?Not for the first time Government has left it to the last minute to bring crucial legislation in the Parliament. It happened on a couple occasions with amendments to the Bail Bill and most recently with the Municipal Corporations Bill. Today it is the financial legislation bills to deal with money laundering and the operations of international financial centres. What compounds the situation is the need, according to the Government, for support of opposition MPs in the Lower House and independent senators in the Upper House to pass the legislation with the required special majority. A few independents have noted that they feel that a gun has been placed to their heads to vote yes for the legislation or have the blame for failure to pass the legislation heaped on them. Indeed, the Attorney General gave as a reason for the lateness of the legislation the concern that the Opposition would not support the bill. As has been stated, if the legislation is not passed, there can be severe sanctions imposed on T&T by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The FATF is a group made up of the major economies in the world, economies which have been suffering from financial losses because of the tax havens that allow large corporations and financially powerful individuals to pass large sums of money through the offshore financial centres. One of the major concerns of the FATF is the need to counter money laundering in offshore and onshore financial institutions. Secondly, since the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, there has been a concern with establishing measures to prevent those who would finance terrorist activity from being in a position to easily move the funds around. But notwithstanding the very legitimate concern with preventing money laundering and terrorist activity, the rich and powerful nations have adopted several measures over the last ten years to prevent large corporations and wealthy individuals from engaging in tax avoidance using the tax havens.
That means that the FATF will impose heavy sanctions against countries which refuse to play ball and adopt the anti-financial crimes legislation. Therefore this is not purely local legislation that can be fooled around with. As indicated by a number of the independent senators, having the legislation rushed through at the last possible moment, today, is almost certain to mean that the legislation will emerge with several inadequacies to it. Pressured by the Government to commit to a particular clause in the bill, one independent senator noted that it was unreasonable to expect a national Parliament to merely agree on measures which could violate the best interests of the national community simply to please the international community. Now, it may be that the Government believes that coming with controversial bills at the last moment to shift responsibility for non-passage to others may be a strategy that is working.
However, what such an approach does is to prevent thorough and reflective debate on legislation before passage. It also contributes further to the antagonistic nature of the political environment and in the Parliament. Unfortunately, the Government's action in delaying this legislation until the last minute does not build trust and a sense that the national Parliament, inclusive of all sides, is working together in the national interest. Surely such crucial pieces of legislation need to be subjected to reflective debate so that the amendments represent the national interest of T&T. For our young Parliament to mature, there has to be the intention of MPs on all sides to adopt practices which will contribute to the process of maturation. We can no longer blame political systems and parliamentary procedures for our own immature behaviours.