Assuring full compliance of FATF plan

In a keynote speech to Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity Panel (FACTI), Advisor on Finance Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh assured early completion of actions on the remaining 13 points of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) action plan which was given to Pakistan after its placing on grey list for the second time in June, 2018. The panel was informed about the measure taken for making the institutional framework strong to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.

Before formally putting Pakistan on greylist of countries with weak anti-money laundering (AML) and counterterrorism regimes (CTF), a short leash of four months was given in February 2018 plenary session of the international watchdog asking the previous PML-n government to give clear assurance about initiating actions on the plan. On the contrary, former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal angrily reacted by describing it a conspiracy to undermine the flourishing economy of the country. Moreover, former Finance Minister Miftah Ismael claimed that Pakistan’s AML and CFT regimes are the best in the world. It did not convince member countries of FATF and in the June, 2018 plenary Pakistan was back on the greylist notwithstanding the last minute firefighting efforts of the former caretaker Finance Minister Dr. Shmshad Akhtar.

Finance Advisor told the FACTI panel about the progress so far made to implement the recommended actions, which were suggested after the mutual evaluation reports by the Asia Pacific Group, a regional affiliate body of the FATF. Pakistan had got an unexpected relief from the international watchdog on curbing money laundering and terrorism financing in the shape of five months grace period in April plenary by postponing the review of actions taken on the remaining 13 points of the action plan. The review was scheduled for June 21-26. Now it will be done in August. The next plenary is scheduled in October. It remains to be seen how far PTI government will succeed to show total compliance of the action plan as opposition is not willing to give parliamentary support to enact legislation to make the AML and CFT regimes very strong.

In the reaming points, some lay more emphasis on the comprehensive prosecution and penalizing terrorists’ networks. It requires legislation to strengthen the institutional and legal frameworks and reforming criminal justice system. The razor thin majority of the government in the National Assembly, minority numerical strength of the ruling party in SEnate, and flourishing culture of political expediency in its rank and file make the passage and enforcement of required legislation a difficult task as despite known intention necessary changes has not been made in the Protection of Economic Reforms Act of July, 1992, a law on the statute book that dilutes the regulatory powers of the central bank regarding transfer of money through foreign currency accounts. The axe of tightening foreign exchange regulations has fallen on the FBR filer middle class people who out of compulsion want to get their children educated from foreign universities as they could not even transfer few hundred dollars to foreign bank accounts of one of these institutions as tuition fee.

The PTI led coalition government needs unflinching parliamentary support from both its coalition partners and opposition, and of course firm resolve by leadership of ruling party as well, to do necessary legislation, enabling the government to move swiftly towards the complete implementation of FATF Action Plan which is necessary for getting the country off greylist. The opposition should understand the bitter reality, if they have an iota of national thinking, that if total compliance of the action plan is not shown and the country is moved to the blacklist then international financial institutions may shy away from providing financial assistance to it. Speaking at seminar in Islamabad in August last year, IMF country representative Teresa Daban Sanchez had cautioned that remaining on greylist may hinder smooth implantation of global lender’s $6 billion bailout package besides inflow of capital from other sources. It may also make difficult raising loans from the private capital market through sale of investment bonds. Hopefully, the process of implementation all points of FATF action plan shall be completed well before its next review meeting and plenary session.

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