Pubdate: Mon, 12 Nov 2007
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2007 Stabroek News


In his address to the annual awards ceremony of the  Guyana
Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA),  two Saturdays ago
President Jagdeo challenged the  widely held belief that a significant
part of the  economy is being buttressed by laundered money. He
referred to a statement made by a member of the private  sector that
80% of the economy was based on drug money.

"I don't have a problem with anyone making that  assertion", the
President said, adding however that  when the annual US State
Department Report on the  narcotics trade and laundering had been
published he  had called the US embassy and asked how the figure
contained in that report had been estimated but was  still to receive
the methodology.

"The wild assertions are not enough", the President  thundered adding
that in 2006 there was an inflow of  US$1.02B inclusive of remittances
and "I don't have  here a line called drug money".

We agree that wild assertions are not acceptable but  perhaps amid the
friendly and warm environment in which  he made his declaration
President Jagdeo might have  forgotten that he is yet to tell the
country what he  knows of the extent of money laundering in the
country.  Is it 80% of the economy? The President says no. Is it  60%,
50%, 10%? Or doesn't he know or want to know?

And that is the crux of the matter. As long as the  President and his
government continue to deny that  there is a money laundering problem
it will always be  the elephant in the room and any number of persons
will  essay attempts at determining its size and  characteristics.

In countries like Guyana which have unwittingly and  unwillingly
become intermediaries in the supply of  cocaine, the onus is on the
state to determine the  extent of the problem and to craft solutions.
It is not  the role of the US State Department or the US embassy  or
the businessman at the private gathering.

This is where the President's attempt to denounce the  money
laundering argument amounts to mere bluster and  rhetoric. His
governments - he has now been President  for nine years - have
abjectly failed to install the  legislative and enforcement machinery
needed to  effectively crack down on the drug trade. The result  has
been that conditions enabling the drug trade and  money laundering
have thrived. The numerous edifices  that have sprung up around the
retail, sport and other  sectors beg the question of how the size of
their  investments could be matched with the low growth  economy and
generally depressed business.

Two years after he became President, the Money  Laundering Act was
passed in 2000. Five years after the  passage of that Act, the
government was still promising  the full operationalisation of the
Financial  Intelligence Unit (FIU) provided for under the Act and
pledging to implement the necessary regulations, staff  the unit with
the required experts and make it an  autonomous agency.

2007 is now drawing to a close and the government is  still to live up
to its promise to replace the  still-born 2000 Act with a new one
which caters for  asset seizure and forfeiture. Can this government
really be serious about finding out about the extent of  money
laundering and acting against it?

There has not been a single prosecution under the 2000  Act and the
FIU has never been heard from or the fruit  of its labours presented
to the public. And there is no  doubt that the drug trade has
flourished and that the  fight against it is being waged at US and
other foreign  ports and in courtrooms in the US and further afield,
but not in Georgetown. The evidence is there in the  cargoes of
cocaine that have been seized abroad after  being shipped from Guyana
in a variety of now famous  containers: timber, rice, coconuts,
molasses, fish,  etc. The evidence is also there in the courtroom
deliberations and revelations mainly in New York.

It was only on Thursday that the Acting Crime Chief  made bold to say
that the police believed that indicted  businessman Roger Khan had
been involved in drug  trafficking. Over that period of time did the
government and its FIU ever try to determine whether Mr  Khan's
business operations here had legitimate  underpinnings? Or gather
evidence against him while he  allegedly assisted in the crime fight?
Did it do this  for any of the other business persons held in
connection with drugs? Thus far, the government's fight  against drugs
has been a sham.

There is also another serious consequence of this  dereliction of duty
and insouciance. The last 10 years  or so have been littered with
inexplicable killings and  other bloody violence more than likely the
result of  narco-terrorism. The unwillingness to act against the  drug
trade may have brought ephemeral benefits in the  form of money pumped
into the economy, but it has also  exacted much violence, bloodshed
and death.

The public awaits the swift activation and enlivening  of the new
money laundering legislation.
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MAP posted-by: Derek