Govt rushes FATF-related bill through NA panel amid opposition uproar

Updated 11 Aug 2020

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National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance & Revenue passed the bill with a majority of nine votes to six within minutes. — APP/File
National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance & Revenue passed the bill with a majority of nine votes to six within minutes. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The government rushed a controversial bill relating to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — Anti Money Laundering (Second Amendment) — through a parliamentary panel with a majority vote on Monday amid protest by members of the opposition parties.

The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance & Revenue, presided over by the PTI’s Faizullah, passed the bill with a majority of nine votes to six within minutes in a meeting pulled earlier than originally scheduled.

The opposition members had on Friday raised serious questions over the government bill and resisted its approval with majority, compelling the government to call another meeting on Monday.

The PTI’s nine members present in the meeting voted in favour and three members each of PML-N and PPP voted against the bill, saying the proposed law was ‘draconian’ and against the public interest.

The chairman announced the committee recommends that the Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill, 2020 “may be passed by the National Assembly”. He said the proposed law had attracted objections in the last meeting.

Under the bill, the fine for money laundering has been increased from Rs5 million to Rs25m for individuals and Rs100m for companies and institutions. For implementation of relevant laws, a national executive committee would be constituted. It will be led by the finance secretary and other members will be the secretaries of law, interior and foreign affairs, the chairmen of NAB, FBR and heads of the FIA and ANF, the deputy governor of State Bank and DGs of FMU, ISI, FATF cell and military operations. The opposition said chairmen and leaders of the house and opposition should also be represented in the NEC to pre-empt political victimisation.

All the financial and non-banking financial institutions will be required to issue suspected transaction reports (STRs) and maintain record of all transactions for five years.

Under the law, a separate regulatory authority will be established on money laundering and terror financing. Action will be taken against non-cooperating individuals and institutions.

The staff, institutions and companies providing information regarding money laundering and terror financing will be protected under the law from civil, criminal or departmental proceedings.

A PPP member and former finance minister Syed Naveed Qamar said his party had serious objections over the bill that had come under discussion in the last meeting. He said their recommendations for improvement had not been accepted by the treasury benches.

He said there were a number of objectionable clauses in the bill, but the worst issue was the involvement of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the Anti-Money Laundering bill. “This is highly objectionable”, he said, adding there should be a procedure for increase in the punishments.

The Director General of Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU), Lubna Farooq Malik, said NAB was working with other agencies on many crimes and it would be difficult to exclude it from the bill at this time.

She said NAB could be excluded through an amendment if the institution is wound up.

A member of PML-N, Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha, said the draft bill would spread harassment. Her party colleague, Qaiser Ahmed Shaikh, said the clauses being pushed through the bill were not the conditions of the FATF and this should not be passed in haste and should instead be pursued in consultation with the business community.

The PPP’s Dr Nafisa Shah said the members were under an impression that the bill would be discussed in detail in the meeting because treasury members also had reservations over the proposed law, but it appeared the treasury benches were in a hurry.

Chairman Faizullah said the committee had a seven-hour discussion on the bill (on Friday) and the deliberations would be made part of the proceedings and reported to the house.

Dr Pasha said the government did not take up the bill for seven months and the chair was now talking about “seven-hour discussions”. She said the members had wanted a report about similar laws in other countries, but were not provided.

“In my view the proposed law is against international practices and will hamper investment.”

Hina Rabbani Khar, a PPP member and former foreign minister, said the implementation of such a draconian law would aggravate problems for the country and was being pushed for implementation at a time when the government was already following a policy of political victimisation.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2020