AG: Financial Services industry cannot continue to make “errors of the past”
EyeWitness News Business May 21, 2020 at 3:43 am Natario McKenzie
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Bahamas has made considerable progress in strengthening its regulatory and supervisory framework governing financial services, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel who noted that, “Well enough is no longer good enough”. Bethel was addressing a Ministry of Financial Services, Trade, Industry and Immigration virtual symposium. “Our progress to date has been considerable, and we are now poised to make that last great effort to show the effectiveness of all the efforts we have made together to address the need for change and improvements,” he said. Bethel said that this nation cannot afford to let its guard down again. “If we wish to remain relevant and effective, we must strive every day to stay abreast of evolving standards and expectations,” he said. “It is an easy thing to slip, take the easy road and end up being listed. Experience shows that it is easy to be listed, but a far more difficult thing to repair the damage. He said: “We must all develop a firm resolve to work assiduously and in a mutually supportive manner, firstly to keep abreast of all initiatives and developments as they arise, and secondly, to seek to prepare ourselves to meet all impending challenges, even before they are made, and certainly before the world decides to impose the same. “For far too long we have adopted a passive approach, trying to lag behind so- called “competitors”, and each time have felt the brunt of international disdain, and criticism. We cannot continue doing the same things the same way and expect any different results than those experienced in the past.” The Attorney General warned that all of this nation’s efforts will be for naught if it continue to make the errors of the past. “We should no longer settle merely for that standard, of trying always just to be a little less bad than others,” he said. “That is no longer an acceptable state of existence. Well enough is no longer good enough.” Bethel said: “We must positively seek to do better than others, lean forward, and continue to strive to attain and maintain the highest standards of practice, oversight, supervision and enforcement, in order to have a healthy, wealthy and respected financial sector.” Bethel noted that the country is moving towards the possibility of the Financial Action Task Force ICRG on-site review. He noted that the IRF Steering Committee which comprises representatives from 13 regulatory and enforcement governmental agencies and chaired by himself, continue to meet weekly (now by Zoom). “Although a date for the on-site cannot yet be set, due to travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic, we are pushing forward as though it were imminent. Regulators have continued their work,” he said. Bethel continued: “The Securities Commission working with industry participants has proposed certain amendments to Regulations and laws, consistent with the need to keep abreast with evolving global standards. These will shortly be placed on the Agenda of Parliament. “Additionally, in fulfillment of the FATF recommendations for the development of critically needed regulation of the market for Virtual Assets, the Commission is working closely with the Office of the Attorney-General to finalize three new Bills to properly regularize new and emergent virtual technologies, and the marketing of the same, inclusive of digital currencies and tokens, which may be offered to the market.” Bethel also noted that an electronic case management system was implemented by the International Legal Unit of the Office of the Attorney General in 2019. He said: “This system allowed the Unit to enhance its management of international cooperation requests made via the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties, The Evidence (Proceedings in other Jurisdictions) Act, The Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Act and Letters Rogatory. Moreover, the system greatly improved response times to international partners and the collation of critical statistics.” Additionally, he noted that The Financial Intelligence Unit has significantly increased its analytical capacity and responsiveness with the purchase of a new computer programme which allows for the digital filing of STRs, along with new analytical software. “They have made significant progress in addressing and reducing the historic back-log and are keeping abreast of all filings, as and when made, in real time,” Bethel said. “The time it takes for institutions to file STRs has also been substantially reduced, thereby greatly enhancing the possibilities of real-time interventions to stop suspicious transactions while they are still on-going.” The Attorney General also noted that The Royal Bahamas Police Force has re-doubled its efforts on investigation and prosecution over the 2018 – 2019 period. Bethel said some 116 persons charged before the courts, 79 prosecutions and 46 money laundering convictions. “Investigations of money laundering foreign predict cross-border matters, have been featured in several cases and we are awaiting responses from various international partners to complete review of documentation with a view to filing charges in the Bahamian courts,” he said.