Thursday, April 25, 2019
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest addressed the Money Laundering Reporting Officers’ Forum at the British Colonial Hilton April 24, 2019.
Here follows his remarks:
Good Morning. Thank you for the invitation to speak today. I’m very pleased to see the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) continue its efforts to strengthen our Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework by upgrading its digital infrastructure, strengthening its processes, and most importantly empowering its personnel and partners through training and stakeholder engagement.
Money Laundering Reporting Officers (MLROs) play an important role in the process chain when it comes to reporting suspicious transactions and ensuring we have a strong enforcement arm to safeguard the reputation of the financial sector.
Over the years, The Bahamas has come under immense scrutiny by international peers and industry regulators. We know, not all of this scrutiny has been warranted. We know there is a historical bias that influences the international gaze on The Bahamas. We know that geopolitics provides cover for certain territories while it exposes others to an uneven balance of power.
That being said, we also know that we cannot afford to fall behind, and it’s in our best interests to continue improving, to continue innovating, to continue strengthening our industry. It is in our best interest to demonstrate to the world unequivocally that we are a well-regulated, wealth management jurisdiction.
We can all feel proud in the fact that despite the scrutiny over the years, and despite the constant changes in the international regulatory environment, The Bahamas remains a premier international financial center (IFC) with a long track record of excellence in the industry. As a country, we are adapting to the change environment and encouraging the industry to innovate and develop new competitive products to meet the demands of the market. We have proven ourselves to be competitive, compliant and well regulated, and every time we face a new obstacle, we rise to the occasion.
This would not be possible without the partnership between the Government, regulators, enforcement agencies like FIU, and our private sector partners, including all of you gathered here today. We cannot be successful without each part of the whole working together. At the same time, we cannot put our heads in the sand in the face of our weaknesses.
[FATF ASSESSMENT AND ACTION PLAN]
Last year we adopted an action plan that speaks to areas we need to strengthen. These actions address the gaps identified in the most recent assessment by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The Government made a high-level political commitment to address the specific deficiencies, and this process is well underway.
We are actively engaged in sector analysis to collate statistical data on the scope of industry and stakeholder consultations to advance the reform of the business license regime for commercial entities and financial institutions. We remain engaged at a high level with the EU and the OECD to demonstrate The Bahamas’ proactive approach to meeting its commitments. Technical teams are working on the implementation of measures to address substance and anti-ring-fencing.
Our regulators are also at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the industry. The Government continues to engage regulators and industry representatives in ongoing monthly meetings to discuss proposals for additional reforms related to the Central Bank, the Securities Commission and the Insurance Commission.
All of this work is essential to maintain our competitive position as a jurisdiction for financial services.
[NEW FOCUS ON ENFORCEMENT]
One of the major changes in recent times is the shift in focus towards effectiveness and outcomes. In other words, are we effectively indentifying those who fail to play by the rules, and are we successfully prosecuting those who engage in money laundering, fraud and terrorist financing.
Legislative and regulatory reforms alone are insufficient. The criminal justice system must also discharge its role in a proactive and urgent manner. This is why the Government has provided additional resources to support our enforcement arm to conduct stronger investigations and recommend prosecution in cases where warranted. We need to ensure that we close the loop with respect to completing investigations that are launched as a result of suspicious transaction reports, and that we are either taking those that are credible to prosecution or otherwise exposing and documenting how we dispose of the other cases.
The Government is working aggressively to implement its action plan to strengthen our enforcement mechanisms. One of the main reasons you are here today is because of the planned roll out of the e-filing project in June. At the FIU we have also brought on more forensic accountants, seasoned investigators, and we are improving our digital infrastructure.
I therefore want to encourage you all to put your best foot forward, because each one of you is important to this process and central to the industry’s success.
Our desire and expectation as a government is to maintain our status as a premier IFC; and to set a gold standard for the effective management of AML/CFT risks. Together we must be highly engaged at the international level; we must be robust in our domestic actions; and we must be effective in our enforcement. Every partner in this industry plays a vital role: Legislators, regulators, law enforcement officers, private financial institutions and professionals.
Each of us, as parts of the whole, must be dedicated to high-performance standards and work together at a high level to aggressively tackle the challenges faced by the industry.
Everyone in this room knows how important the financial services sector is to the strength of our economy and the welfare of our people. I have no doubt that in this dynamic environment, you will continue to perform at an exemplary standard as professionals in the industry, so that The Bahamas can be further recognized as a jurisdiction with model standards for managing AML/CFT risks.
As a country, we are committed to the highest level of international engagement to address the structural and legacy issues that exist. We are committed to balancing all of our domestic interests and maintaining an aggressive legislative agenda. Through our efforts, we are confident, we will maintain the goodwill and reputation of the country; we will cultivate even stronger relationships with bi-lateral and multilateral partners whose initiatives impact the stability of our economic pillars.