NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The country’s efforts to be removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATAF) International Co-operation Review Group (ICRG) process has been bolstered by the passage of amendments to the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest led debate on the amendments that passed by Parliament yesterday.
He said the Register of Beneficial Ownership Act is “another weapon in our arsenal to counter the narrative that The Bahamas’ financial services industry operates outside of the regulatory bounds accepted by the international financial community”.
The Register of Beneficial Ownership Bill 2018, was passed in the House of Assembly in December 2018.
The legislation mandates the creation and maintenance of a database containing beneficial ownership details for all corporate and legal entities registered in The Bahamas.
However, it only permits a search of this database by a “designated person”, upon the request of an “authority” listed in the Bill.
These authorities include the Attorney General’s Office, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the financial services industry regulators. As a result, the beneficial ownership registry is not accessible to members of the general public.
The amendments debated and passed yesterday seek to include non-profit companies and segregated accounts companies within the scope of the legislation; and to amend language in the Act in relation to the requirements and the role of registered agents and the Registrar General.
Turnquest told Parliament there was was consultation and consensus on the provisions of the Bill with the country’s key financial services stakeholders,
“There is unanimous agreement that the Bill, once passed, will bolster our efforts to be removed from the FATF ICRG process,” he said.
“Due to COVID 19 related travel restrictions, FATF has not been able to conduct the in-country assessment of our AML/CFT regime, which is the last hurdle to being removed from the FATF List of Countries with Strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.”
Turnquest said: “Removal from the FATF list has been cited by the EU as a requirement for them to not include The Bahamas in the impending EU AML/CFT List of Third Countries.”
Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said the Opposition had no issue in supporting the amendments but noted broader concerns regarding the relations with the EU and the issue of blacklisting.
Cooper, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) deputy leader, argued that the country needs an international financial centre and a strategic plan.
“We must build strategic linkages proactively secured by diplomacy,” he said.
“We need to firstly continue the creating of substance in The Bahamas with headquartering and home office business, where professionals are engaged here. We must modernize our residency by investment programs to ensure competitiveness.”
Cooper said: “We must do more than pay lip service to the ease of doing business if we will have success here. We still have shoddy and unreliable power supply even after hundreds of millions in proclaimed investments. We still have unreliable internet service by our two main utility providers that could mean millions in lost revenue to companies experiencing a delay of even an hour.”
He furthered the COVID crisis has laid bare the reality that basic reliable internet is a problem for virtual schooling in 2020.
“We can do better as a country and we must,” Cooper said.
“It is not just important for business and financial services but Bahamians are frustrated by this and demand that URCA ensures that customers are consistently receiving what is being promised. And we have, to this day, multiple agencies required to get things done.”