Even if an Oracle tells them to pass the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Bill (AMLACFT), A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) would be hesitant. The partnership has continued the tradition of the PNCR when it comes to being intransigent and uncompromising.
Do not expect APNU to step back from its insistence that the President must assent to certain laws before it gives approval to the AMLACFT. APNU has anchored itself to an inflexible position and nothing is going to make them budge. Not the appeals from the diplomatic community; not the urgings from Prime Ministers in the Caribbean; not even the opinions of the vast majority of the people of this country? Nothing will move APNU! It is either their way or the highway!
The Alliance for Change has said that it has no problems with the provisions in the draft Bill now before a Select Committee. The AFC wants the impossible. It wants the Public Procurement Commission established. It probably has not considered how difficult it is going to be for two thirds of the House to agree to the members of the Commission.
Faced with mounting pressure to not hold the government to political blackmail over this Bill, the AFC has latched on the excuse that it is not them to blame. It is contending that it is all the government’s fault because the government had years to pass the legislation and did nothing about it. It is surprising that the AFC should make such an excuse because it ought to be glad that the government did not act earlier since this would have never afforded the combined opposition the leverage that they can now exercise over the government in regards to this Bill.
But even if the government wanted, it was not feasible to go ahead earlier with the amendments. The AFC must cast its minds back to a few years ago when there were long lines outside and inside the commercial banks and account holders were seeking to be in compliance with the existing regulations which required them to produce proof of address. There were many persons and are still many persons who are yet to provide their proof of address. There are still thousands of accounts for which proof of address has not been provided simply because the account holders are overseas and are not going to pay the passage and expenses to come back to Guyana simply to verify their proof of address. And many Guyanese also are still in dereliction of providing their proof of address.
The government was forced to extend the deadline. Had they not done this, thousands of account holders would have had their funds frozen in local banks and this would have led to chaos. Do you know today how many persons find it difficult to produce proof of address? They have no landline telephone service registered in their names; they live in rented property and the electricity meter is in the landlord’s name. So where are they to obtain the proof of their addresses?
It would have been reckless of the government in the face of this backlog in customers complying with the existing law, seeking to then rush through legislation that would impose further obligations on the banks. These obligations as was mentioned before are aimed primarily at deterring the washing of illicit funds through the country’s banking system.
This deterrence is achieved by having the banks do three things: establish trace mechanisms such as proof of address and verification of identification of all clients; collect and keep reports of suspicious financial transactions; and thirdly pass on these reports to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
The fact that there have been hundreds of such reports submitted and very few prosecutions for money laundering does not necessarily mean that there has been complacency by the FIU. A case has to first be built against a suspect and this case is not built on the basis of one transaction. In fact, if the FIU has to open a case file on every suspicious transaction, it would probably need to build an office as big as the Yankee Stadium to begin the investigations into each case.
Building a case takes time; years in most instances. And when that is completed it still has to be passed to the prosecuting agency to see if there are sufficient grounds to charge anyone.
The excuse therefore that the FIU has not done enough is misplaced and if this is the basis for the withholding of opposition approval then the non-approval is mislaid.
But the evidence continues to mount that the real objection is not about the strength of the legislation. If that were the case in the months that the draft Bill was before the Select Committees, there would have emerged from the opposition benches far more amendments than the clumsy ones that emerged recently.
The opposition is playing politics with the draft AMLCFT Bill. It should therefore accept full responsibility for the present impasse.
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