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Cooper: Govt should have arranged virtual FATF review

w Questions whether The Bahamas has strategic and effective diplomacy

With just days left before the October 1 deadline, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper questioned why The Bahamas has not yet organized a virtual assessment by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to complete its review, which is a requirement to be removed from the European Union’s (EU) blacklist.

The Bahamas was in May added to the European Commission’s blacklist of countries it states have strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes.

The government had hoped to have its FATF onsite regional assessment – which advises the EU on its decisions – done last month, however the resurgence of COVID-19 and travel restrictions have caused another delay.

Cooper questioned whether this country is losing its ground in the world or has ineffective diplomacy, since it was not afforded the opportunity to have a virtual assessment like other jurisdictions.

“I am advised that the FATF has held virtual plenary sessions and I’m advised that we have been unable to secure the agreement of the FATF to conduct a virtual onsite examination in The Bahamas, where they can verify the completion of the items required by them on this list that ought to be completed in their view before October 1. Yet we come here today, we pass more legislation at the request of the EU and it’s unclear if we got their support as to ensuring or using their influence or persuasion to have the FATF to conduct the virtual onsite examination,” Copper said while contributing to debate on an amendment to the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act in the House of Assembly yesterday.

“And that is the question. In this new normal we can’t say we haven’t completed the requirements simply because of the lack of travel, because there is technology. We’re basically virtual in most respects. So our inability to have these bodies do a virtual inspection, makes me ask the question of whether we are losing our ground in the world. Whether we are losing our influence. Whether we have ineffective diplomacy and whether we are unable to have the EU and other friends encourage the FATF to act appropriately on these issues. So yes, what we need is a plan. We need strategic and effective diplomacy.”

Though he said the Opposition has no issue in supporting the amendment, there are however some concerns, particularly regarding the relations the country has with the EU and the potential impact on the EU and FATF blacklisting matter.

“We have been blacklisted by France, the Netherlands, the FATF and EU since this administration came to office. I do not celebrate this at all. I did warn them when they came to office and raved about blacklisting and downgrades that it was not a celebration worth having. The EU is reviewing its listing criteria and widening its tax policy which is a signal of a potential rough year ahead with blacklisting, as the government has failed to address a strategic plan for the industry,” he said.

“If we had remediated what the FATF identified as strategic deficiencies and they (the FATF) had verified the action taken by way of an on-site examination then we would have been recommended for removal. The EU blacklisted us for poor AML measures because we were not in good standing with the FATF.”

Cooper argued that the government has not been transparent enough with the measures taken to address FATF concerns.

“There should be a public tracker that is available to financial institutions locally and internationally to measure our progress. What we need is a plan, a strategic plan for The Bahamas as an international financial center. How do we pivot? We must build strategic linkages proactively secured by diplomacy,” he said.

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Paige McCartney

Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas. Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016. Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News

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