Antigua, OECS critical of proposed British legislation

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Dr.-Didacus-Jules

The St. Lucia-based Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Monday said it wanted to register its “strongest opposition” to certain provisions of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill to be debated in the British Parliament on Tuesday.

“While we recognize and respect the sovereign right of the UK to determine its national legislation, our concern centers on those provisions which are discriminatory to the BVI (British Virgin Islands) and which contravene the constitutional arrangement between the BVI and the UK by which financial services are formally entrusted to the democratically elected BVI Government when the new Constitution was agreed in 2007,” the OECS Commission said in a statement.

allen chast
St. Lucia Prime Minister and OECS chairman, Allen Chastanet

It said that “the passage of these provisions effectively disenfranchises the BVI people and will undermine the constitutional relationship between the BVI and the UK.”

St. Lucia’s Prime Minister and OECS Chairman, Allen Chastanet, spoke of “the ongoing frustration of the OECS member states having to continually battle the unilateral shifting of goal posts on the financial services front.

“We have all indicated our commitment to meeting (and in some cases exceeding) international standards of financial accountability and in return expect that these standards are non-discriminatory and take account of the special vulnerable circumstances of small island developing states,” he added.

Last weekend, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping said it was “deeply concerned” about the potential impact on the economies of some of its associate members as a result of the new legislation.

“The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) recognises that global security and financial crime are increasingly intertwined and therefore supports the work of the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) and its regional bodies in developing international AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism) standards to combat money laundering and terrorist financing,” the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said in a statement.

The UK Parliament will on Tuesday be debating the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill which will have an effect on the financial services of the overseas countries and territories including CARICOM member states such as Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands.

The OECS, which groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla and the BVI, said that contentious provisions in the legislation “seek to impose a requirement for public registers of beneficial ownership on the financial services of the Overseas Territories.

“A requirement which is not applied to Crown Dependencies thus appearing to specifically target the Caribbean at a time when several of our member states are still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” the OECS added.

CARICOM said that its members, which includes the sub-regional OECS grouping, as well as associate members have expended considerable resources towards achieving compliance with AML/CFT standards.

“Countries in the region have also supported global initiatives led by the OECD Global Forum and have entered the necessary international agreements to facilitate the sharing of information on beneficial ownership.”

The OECS said that the issue of public registers is a matter for international financial regulation, in this case led by the FTAT, adding “it does not require a public register but that beneficial ownership information is accessible by law enforcement and/or other competent authorities and is verified.

“The BVI not only meets these requirements but has enhanced its system through the introduction of an innovative digital platform by which such information is immediately and directly accessible to BVI competent authorities.

“Further, BVI has firmly stated that if such a requirement is adopted as an international standard then it will comply.  In contrast the UK Register while public, is actually not verifiable, and thereby arguably does not technically meet FATF requirements.”

The OECS said that it was calling on the UK Parliament to respect the democratic competence of the people of the BVI in the matter as enshrined in the 2007 Constitution and to take into consideration the disadvantageous impact on the economy of the BVI in its post-disaster recovery.

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