Opposition concerns railroaded as AML/CFT Bill passed

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The Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Bill was on Friday passed In the National Assembly with Government using its majority, even though several worrying aspects of the Bill were highlighted by the Opposition.

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams

A major point of contention was the AML/CFT Proliferation Financing National Co-ordination Committee.

The Opposition pointed out that this committee will be chaired by Attorney General Basil Williams himself, despite his ‘expertise’ being in the field of law, and not finance.

One of the most contentious sections of the bill was Section 7 (g,1), which states that “the Committee, its assets, property, income and its operations and transactions authorized by this Act, shall be exempt from all taxation, including customs duty, consumption tax, capital gains tax, corporation tax, income tax, property tax and purchase tax, and the committee shall be exempt from payment of any tax or duty whatsoever.”

People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament Juan Edghill, zeroing in on this, noted that the bill proposes tax free exemptions for the 25-member committee.

The fact that sections of the bill also give the Chairperson the power to pay staff did not escape Edghill.

“Who is this committee? Let me remind the people of Guyana who are the members. The Attorney General; the DPP; the Governor of the Bank of Guyana; the Commissioner General of the GRA; the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit; the Head of the Special Organised Crime Unit; the General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board; The Chairperson of the Gaming Authority,” Edghill observed.

“So the Attorney General is paying staff, which should be the duty of the Permanent Secretary. If you go to section 7 (b) of the principal act, (you will find that) the Chairperson of the Committee shall pay from the funds of the committee the salaries, fees, allowances of the staff of the committee, and any other expenses incurred by the committee in the performance of (its) duties.

The Attorney General has now become the head of a budget agency. He is paying fees (of) the staff. The Attorney General!” Edghill declared.

Opposition Parliamentarian Bishop Juan Edghill

Further declaring that this provision allows for political interference, Edghill demanded that the Attorney General show which Financial Action Task Force/Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (FATF/CFATF) recommendation this complies with.

The originally proposed 25-member committee also came up in the debate. In his introduction of the bill, Williams had questioned the logic behind the creation of a committee with so many persons. However, the PPP heckled that it was the current Government who brought it into place.

Williams reeled off several provisions within the bill, including the penalties for contravening the different clauses. For a legal person, the penalty is $50 million, while others are subject to a fine of $10 million. He noted that entities must also file suspicious transactions’ reports.

“The bill before this house will do what the other amendments have done; that is, strengthen what already exists, and provide the foundation for us to demonstrate that our systems and policies are effective,” Williams said.

“Some of the functions of the committee include developing national anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism and proliferation financing policies informed by the risks identified by the National Risk Assessment,” he explained.

But Edghill, in his presentation, noted that the FIU was not made stronger by the Government, but rather weaker. He pointed out that there are a number of important omissions from the committee, including the Police Commissioner and the Customs Anti- Narcotics Unit (CANU).

“The authority would have had a chairperson from the members who came through the parliamentary process. The authority would have also had ex-officio members. But notably, they have left out from the committee the Commissioner of Police. The Solicitor General has been left out. CANU, left out. Registrar of the Deeds, left out. Rather than strengthening, we are leaving out,” Edghill declared.

Other members who spoke on the bill included PPP Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, and MP Harry Gill. But with the Government holding a majority, the opposition’s objections were overridden, and the bill was pushed through.

The Bill seeks to amend the AML/CFT Act and related legislation to strengthen the regime for combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing (AML/CFT/PF).
Clause three of the Bill amends section 7A of the principal Act to satisfy recommendation 2 of the FATF, which states that countries should designate an authority to have a mechanism that is responsible for national AML/CFT/PF policies.

The US Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume Two of March 2018, had listed Guyana among many other countries deemed as “major money laundering jurisdictions in 2017”.

The report declared there was a lack of strong interagency cooperation among Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and drug-fighting agencies, adding that these departments did not have adequate human resources and the necessary training for complete effectiveness. (Jarryl Bryan)

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