Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing3115 07 Nov, 2013
ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING AND COUNTERING THE FINANCING
Minister of Finance [Dr. Singh]: Mr. Speaker, permit me, Sir, to make a brief contribution to the matter currently before us. That is to say, the request by the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, to recommit this Bill, the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2013, Bill No. 12/2013, to a Special Select Committee.
Permit me, Sir, to remind this honourable House that this Bill was read a first time on the 22nd April, 2013 and was committed to a Select Committee on the 7th May, 2013. Having been referred to the said Committee, the Bill then received the benefit of detailed consideration, deliberation and examination. Indeed, I believe it was 16 or 17 meetings held. There were 17 meetings held, starting from the 8th May, going up to the 22nd October, 2013.
The record or proceedings of that Committee would make for interesting reading because that record would reflect that the substantive provisions of this Bill really did not cause much difference between the two sides of this House as represented by our respective Committee Members.
In fact, as we have learnt with the benefit of experience, the Special Select Committee mechanism provided an opportunity for there to be a rather striking meeting of minds. I do not recall a single clause of the Bill, as presented to this House and as referred to the Committee, generating great division or controversy during the deliberations of the Committee.
In fact, the record would reflect that the greater cause for division and disagreement was almost invariably when the next meeting would be scheduled. Over the course of those 17 meetings, there was a clear and distinct pattern that never changed from May to October. That pattern was as follows: on every occasion, the Government reiterated the urgency with which this Bill needed to be considered; on every occasion, the Government indicated its availability to meet the next day or later the same day and for as long as it would take; and on every occasion, the Government Members said that they are available to meet at any time.
I recall, in fact, at the last meeting held, before the parliamentary recess, on the 5th August, 2013, when in an effort to secure completion of the deliberations of the work of the Committee, Government Members said they would meet every day for as long as it takes to ensure that we are able to complete consideration of this Bill before this House proceeds to recess.
Once again, our Colleagues on that side of the Houses were adamant. They could not meet on Tuesdays. They could not meet on Wednesdays. They could not meet on Thursdays. They needed at least a week. They could not meet on Thursday. They needed at least a week. They could not start before four o’clock. They could not work beyond six o’clock. The pattern repeated itself meeting after meeting. So much so that on the 5th August, 2013, our Colleagues from the Opposition benches representing the Opposition benches in the Special Select Committee, adamant that they would not meet again before the recess, moved a motion that the Committee adjourn its deliberations until after the recess, thereby causing us to lose the remainder of August, the recess months and then come back until the 10th October, 2013.
Low and behold, upon our return after the recess, if one had hoped for a change in this pattern, that hope was immediately dashed because the pattern of conduct continued, with Government emphasising its availability to meet at any time and the Opposition maintaining the adamance of its unavailability at almost every time.
So, Mr. Speaker, the journey of this Bill through the Special Select Committee has been one characterised by deliberate efforts to delay, defer, postpone and foot drag by our Colleagues on that side of the House.
The verbatim record of this Committee will reflect exactly that. So, let us make no mistake about this. This recommittal to Special Select Committee is nothing but the latest ploy by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the AFC to drag their feet on this Bill. Let us be clear that recommittal to this Committee is nothing but a transparent fig leaf through which all and sundry can see the true intent of the APNU and the AFC on this matter. That intent unmasked itself earlier when callous disregard was paid to the petition made by one of the largest and most important stakeholders in this country, the organised private sector.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, I wish to invite you, in the light of the fact that the Government benches do not wish the matter to be recommitted, we also now will have no interest. Let us move to the vote if they are not interested.
Dr. Singh: Would you like to muzzle me too like how you muzzled the private sector? You cannot muzzle me in this House, Sir.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Permit me, very briefly, to say that I was, in fact, at the point of informing this House of the unmistakeable pattern that emerged during the course of the deliberations of the Committee, making the point that Government was, throughout the life of the Committee, at pains to emphasise the urgency with which the Committee’s work needed to be completed. At the same time, the Opposition Members displayed a complete disregard for this urgency and, instead, made themselves repeatedly unavailable to accelerate the work of the Committee. This is the point at which I was at when you called the suspension, Mr. Speaker.
It is instructive to note that notwithstanding the call for recommittal, which would tend to suggest a need for more time to consider something that is currently before the Committee, that our Colleagues on that side of the House have not, throughout the six or seven months of the life of the Committee, either displayed a concern for economical use of time, or economy in the use of time, nor did the Opposition Members of the Special Select Committee bring to the Committee any substantive suggestions for revision of the Bill... [Mrs. Backer: Did you?] We did…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, we will address the Chairman.
