Jewellery traders and other members of the local gold business community are growing worried over what is developing into a consistent raiding and seizure of jewellery circulating within the country.
Last Friday, ranks of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), made yet another jewellery seizure at a local airport and this incident comes on the heels of a similar one last month which has since prompted a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the government.
SOCU Head Sydney James disclosed that officials will be clamping down on money launderers and in fact a number of operations were launched last weekend.
Though SOCU is operating under the Anti-Money Laundering/Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act, the business community is becoming more and more apprehensive about the impact these activities will have on their operations.
Particularly, businessmen are very concerned about how the archaic Customs Act comes into effect, according to a report in today’s Guyana Times.
The report said the recent seizures have caused many businessmen to believe that the officials were operating under the Customs Act which prohibits individuals from leaving the country with jewellery worth in excess of Gy$2,000.
These laws, dating back to the 70s, stipulates that persons leaving or arriving in Guyana must make a declaration on a designated form of the items they are carrying on person or in luggage.
Though there is general prohibition against jewellery, there is an exception as it relates to marriage or engagement articles (rings or watches). The Act allows a female to carry out jewellery valued at a maximum of $2000 and males at $1500. Persons under twelve years can also take out jewellery but it must be worth no more than $500.
If persons are desirous of taking out jewellery valued more than the allowable amount, they must be in receipt of a written approval from the Finance Minister.
Persons have expressed that these laws are old and there is an increasing urgency for them to be upgraded, especially in light of the fact that government is moving to enforce the AML/CFT Act.
According to the Guyana Times report, Elegance Jewellery, a prominent jewel trader in Guyana, has indicated that most of its clients are foreign-based and if there continues to be arbitrary seizures at the airports, the entity’s operations will be gravely affected.
“Most of our clients are from overseas who come in Guyana to purchase jewellery and then they would take it out of the country. We are basically surviving on foreign clients,” the representative stated, calling on government to move swiftly to amend the legislation.
Another businessman, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that some Customs Act overlaps with sections of AML/CFT and therefore these need to be reviewed to avoid confusion.
“You can’t have the AML/CFT Act putting one limit on the amount you can carry around and you enforce that but then you have the Customs Act with a different thing but you don’t enforce. It needs reviewing so everything will be consistent because people will then be hesitant to conduct any kind of trade as it relates to these two Acts,” he explained.
Another popular Georgetown jewellery store noted that the Customs Act is ridiculous and its amendment is long overdue.
“It’s ridiculous that they haven’t changed it as yet. You see, government has not enforced the Act in a long time, simply because it’s outdated and 99 per cent of people aren’t aware of what the law says. Now that this information is coming to light, people will get concerned and it could put a damper on the jewellery trade,” the proprietor commented.
Contacted for a comment on the development, Finance Minister Winston Jordan explained that SOCU is operating under the AML/CFT Act so there really is no need for concern. He posited that the Customs Act, like hundreds of other laws, are outdated and hence not enforced.
Nonetheless, he assured that steps will be taken in due course to make the necessary amendments to archaic laws.
“The law as we find them over time will be adjusted to suit modern times,” he assured, noting that many of them will also need to be synchronised.