Anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terroism (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 22/2013 – BILL NO. 22/20131742 19 Dec, 2013
ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING AND COUNTERING THE FINANCING OF TERROISM (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – BILL NO. 22/2013 – Dec 19, 2013
Dr. Singh: Thank you very much, Mr. Presiding Officer. Permit me to say that it is my great pleasure to be addressing the House on the occasion of your ascension to the high chair of the speakership.
I rise to make my own contribution to the debate on this Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2013, Bill No. 22 of 2013. Mine would not be a protracted contribution, Sir. I believe that the matter of this Bill is a very simple one. This House has had before it for the greater part of this year an Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill. Much is known and has been said of the deliberations of the Special Select Committee that had before it the said Bill.
Suffice it to say, the verbatim transcripts of the proceedings of that Committee speak for themselves. They document and place on permanent record the fact that this Government, through its representatives on that Special Select Committee, spared no effort in endeavouring to achieve timely consideration of the Bill and speedy conclusion of the work of the Committee. From the earliest days of the Committee having been convened – that would have perhaps been the end of April or early May – under the distinguished chairmanship of the Hon. Member, Ms. Gail Teixeira, Government Members beseeched our Colleagues on the opposite side of the House that we needed to meet frequently and for extended hours in order to complete our work.
The consistency of the position taken by Government Members in this regard was matched by an equal consistency on the opposite side, except with the converse intent. Whilst we exerted every effort to meet frequently, the record will reflect that our Friends on that side of the House exerted every effort to meet infrequently. When we sought to adjourn to tomorrow, they sought to adjourn to two weeks from tomorrow. When we sought to start to work at 2.00 p.m., they sought to start to work at 4.00 p.m. When we sought to work until 10 p.m., they sought to work until 4.00 p.m. And the pattern repeated itself meeting after meeting after meeting for all of the 17 meetings held by this Committee. Thankfully, we keep in special select committees in this House verbatim transcripts and recordings of the proceedings of those committees. The recordings of those meetings will form an important chronicle of what transpired in that Committee as we on the Government side struggled to secure what I described a few minutes ago as timely consideration and speedy conclusion.
When we sought to meet and complete our work before the August recess, the one-seat majority was brandished and an adjournment to October secured. When we returned in October, we were told they were not ready and needed to study the documents before them. The result was, as the Hon. Member, Ms. Gail Teixeira, just said, a looming deadline with grave consequences for our country. No matter how much we twist it and turn it, I will say definitively and categorically that stakeholders who are perhaps best informed on this matter – the private sector and the banks – have said unequivocally that they are already seeing the results of non enactment of this legislation. Just a few days ago, in fact, I believe it was yesterday, Wednesday, at a meeting with the Guyana Association of Bankers, the heads of a number of banks said clearly that they were already experiencing and facing the consequences of the current situation with respect to the Bill and the statement issued by CFATF.
One banker said that his bank had already been threatened with imminent termination of an important corresponding banking relationship. Another banker said that a long-standing customer who held an account with a large international bank and made regular transfers to her account in Guyana was told if she continued to make these transfers to Guyana, then her account at that large international bank will be closed. Yet another banker cited an example of a customer who had a trade and international business relationship with an international counterpart of more than 15 years standing and who had now discovered that to execute a single international transfer of funds some 17 or 18 questions had to be answered. These were real accounts described by the heads of large financial institutions operating in Guyana speaking of real customers. These are not the figment of anybody’s imagination. They are not the result of some phantom scaremongering, as Mr. Greenidge chose to describe it. Scaremongering, I believe, was the word he used.
We do not, as a responsible Government, enjoy the luxury of dismissing the inconveniences suffered by a company or individual living or operating in Guyana as insignificant or unimportant. Mr. Greenidge might enjoy that luxury. We do not.
To the extent that a Guyanese citizen or an associate of a Guyanese citizen is threatened with closure of his or her bank account because he or she does business with Guyana is a matter we must be concerned about. To the extent that a bank that is dependent on its international network of correspondent banks faces the termination of an important correspondent banking relationship is a matter we must be concerned about. To the extent that a large commercial enterprise in Guyana is unable to execute its international trade and financial transactions smoothly and efficiently is a matter we must be concerned about. We are concerned about all of these developments.
[Mr. Scott left the Chair.]
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair.]
We would not dismiss the prospect of adverse action as scaremongering. If one Guyanese business is affected, to use the old Guyanese cliché, that is one too many. If one Guyanese citizen is inconvenienced, to invoke the same old cliché, that is one too many. Unfortunately, it is not only one because if a bank lost its corresponding banking relations, hundreds, if not thousands, of customers would be affected.
I hasten to exercise that if Mr. Greenidge, the Hon. Member, wishes to dismiss those concerns as unimportant, this Government will do no such thing. We, instead, will attach the greatest importance to ensuring that we are compliant with international standards and that we bring our legislative framework in order. Does this Bill represent the be all and end all of what is required of us to ensure we have a strong architecture for fighting money laundering? Absolutely not.
