ACTING LEADER of Opposition Business in the Senate, Donna Scott-Mottley, has indicated that if a concerted effort is not made to tackle the scourge of money laundering in Jamaica, the country’s democratic process could be hijacked by dirty money.
Her remarks were made yesterday while lawmakers in the Upper House debated the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2023.
“Those of us who operate on the ground know that sometimes elections can be tilted by the amount of money which you have to spend and we do know that even though we have passed legislation and with our best efforts, money still comes into the system,” Scott-Mottley said.
“We must make every effort; we must be united in our quest to keep dirty money out of our system,” she charged.
The opposition legislator, who is also an attorney-at-law, said there is talk on the ground about the source of funds flowing into the multiplicity of high-rise structures emerging in parts of the country in recent times.
“You will see massive buildings going up all around the place and the narrative on the ground is laundering,” she continued. “You will have companies, even companies on the (Jamaica) Stock Exchange where people say laundered money, that’s what they are doing, laundering money.”
While supporting the passage of legislation to tackle money laundering and the financing of terrorism, Scott-Mottley said the real concern was to ensure that wrongdoers don’t get away with their money-laundering schemes.
“This is the obligation that we have, not just passing the legislation but ensuring that it is cemented in a way that brings transparency to the actions of the companies and individuals.”
She argued that many who are carrying out their “nefarious activities” always manage to fly under the radar.
“This is what disturbs me because we have been in this House; we have passed legislation so that we can be removed from the ‘grey list’ and that Jamaica’s integrity as a financial destination and as a country that observes its obligations is preserved,” she said.
Scott-Mottley warned that dirty money that finds its way into the financial system affects the entire governance structure.
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang signalled in February 2022 that Jamaica’s top investigative bodies had turned their searchlights on the real estate market where ill-gotten money was being channelled to fund construction projects.
Chang said at the time that he was expecting to see results last year from probes being carried out by the Financial Investigations Division, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, and the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime and Investigation Branch.
The senior Cabinet minister was debating the Terrorism (Designated Reporting Entity) (Trust and Corporate Services Providers) Order, 2022 that seeks to strengthen the country’s legislative framework to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
He described money laundering in Jamaica as a challenge to the country’s entire security process.
The national security minister had observed that a significant amount of funding comes into the country through advance-fee fraud or lotto scamming.
In June 2022, Chang also reported that the proceeds from lotto scamming, money laundering, cybercrimes and drug and firearms trafficking had reportedly resulted in the annual flow of at least US$1 billion into Jamaica.
Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith, who piloted the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2023, suggested that its passage would place Jamaica in a more favourable position in keeping with standards established by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF is the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.
She told her parliamentary colleagues that in order to avoid Jamaica being blacklisted, it was important for the Upper House to pass the law.
Johnson Smith reminded her fellow lawmakers that Jamaica was referred to the FATF heightened monitoring programme and placed on a grey list.
“We are in imminent danger of being blacklisted by the FATF and this is a status that would seriously affect our ability to do business,” she said.
She said that the blacklisting of Jamaica would not only affect Government, but businesses and individuals.
“It would say that our systems are not sufficiently robust in terms of their protection of anti-money laundering and financing of terrorism, and therefore they need to close down systems or implement countermeasures against our systems.
“Imagine you are trying to use your credit card on Amazon or on another site in order to purchase something you cannot obtain here and being told that your credit card is not recognised because it is a Jamaica credit card. That is the level to which we would be placing our country at risk,” she explained.
In 2017, lawmakers amended the Companies Act to introduce the element of providing information regarding beneficial owners, but it was assessed and determined that those amendments did not go far enough.
It was therefore necessary that further amendments be done to address those deficiencies.