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Members of Parliaments demand one week Parliament extension

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Chairpersons of parliamentary committees and other members have demanded an extension of the current sitting of Parliament by at least one week to discuss a Financial Crimes Bill of 2016 which government bulldozed its way on Monday with threats.

The bill seeks to repeal the Money Laundering, Proceeds of Serious Crime and Terrorist Financing Act and create a more robust legislative response to combating financial crimes. The bill also transforms the institutional framework responding to financial crimes through the creation of a central autonomous and independent Financial Intelligence Authority.

Government introduced the Bill Monday to the legislators, through orientation process, at Parliament which was done by Financial Intelligence Unit Director General Atuweni Juwayeyi-Agbermodji and Bankers Association of Malawi.

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Agbermodiji said Malawi is under pressure to pass the Bill before February next year as demanded by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body whose objectives are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

Agbermodji warned the MPs that failure to pass the bill will see countries failing to deal with Malawi in international transactions.

“For instance, banks in Malawi would face difficulties in establishing and maintaining correspondent banking relationships and transactions from Malawi through systems such as SWIFT would have to go through a rigorous scrutiny and delays which would greatly affect trade relations,” Agbermodji said.

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She added: “Internationally, the current law falls short of complying with the FATF Standards and if not reviewed, Malawi would be rated non compliant during the next mutual evaluation which will take place in 2018.”

She said if the bill is not enacted, Malawi risks being placed under the International Cooperation Review Group process of the FATF.

“This process would require the country to achieve many milestones within strict deadlines and under close scrutiny. This is an expensive process as it would require a lot of resources,” she said.

Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Goodall Gondwe, admitted that Malawi is being dictated by the United Nations to pass the bill so that the country remains relevant on the international scene.

He said all countries under the UN have to comply with the requirement so that they trade with one understanding.

“True, the bill is very technical. If you say some of the things there are dictated to us from somewhere, yes, they are dictated to all countries. You cannot really have Malawi to decide on its own. We will be subjected to certain things by the UN,” Gondwe said.

He said the bill has come late because it also came late from those that were scrutinising it.

But the MPs refused to pass the bill within this week saying legislators needed to understand the bill.

They said the bill cannot be debated within the remaining one week since it is very technical. They further argued that the bill cannot be passed within a week when it was only gazetted on December 5, 2016 and has to be made available to the public for 28 days.

Business and Finance Committee Chairperson, Rhino Chiphiko, said MPs cannot be forced to pass the Bill under duress when they were not involved in the consultations. He also said the passing of the bill should follow all the necessary Parliamentary procedures.

After lengthy discussion, the MPs agreed to have a one week extension of the sitting to discuss the bill and other bills.

Gondwe agreed with the extension and challenged that there was money to handle that process. But he said the extension was to be approved by President Peter Mutharika.

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