Private sector, APNU in stalemate on anti-laundering bill

[] – A meeting between the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and main opposition coalition APNU, aimed at brokering a compromise on the anti-money laundering amendment bill ahead of Friday’s deadline for passage, ended in a stalemate yesterday.

“There is still a possibility of doing what would be required to pass the legislation… that would take serious commitment between both sides,” APNU Exe-cutive Member Dr Rupert Roopnaraine told Stabroek News afterward.

The bill has to be approved and assented to by February 28 or Guyana could face a call for further countermeasures to be taken against it by the Caribbean Financial Act-ion Task Force (CFATF) and be referred to the global body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for review.

However, the country’s prospects of meeting the deadline seem very slim, especially considering that APNU has made it clear to the PSC that it does not trust the government’s reassurances.

PSC spokesperson Kit Nascimento told Stabroek News, “We met with APNU. We discussed all of the options that were available, in terms of moving forward, [and] having the bill passed in order to meet the deadlines. We shared our views and concerns with APNU in regards to the serious damage it would do to the economy and people of Guyana if we did not meet the CFATF requirement and deadline.”

Nascimento stated that he would not further comment and that members of the PSC were meeting separately to discuss how the meeting with APNU went.

“…APNU does not treat the [February] 28 deadline with the same apocalyptic (mind set) like the PSC. That is not to say that with real will from the government we can’t get this done,” said Roopnaraine, who did, however, ack-nowledge that APNU has taken longer to address the amendments, which its members brought forth a mere two weeks ago.

He said that the PSC has seemingly bought into the government’s alarmist stance on passing of the legislation but he pointed out that passing the legislation is not nearly as important as implementation will be. He noted that it has always been APNU’s intention to produce legislation that is credible in fighting money laundering.

“Enforcement has been the weakness from the beginning, since 2002,” he added, while pointing out that APNU and the general public have no confidence in the government’s commitments to agreements.

He said that as a result, APNU remains firm in its commitment that if the government were to agree to its amendments to the principal legislation then the opposition would pass the legislation in the National Assembly.

In return for its support to ensure passage of the bill, APNU has also asked for an “iron-clad” public guarantee that the president would assent to the four bills passed by the National Assembly but are yet to be assented to by the president, who has maintained that they are unconstitutional.

Roopnaraine explained that since spokespersons for APNU met with Roger Hernandez of the CFATF last Friday, the opposition was not as convinced of the finality to the various deadlines as the PSC was. February 28 is the deadline for having the legislation passed, however Hernandez has told Stabroek News in the past that implementation of legislation was also important and that Guyana would not be removed from the public sanctions list if there were no significant strides in implementation of legislation.

According to Dr Roopnaraine, the PSC was passionate in its arguments and so were APNU’s representatives during yesterday’s meeting, which was held at APNU’s headquarters. “Neither side had succeeded in persuading each other,” he said.

Hernandez, who was here to brief the parliamentary committee examining the stalled amendment bill, last Friday expressed concern about APNU’s amendments. As proposed now, the bill itself without any additional amendments is compliant with the recommendations that were made concerning Guyana meeting the CFATF standards, he explained. Without naming APNU, he had said that there are certain concerns arising out of some of the proposed amendments.

Hernandez said there are “two perils” going forward with the proposed amendments. “Some of the amendments that have been put forward deal with previous areas of the Act that were deemed compliant.

The concern that we have is that the amendments being put forward may make those areas that were formerly compliant, non-compliant. There is a risk with that,” he said.

Additionally, there were some amendments that are outside the remit of the recommendations made by CFATF that deal with measures not mentioned in the recommendations, the official added. CFATF has no opinion on those things because they only deal specifically with the recommendations.

It is up to the legislature to decide about those particular measures, he said. “Our only concern, we made a comment about some of those recommendations with regard to the effectiveness, whether they would be able to be implemented and how it might affect the whole system,” he added.

Also present at yesterday’s meeting was Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Clinton Urling, who stated that APNU’s main conditions remained consistent.

“Basically what they told us is the government needs to include those amendments—that was the main condition and once that is done they then also mentioned the four non-assented bills.”

Speaking on behalf of the GCCI, Urling stated that APNU should consider passing the legislation as is and if significant progress isn’t made to further implementation of the law the opposition was well within its rights to call out the government’s lack of action.

Roopnaraine said that the problem persists that passing legislation in the National Assembly could very well occur, however the president would still need to assent to any bills passed.

He stated that currently the government had not shown that there has been significant trustworthy follow through.