Opposition shoots down AML/CFT Amendment Bill in historic debate
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Written by Vanessa Narine
ALMOST two years into the Tenth Parliament, the rift between the two sides of the House continues to widen, with the latest pronouncement by the Head of State, President Donald Ramotar, being that “it can’t be business as usual,” given what his administration calls an “arbitrary” use of the combined Opposition’s one-seat majority.The hot-button issue at the last sitting of the House, last Thursday, was the third reading and passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill, which was defeated in a unanimous vote by the Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs).

Preceding the vote was a historic debate, as, according to House Speaker Raphael Trotman, no bill has been debated at the level of its third reading – precedence being that after the second reading, the legislation in question is sent to a Select Committee, which presents its report for adoption by the House, at which time MPs vote.

Government’s Chief Whip and Chair of the Select Committee that considered the AML/CFT Bill, Ms Gail Teixeira, tabled the Committee’s Report in the House, and the anticipation to get to the AML/CFT Bill was seen when several other matters on the agenda were deferred by MPs on both sides to bring forward the matter listed on page 20 of the 32-page Order Paper.

Attorney General Anil Nandall moved a motion for the Bill to be read a third time and passed, a motion that was not put to the House by the Speaker, given the fact that Opposition MPs indicated that they would like to address the House.

The contention of the Alliance For Change is that they would support the Bill in exchange for the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission. AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan said the matter has been publicly ventilated, and the conditions for support of the Bill have been made clear.

The Government’s position, however, is that the Procurement (Amendment) Bill 2013, which was also tabled on Thursday and seeks to preserve the Cabinet’s ‘no objection’ say in the award of contracts, has to be passed through the National Assembly before the Public Procurement Commission is set up.

MPs from A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) proffered the argument that the input from the Opposition was not considered at the level of the Select Committee, where the Amendments were sent for review;, and, as such, the party could not support the Bill.
APNU MP Carl Greenidge, who led off the party’s arguments on the passage of the bill, made this point clear, and called for the bill to be sent back to the Committee for “proper” deliberation.

Acknowledging the deadline set by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF), he said the recommendations are not the “tablets Moses received on the mountain,” and as such Parliamentarians are duty bound to pursue improvements using local knowledge.

At this point, Ms Teixeira interjected that the impression being given by Greenidge that the Opposition was not given ample time to deliberate is false. “I am willing to go tit for tat with every point that the Member has made,” she said.

The Chief Whip stood on a point of order and stated that entertaining a debate is in contravention of Standing Order 58 (4), which addresses the consideration of a bill at the level of a third reading.

Other Government MPs raised procedural concerns, followed by a cross-talking by both sides of House while the Speaker conferred with the Clerk of the National Assembly.

Afterwards, the Speaker said he was aware of the Standing Order’s provision, but given the fact that the matter has widely engaged the attention of the public, it is only fair that MPs be allowed to speak on the matter.

Ramjattan rose to point out that the proposition on hand is to “at least” have the proposition sent back to the Committee.
Agreeing with the call for the Bill’s re-committal to the Select Committee, he said that refusing this option would see the legislation voted down.
A Government MP heckled, “You do um nah,” to which Ramjattan’s response was, “Let’s do um.”

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh rose to stress the time constraints the Parliament was facing, and called the call for the bill to sent back to the Select Committee the latest effort by the Opposition to drag its feet on the legislation – particularly since the bill has been with the committee since May.

APNU’s Greenidge, interrupting Singh, moved that the motion for the third reading be put to the floor, since the Government has no intention for it to be returned to the Select Committee.

The Finance Minister returned that he “will not be muzzled,” before the Speaker interjected and called for a 10-minute suspension before proceeding to address the “political conundrum”, as the debate’s intensity was undoubtedly increasing.

During the suspension, the Speaker met with MPs of both sides, and reported to the House that no consensus position could be reached.

APNU’s Basil Williams moved to suspend the Standing Orders that were cited, and was seconded by Deputy Speaker Ms Deborah Backer.

Government MPs were heard questioning the point of suspending the Standing Orders, as the call for the bill to be sent back to the Select Committee was one that came with a time frame, which could still see Guyana meeting the November 18 deadline.

The Finance Minister rose to add that while the Opposition is calling for the Bill to be sent back to the Select Committee, there has been no “material suggestion” made, other that the “vague” contention that the bill needs to be strengthened.
He argued that the time constraint was not being considered a cause for concern, particularly when CFATF have been definitive in their statements that Guyana would be blacklisted.

Williams rejected this, and said recommendations were made, a statement Teixeira dismissed from her seat, while she called for him to read the Committee’s report.

The APNU MP proceeded to withdraw his call for a suspension of the Standing Orders, and said the House should be allowed to proceed with the vote.

The AG took the floor, and in reiterating the time constrains and the impending consequences, stated that any further amendments the Opposition are in favour of can be made at a later date. He urged that the bill be passed, so that Guyana meets the CFATF deadline. According to him, the review of the legislative framework is an ongoing process, and he assured that there would be opportunities for the legislation to be further amended.

“I am not saying the model is crafted in stone, I am saying that for now, to meet minimum requirement and avoid exposing Guyana to perilous consequences, we have to pass this….We have 10 more days,” Nandlall stressed.

The Speaker put the vote to the House, and the bill was defeated.

According to the Finance Minister, the bill cannot return to the House in this session, unless certain Standing Orders are suspended to allow its reconsideration.

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