Nicholson Promises To Review Fines For Breach Of Money Transfer Regulations


Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator A.J Nicholson, responding to concerns from Opposition Senators about inequities in fines applied to remittance agencies for breach of regulations, has promised to “immediately” look into the issue.
The Attorney General was contributing to debate in the Senate yesterday (Jan. 23), on amendments to the Bank of Jamaica (BoJ) Act, to allow for tighter regulation of remittance agencies and agents. The amendments provide for penalties of $50,000 to $100,000 for breaches, while fines already in place for financial institutions engaged in money transfer services range from $5,000 to $10,000.
But Opposition Senators have argued that it was unfair to charge remittances agencies up to 200 times what other institutions engaged in similar services would be asked to pay and contend that it would appear as if remittance agencies were being treated specially, or being singled out.
Senator Nicholson said that while his office would review the issue of fines, he could not assure that every entity committing the same offence would be fined the same amount.
The legislation, which was passed in the Lower House on (Jan.13), makes provisions for persons carrying out or intending to provide money transfer and remittance services to obtain authorization from the Minister of Finance and Planning to commence or continue to provide these activities; for such persons to operate solely in accordance with the directions to be issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning through the BoJ; for the creation of the necessary offences and the imposition of fines and penalties for breaches of these offences.
Leader of Government Business and Minister of Information, Senator Burchell Whiteman, explained that by virtue of the nature of the operations of these entities, there was genuine risk of them being used to carry out money laundering activities.
“While such entities have been designated as financial institutions under the Money Laundering Act, and accordingly, were required to observe the requirements imposed by the Act for the prevention and detection of money laundering, it was thought necessary to complement that regulatory regime with a system of active supervision,” he elaborated.
Senator Whiteman stressed that the amendments were not in any way intended to restrict the growth and development of these entities, which were making a significant contribution to the economy. Citing statistics, he said that in 2001, just under US$1billion came into the country through those services, with net inflow of US$0.8 billion, while in 2003, net inflows were US$1.1 billion.
He assured the Senate that no existing remittance agency or agent would be put at a disadvantage where the coming into effect of the law was concerned, as they would be given time to submit their applications and make the necessary adjustments to comply.
Meanwhile, Opposition Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, argued that instead of subjecting persons to the ministerial approval of the Minister of Finance and Planning to carry out money transfer and remittance services, the operators of such agencies should be subjected to the approval of Parliament.
A vote on the amendments saw nine affirmative responses from the Government side and five negatives from the Opposition on Clause seven, which subjects the operation of remittances services to ministerial approval, while on Clause 8, which deals with the various fines, the Government side had 8 votes for, to the Opposition’s five against. Government Senator Trevor Munroe abstained from voting on this Clause.

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