UNITED States Ambassador Dr Brent Hardt told the Guyana Chronicle, in an exclusive interview, that Guyana still has a window of opportunity to pass the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill.
“There is a window of opportunity for the Government and Opposition to demonstrate that they are moving forward — by approving the legislation, strengthening the investigative capacity, and by putting in resources behind an integrated anti-money laundering effort that can show FATF that Guyana may not meet the standards yet, but it has a plan to do so, and it is vigorously moving to do so,” the ambassador revealed.
He was speaking in regard to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announcement that Guyana would be subjected to a targeted review owing to the shortcomings in its anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation in regard to compliance with international standards; and that the results of that review would be made public at a meeting in October.
Prior to the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force’s (CFATF) referral of Guyana to FATF, it was indicated that the country’s non-compliance with international standards would have been addressed with the passage of the AML/CFT (Amendment) Bill.
The bill to meet the requirements of the FATF-Style Regional Bodies (FSRB), CFATF, was tabled in the National Assembly in April 2013, but was subsequently referred to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee and eventually voted down by the combined Opposition in November 2013. The bill was re-tabled in December 2013, and was again referred to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee chaired by Ms. Gail Teixeira, where it has since been languishing.
The US ambassador contends that the available opportunity should be embraced in order for Guyana to be able to demonstrate progress, which would allow for the country to “be reviewed as a lower-level threat” to the international financial system, unlike what would obtain if it does not take measures to become CFATF compliant.
Ambassador Hardt pointed out that if Guyana fails to make progress in ensuring compliance with international regulations and standards, there would be costly impacts for the local economy.
“(US) Banks that are private entities and corporations will use FATF guidelines to decide how and where they will do business…there will be an added layer of complication, or a potential extra cost and time for transactions, which is not an attractive thing if you are trying to look appealing to international business and investment,” Hardt said.
He made it clear that focus should be on maintaining the successes recorded in terms of the eight years of successive growth that Guyana has experienced.
“We (the US, as a trade partner) want a vibrant economy (in Guyana),” the US ambassador said.
In November 2011, the CFATF first brought to the attention of its members certain jurisdictions — including Guyana — with significant strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT regimes. The intent was to encourage expeditious rectification of the identified strategic deficiencies.
Guyana and the CFATF developed an Action Plan with identified target dates to address the strategic deficiencies that exist in Guyana’s national architecture to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. However, the Government and the combined Opposition have been in gridlock over compliance in the areas requiring the passage of legislation.
Government has repeated its willingness to have the bill passed, and has demonstrated its commitment to same; but up to the last meeting of the Parliament Special Select Committee, no movement had been made with the bill.
FATF, at its one-week plenary meeting, which ended last Friday, accepted the referral of Guyana from its regional watchdog, CFATF, and the counter-measures advised to be taken against Guyana by CFATF, which officially blacklisted Guyana regionally, remain in force. These include, among other counters, enhancing due diligence measures in transactions with Guyana; introducing enhanced reporting mechanisms or systematic reporting of financial transactions; refusing to establish subsidiaries or branches or representative offices in Guyana, or otherwise taking into account the fact that Guyana’s relevant financial institutions do not have adequate AML/CFT systems and accordingly limit business relationships or financial transactions with Guyana or persons in Guyana.
FATF is expected to write Guyana this week to outline the specific aspects of the targeted review.
(By Vanessa Narine)