– Govt ignores Opposition’s “rushing” concerns
After nearly two hours of exchanges in the National Assembly, the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition on Wednesday evening rejected the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition’s request to “reason” and went ahead to pass the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill 2016.
The passage of the Bill came in light of a motion put forward by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira to have the piece of legislation reviewed by a Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) before passage. However, Government used its parliamentary one-seat majority to turn down the motion, thus, allowing the Bill to be read for the second and third time before being passed as printed.
The Bill contained 11 clauses to amend various sections of the AML/CFT (Amendment) Act 2016. The Opposition had proposed several changes to the clauses but these were shut down by the Coalition Administration.
However, the amendments were not made without heated exchanges between the two sides of the House.
In defending the Bill after the House went into the Committee of Supply, following the first reading of the Amendment Bill, Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Basil Williams pointed out that his Administration inherited a situation of great reticence to fight against money launderers and an even greater reluctance to counter the financing of terrorism.
“Mr Speaker, the PPP/C Government had continually failed to remedy the many deficiencies in the Action Plan it had agreed to with both the CFATF (Caribbean Financial Action Task Force) and the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) in or around 2011 and 2014 respectively,” he stated.
According to Williams, the Administration in its nearly one year in office has managed to reduce the number of unimplemented FATF recommendations to one and this too was got rid of with the passage of the Bill on Wednesday. He noted that Guyana can now apply to exit the FATF process.
However, the situation is not the same with regard to the CFATF, the Legal Affairs Minister said. He explained that Government found a plethora of recommendations that PPP/C Government failed to implement since July 2011, while adding that Guyana was rated Compliant and Largely Compliant in only 6 of the 40 + 9 Recommendations on which it was assessed.
Williams further went on to say that the Administration has been engaging CFATF since May last year and was reminded in January that one Core and five Key Recommendations were still outstanding. These recommendations, the AG added, were addressed in the passed legislation last June while the remaining three were included in this most recent Bill that was passed.
“So let this be the last time we hear about any kind of interference by the Honourable Members on the opposite side in relation to the business of the AML/CFT conducted by the APNU/AFC Government,” he posited as he reminded of the urgency to have the Bill passed in time for the May 2016 review.
However, the Opposition MPs outlined that this was the ninth time Government was rushing to have a Bill passed at all three stages in one sitting. In fact, PPP/C front bencher Anil Nandlall sought to discard the arguments put forward by Williams, pointing out that it was impossible for Guyana to meet the May deadline at this point in time.
Nandlall explained that the Bill should have been passed eight weeks ago before the parliamentary hiatus since Guyana was supposed to circulate the passed legislation to other countries for review as it was currently under a peer review.
Moreover, the former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister went on to dissect the amendments being made to the legislation, highlighting a specific clause which says, “The Court SHALL immediately, pursuant to the application of the Director of Public Prosecutions under subsection (6), grant the freezing order (of assets).”
The Opposition MP argued that this clause interferes with the discretionary power of the judiciary. Furthermore, he referred to another clause which gives the Minister of Legal Affairs the power to permit access to frozen funds or other assets, saying that persons would have to go to the Minister with “begging bag” for basic expenses such as medical, taxes, insurance charges, utility expenses and so soon.
“This Bill is warped! No executive officer can have that power over people’s property. This is vulgar, it is unconstitutional. No executive office must lord over people’s property,” he declared.
To this end, Nandlall pleaded with the House to have the Bill sent to a Select Committee for review, noting that it will only take one week as he knows where the mistakes are. “I have done a lot of work on this Bill and I’m asking my friends on that side to take it to a Select Committee, let us cleanse this Bill of its impurities,’” the former Legal Affairs Minister remarked.
The AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill 2016 was subsequently considered in the Committee of Supply clause by clause and passed without amendments. It was then taken to the National Assembly, where it was read for the second and third time before being passed as printed.