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that whilst the Opposition says that it wants the Bill to be strengthened and such and such to be done to it, the six months of deliberations of the Committee, 17 meetings of deliberations of the Committee, yielded no evidence of a single material suggestion made by our Colleagues on that side of the House to significantly extend, expand, improve or strengthen the Bill.
We have now before us a situation where no material suggestion has been made, except the vague suggestion by the Opposition that it would like to strengthen the Bill. Not a single material suggestion has been made. At no point in time has any regard been paid to the need for urgency in the deliberations of the Committee.
What is particularly instructive is that we have before us a statement issued by CFATF on the 29th May, 2013, following its Plenary held in Managua, Nicaragua in which the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force states very clearly in the following language, “If Guyana does not take specific…” In fact, I should read the sentence before that. It states:
“Guyana has introduced an amendment Bill into Parliament to address the deficiencies. CFATF encourages Guyana to urgently approve and implement these legislative amendments. If Guyana does not take specific steps by November 2013 [a month that is named in the statement] then CFATF will [it does not state ‘may’ or ‘might’ or ‘will consider’] identify Guyana as not taking sufficient steps to address its AML/CFT deficiencies and will take the additional steps of calling upon its Members to consider implementing counter measures to protect their financial systems from the ongoing money laundering and terrorist financing risks emanating from Guyana, and at that time CFATF will consider referring Guyana to the Financial Action Task Force International Cooperation Review Group (FATF ICRG).”
It is a very clear and definitive statement. I do not believe we enjoy the luxury... I heard the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, with a sweeping wave of his hand, figuratively perhaps, dismiss international bodies and say some of them are staffed by good people and some of them are staffed by failures. [Mr. Greenidge: I did not say that.] I would not attempt, Mr. Speaker, to repeat what Mr. Greenidge said. What he said is a matter of public record now. So, I would not attempt to, perhaps, paraphrase it.
Let me say this, Mr. Speaker, we do not as a responsible Government...
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, are we still on a Point of Order? Can you tell us the basis on which he is speaking?
Mr. Speaker: It is not on a Point of Order. I had invited Members to address me really, not necessarily on a Point of Order.
Dr. Singh: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely correct; I rose in response to your very gracious invitation. When the Opposition reacts with such agitation, I am assured that the arguments that I am making strike to the core of the matter. [Mrs. Backer: Yes, it will be reflected in the vote.] Well, this is the might of the one-seat majority, Sir. Irrespective of the merits of the matter and irrespective of the national interests, it will be told by the vote. There you have it, Mr. Speaker, unmasked for the nation to behold, that irrespective of the merits of the matter, irrespective of the consequences to Guyana, we have the one-seat majority; the vote will determine it! There you have it, Sir. That is the crux of the matter.
We have here a definitive statement by CFATF. We, as a responsible Government, and I believe as a responsible Parliament, do not enjoy the luxury of being dismissive to a properly constituted international body that discharges the responsibility of applying international standards to jurisdictions that comprise its membership. We, as a Government, do not, nor do I not believe we as a Parliament, nor as a country enjoy the luxury of being dismissive to a definitive statement made by that body.
I will say this: with this statement in mind, and with this explicit deadline adumbrated and issued by CFATF, I would have thought that if the Opposition was sincere about addressing the Bill without placing Guyana in jeopardy, without running the risk of sanction by CFATF, what we would have heard from the Opposition would not have been a blanket recommittal; we would have heard something along the following lines, that we were willing to recommit, and we will work every day for as long as it takes, but we are committing to bringing the Bill back to Parliament at a date that will allow Guyana sufficient time to pass this Bill, assent it and gazette it and take it to the next CFATF Plenary in November. That is what an Opposition which is sincere about a meaningful recommittal would have said. The fact of the matter is that no such undertaking was forthcoming. That reveals it. That unmasks the true intent. The true intent, Sir, is economic sabotage. The true intent is to cause Guyana to suffer the consequences of CFATF’s penalty. That is the fact of the matter.
We saw earlier today the impassioned plea of the private sector of Guyana.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, I would ask that you bring this to an end within two minutes please.
Dr. Singh: Certainly, Sir. As always, I am happy to submit myself to your instruction.
Mr. Speaker, the real theatrics lie in this attempt by the Opposition to disguise their intent to unleash economic sabotage on this country by pretending to be sincere about a recommittal to Committee. That is where the real theatrics lie. There is a saying in Guyana, “Wha rain nuh full, dew cant full”. You had since May and did nothing. What are you going to do between now and the rest of November? What are you going to do between now and next week?
The reality is, Sir, that the verbatim record of this Special Select Committee will tell a very revealing story to this nation, the story of how the APNU and the AFC dithered in the face of a hard deadline imposed by a legitimate and properly constituted international regulatory body. The verbatim transcript will unveil and capture for posterity the reality of the motivations and intentions of the Opposition.
I thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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