autonomous and independent body. He added that with such an appointment, these individuals could never be able to function without undue influence.
The former Attorney General attacked the proposed amendment dealing with cash seizures. According to amendment section 37,” the powers of a police or customs officer to seize and detain cash, (G$10M or more) throughout the country upon suspicion that such cash was derived for use to/ will be used to commit a serious offence, a money laundering act or where a false declaration was made. According to him, the amendments were wholly unnecessary and an added burden to the economy.
“Our legislative infrastructure suffers no deficiency in this regard. Our law, currently structured, meets the international requirement for that specific recommendation. So there is absolutely no need for this intervention, to allow this unusual power granted to police and customs officers, and officers with the FIU, to seize and detain cash throughout the country.”
According to him, it was the CFATF/FATF who stipulated what were the minimum standards that countries had to assimilate. This, he said, was universally followed by countries, since the maximum standard placed undue burdens on the particular countries economy.
“Here, this Bill goes to the other extreme and imposes stringent, stifling requirements that make them part of our law and are not required. It is going to result in undue hardship.”
He also alluded to comments made by Head of the Presidential Secretariat Joseph Harmon who in response to the PPP/C’s abstinence from parliament had said that their input was important in the national assembly.
Nandlall questioned why the sudden realization of how important the PPP/C’s input was, when “for three years Harmon was part of a grouping that rejected the PPP/C’s input.”
The accusation was later made against the APNU+AFC Government of having committed itself to a position whereby, in order to save face, it must proceed with the defective bill, rather than admit that the PPP/C was right and that moreover, the PPP/C would not be used in order to pass the compliant version of the Bill.
When asked why the party, in its concern for the potential passage of the Bill in its current form, did it not then take up its opposition in parliament, Teixeira, who once served as the Chairperson of the Special Select Committee, retorted that she did not see the need when the party’s opposition to the APNU+AFC version of the Bill was a much ventilated position since the amendments were brought to the Assembly.
Nandlall also predicted dire consequences for Guyana if the government maintained its course. According to him, with the advent of the next FATF meeting in September, should Guyana not have the right, compliant bill in place, the country would be moved from gray list status to blacklist status. This, he said, would signal a curtailing of foreign investors, in addition to international embarrassment and other economic repercussions.
Minister Harmon made it pellucid that as a former Attorney General, Nandlall should appreciate the seriousness of the act. According to him, the APNU+AFC had always committed itself to the passage of the AML/CFT bill, but not with its loopholes as previously tabled by the PPP/C.
“We want to make it very clear that money launderers and terrorists be put on notice that we are very serious about this. We are going to do whatever it takes to ensure that the law is tightened up. We said on more than one occasions that there are too many gaps in the previous legislation. There are large enough holes for detractors to slip through and we need to tighten these things up.”
“This is the law; this is not a joke or a promise to do something that we are talking about. Why would we put something in there for cheap political points?” he queried.
There has been mounting pressure for passage of the FATF compliant legislature, with the issue being hotly debated in the 10th parliament.
CFATF has issued many calls for Guyana to fall in line. With the advent of the APNU+AFC government, US ChargÉ d’ Affaires Bryan Hunt had also expressed optimism that the passage of compliant Bill could proceed.
He had also referred to it as Guyana’s last chance to enact the legislature before being blacklisted; as Guyana’s current status would come up during the FATF meeting in September.