In fact, if one were to examine the action plan prepared in collaboration with CFATF, one will see that that action plan comprises not only legislative actions, but also administrative actions: the establishment of a bureaucratic machinery; staffing, peopling and resourcing it appropriately; the issuance and regulation of guidelines; the training of individuals, regulators and regulated and supervised entities; and the instituting of processes and procedures for reporting suspicious transactions and for examining those and graduating them ultimately into successful prosecutions.
There is a comprehensive action plan that includes not only legislative actions. Indeed, if one were to examine the latest CFATF report on Guyana, the report that was considered in plenary in Nassau, Bahamas at which Guyana was so ably represented by my distinguished Colleague, the Attorney General of Guyana, one will see that that latest report acknowledged Guyana’s progress on all of the major elements of the action plan and said specifically that the overwhelming majority of outstanding actions and recommendations would be addressed by passage of this legislation. That was said clearly and explicitly. Were this legislation to have been passed, were this amendment Bill to have been enacted, Guyana would have found itself in the favourable position of having implemented virtually all of the recommendations emanating from the last CFATF review. Would our work have been complete? Certainly not. Having enacted the legislation, established the institutions, issued the regulations and guidelines, commenced the training and started the capacity building, we would have then had to take the next logical steps and our work would have continued.
As it stands right now, largely, as a result of absence of any urgency attached by the Opposition to the enactment of these amendments, Guyana now finds itself in a position where it is the subject of adverse advisory the world over. Are we to dismiss casually the fact that central banks and regulators around the world are saying that Guyana has not taken adequate steps to implement recommendations emerging from the FATF regime, CFATF, in particular, in our region? Are we to sit back, pat ourselves on the back and say that Guyana is an independent country and we would not be dictated to in this National Assembly and ignore the fact that regulators around the world are cautioning institutions that do business with Guyana that they must be doubly cautious and that they must apply extra measures in verifying and validating transactions with Guyana? I do not believe that responsible leaders would do that. I refuse to believe that a responsible political leader, a Government or indeed an Opposition that would like to present itself as an alternative Government...I would like to believe that neither such parties would sit back and content itself with saying, “We are an independent country and an independent Parliament and so we thumb our noses at the rest of the world and we see no reason why we should be rushed to enact this legislation.”
I alluded earlier to the verbatim transcript of the proceedings of the Select Committee. What is particularly striking is that none of the substantive clauses of the Bill before the Committee generated any disagreement. I will make bold to say that the proceedings of the Committee were extremely cordial. There were very few substantive areas of disagreement. My memory is not what it used to be when I was younger than I am now. Like I said, I might have been mistaken, and there might have been isolated exceptions, but I do not recall a single clause that generated biometric disagreement. Some strong words were uttered, but do you know what generated the disagreements, Sir? It was not the content of the clause or any specific content of the Bill. Invariably, the disagreements were generated by when we will meet next, for how long we will meet, why we cannot meet more frequently, why we must adjourn now, et cetera. Almost invariably, Sir, the substantive clauses of this Bill generated no disagreements.
There was a happy meeting of minds. There were times when the Opposition suggested changes and we said, “Oh my goodness. You are absolutely right. We did not think of that but what you are saying makes sense.” There were times when we proposed amendments and the reception was extremely favourable on the other side of the Committee. Then at the end of the deliberations of that particular Committee on that day, the cordiality dissipated and disappeared into thin air because we wanted to meet tomorrow and they wanted to meet two weeks from tomorrow. That is telling, because what it says to this nation is that there is nothing in this Bill that is contentious. I invite our Colleagues from that side of the House to find a single clause in this Bill that they fundamentally disagreed with. I do not want them to articulate arguments why they disagree with all of the clauses, most of the clauses or even a majority of the clauses. I invite our Colleagues on that side of the House to find a single clause with which they have a fundamental disagreement. And I dare say, Sir, that there is none.
So here we are, standing before the people of Guyana with a piece of legislation with which none of us disagree. Here we have a piece of legislation that this Government will move and would like to move be enacted today as it should have been enacted last November. Yet we have before us a piece of legislation that the Opposition will not find themselves willing to vote in favour of for the simple reason that it provides an opportunity for political leverage to be extracted, for no other reason but that.
So the elderly Guyanese lady who lives overseas, whose bank account now faces imminent closure because she transfers money to Guyana, faces the prospect of her bank account being closed because our Friends on that side of the House would like to extract political dividends from this Bill. The Guyanese business that now faces increased costs to transact its business will now have to incur those costs, will now have to face the prospect of delayed transactions, will now find its business in jeopardy, not because this is a bad Bill, but because there is an opportunity for political rents to be extracted from our Friends on that side of the House. This is the day at which we have arrived, Sir, and I will submit to you that it is truly a sad day. When we are unable in this House to speak with one voice and say that the integrity of our financial system is a matter that should be placed above partisan politics.
