By Patricia Bacchus, Attorney at Law/Business Executive
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The Anti – Money Laundering Legislation, we all know what it is. We’ve heard the talk about blacklisting, and more recently we’ve all been thinking about the merits of the proposed amendments by the opposition – one of which seems to give the police almost unfettered powers to seize sums to the value of G$2 million if they ‘reasonably suspect’ that they are seizing something connected with money-laundering or terrorism financing.
John public is concerned about this. Guyana is a cash driven society, from gold miners going to purchase equipment, to farmers going to purchase supplies, G$2million is a relatively small sum when conducting business. The PSC, the Chamber of Commerce, representing the business and private sector community, have voiced concerns over this proposed amendment. The ordinary man in the street has voiced his concerns. The letter sections of various news houses bear witness to this.
We all know the previous parliamentary dispensation dropped the ball on a timely implementation of the required legislative changes. But this new parliamentary dispensation will surely make us miss the ball altogether, at least it appears so. From the acts of walking out of sub-committee meetings, to the disgraceful tit-for-tat modus operandi that is plaguing us recently in the most painfully obvious ways, WE, your constituents, the people who voted you our elected representatives, dare I say – voted you our leaders, WE demand more.
I wish we the people, were privy to the workings of the sub-committee, imagine if we were able to see it televised. It would at least enable us to see how many hours are being genuinely put towards resolving the differences on the AML. What academic and practical issues are addressed and to what extent, that’s what I would love clarification on.
Take for example the proposed amendments by the opposition, giving the police very wide powers under this Bill. Did our leaders talk about public and private sector opinion? Did they talk about an alternative provision that may be more practical? Maybe the need for a quick, exparte court order before the sums can be seized? Of course this would require that efficient and proper investigation be done before a judge can grant such orders – but shouldn’t that be the standard we’re aspiring to? What about looking at the experience of other countries and learning from their mistakes?
I’m sure many like me wonder how we’ve managed to spiral so far out of control on a piece of internationally required legislation. While we can identify with the opposition’s concern that the institutional framework needed to give teeth to the AML is not in place, or is not strong enough or functioning how it ought to, that cannot be a valid reason to withhold approval of the Bill.
In fact, let’s look at a mistake that we can learn from, one that demonstrates that the CFATF and the FATF (the international task force founded by the G-7 and charged with developing and implementing global standards to counter elicit financing) are not only concerned with legislative compliance, but also ensuring the systems and institutional framework are in place and are functioning as they ought to. Let’s look at the case of Turkey.
Turkey was on the FATF’s grey list, so were Kenya and Tanzania. In 2013, Turkey passed laws to counter the financing of terrorism. Earlier this month, Kenya and Tanzania were removed from the grey list, but Turkey was not – The body was most concerned about Turkey’s weak framework for identifying and freezing terrorist assets, for example, its definition of “terrorism financing” is too narrow and its asset freezing procedure is too slow, and urged investors and other countries to think twice before diving in.
I think we can accordingly rest assured, as a country, that Guyana will be similarly monitored. Our institutions and systems would have to work; our deficiencies would have to be fixed; after all, we are answerable to the regional and international regulatory body. Wouldn’t the passage of this Bill be a step in the right direction in any anti-corruption campaign?
So what now? Our leaders continue to dance around in circles while we go closer to being named a ‘high-risk, non-cooperative’. It would appear that we have no solution in sight, a position compounded by the rushed and fruitless meetings between government and opposition parties, and the total disregard shown for the sentiments expressed by the private sector and other stakeholders – including the CFATF.
What a very frustrating position to be in as a nation. One that’s made worse by the magnitude of work in dire need of being embarked on by our leaders.
We’re spending so much time on the AML and getting nowhere, it is consuming the minds of politicians, business owners, the working class, and the single parent who depends on foreign remittances, to the point of absolute frustration. What of sentencing reform? What of other areas in dire need of law reform?
What about other institutional and regulatory strengthening? When will these issues be addressed? Take sentencing reform for instance. How absurd is it that our leaders can turn a blind eye to a provision in the law that requires that a magistrate impose a minimum of three years imprisonment for anyone found with 15grams (0.055 of a lb.) of marijuana? That’s less that than an ounce. Let’s see how this equates with the rest of the civilized world, In Florida 25-2000 lbs. would earn you three years.
The courts in Trinidad have even recently declared a mandatory disproportionate jail term for marijuana possession as unconstitutional. This is just one example.
If better sense prevails, we would be looking at sentencing reform that is fair, and that reflects societies’ needs. In light of the rise in violent crimes in our country, the levels of road fatalities caused by recklessness such as drunk driving, the troubling cases of domestic violence, why don’t we look at reform and mandatory minimums here? Or are these issues too miniscule for our leaders to consider because they are too consumed by the AML, Amaila Hydropower and Budget Cuts?
And ineffectively so, I should add. Your voters would love a little proactivity, we can even settle for some reactive action at times. But if you’re hell bent on being both reactive and ineffective – then you’re asking for too much, and in the process doing us – the people, a grave injustice. Compromise and reasonableness in putting country first, is the only practical option you have as leaders. If you can’t give us that, then you’re all incapable of the act of leading.
(For the lawyer, the doctor, the mini-bus driver, the stay at home mother, the importer, the farmer, the young person in prison for 15 grams of marijuana)