There is nothing that we disagree with in this Bill, Sir. I will go further and say that even if there are additional amendments, insertions... The Alliance For Change (AFC) has been very clear, I believe. They have said that they really have no problem with this Bill and they will vote for this Bill right now if they get the Public Procurement Commission, if I understand the AFC’s position correctly. They have been unabashed in disclosing their position. The Bill is fine; we recognise the Bill is good for Guyana, good enough to get our vote, but give us what we want in exchange. They have been clear and unabashed in disclosing their position. A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), to the best of my knowledge, has not taken the same position. I believe APNU said that they have additional amendments they would like to see written into the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill. The Bill has been in the Committee from April to now and we have not seen any proposed amendments. But setting that aside for the moment, an opportunity was had tonight for us to hear what those additional amendments might have been. I do not believe we heard any of that, unless, perhaps, I missed that segment of today’s proceedings when Mr. Greenidge shared with us what these additional amendments are. Forgive me, Sir, but no doubt again the record will speak for itself. I do not recall any specific suggestion or any specific identification being made.
Now Mr. Greenidge, the Hon. Member, has the nation waiting and some of the nation suffering whilst he identifies these as yet unidentified further amendments. When will they come? They did not come between April to now, Sir; they did not come tonight. Will they come next week? Will they come the week after? Will they come a month henceforth? When will they come? Who knows? What do we say to the elderly Guyanese lady who faced the prospect of her bank account being closed? [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: A lady you made up.] Absolutely not! You would like to believe that and you would like to ignore and deny her existence. But, Mr Speaker, like I said, the Opposition enjoys the luxury of ignoring one, two or three Guyanese elderly ladies, or one, two or three Guyanese businesses. Our Colleagues on that side enjoy the luxury of ignoring them; we do not enjoy that luxury, Sir! We are a Government for all of the Guyanese people, each and every one of them! And we are a Government for every Guyanese business, each and every one of them! So we do not enjoy the luxury of saying she does not exist because her circumstances do not suit our purposes tonight. We do not enjoy the luxury of discarding and ignoring her existence because her circumstances are not politically expedient and convenient for us. Mr. Greenidge and Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon, my Hon. Colleagues on that side of the House, might enjoy that luxury but we do not! We will not ignore them!
And so, Sir, I return to the question that I asked: when will we see these additional amendments that APNU would like to have included in this Bill? Will they emerge, not being emerged since April? We have had since April to now and they have not yet emerged from their cocoon. Will these amendments suddenly burst forth from their cocoon or from where ever they are into the light and expose themselves so that we can actually consider them? Or will they remain hidden from the human eye? Will they remain a mystery so that the Opposition can continue to hide behind the as yet unknown amendments they wish to propose? Will the nation be held ransom at the altar of some as yet unknown proposed amendments? This is the question, and I say tonight, Sir, to the Opposition, if you would like further amendments to this Bill, let the nation know what those amendments are tonight!
At least the AFC has been clear about its position. They have not said they want to make further changes to the Bill; they have said clearly what their position is. They are not hiding behind some nebulous amendments that cannot emerge for 10 months now. Come on, Mr. Greenidge; tell the nation what are the amendments that you want, sir. Stop holding the nation to ransom, Mr. Greenidge. Tell the nation what the amendments that you want are.
Mr. Speaker, I will say this: this Bill, Sir, is required to bring Guyana in compliance with international standards. The world is not standing still waiting for us to resolve our petty differences here. As far as the world is concerned, until you can sort your house out, we issue an advisory on you and we move on; you are on your own. Mr. Speaker, I wish to say that the position of this Government is that this Bill should be passed tonight, as a matter of the greatest urgency. We might, Sir, as the Attorney General indicated, be prepared to refer the Bill to a Special Select Committee, but were the Bill... [Interruption] Like I said, Sir, every time they get agitated, I know I am on the right track. Every time they get agitated, I pat myself on the back and say, “I must be doing something right.” I hear a buzz of excitement, Sir; I must be doing something right.
I will say, Mr. Speaker, that were we to concede solely for the purposes of saving this Bill from a terminal demise, were we to concede to it being referred again to a Special Select Committee, we will invite the nation to watch closely the proceedings of this meeting. Let us see who is prepared to meet frequently and for how long. Let us see who brings amendments and what these amendments are. We will invite the nation to closely watch the proceedings of this Committee, Sir.
Our position is well known: we are in support of this Bill and we are ready to vote in favour of it tonight. If Mr. Greenidge has amendments he wants to propose tonight for this Bill, we are ready to consider them tonight. There were 10 months to consider the matter so bring them tonight.
Mr. Speaker, this Bill is good for Guyana and it is needed by Guyana, and I wish to submit to you, Sir, that we in this House should do the right thing and vote resoundingly in favour when at the appropriate time tonight.
Thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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