Tobago is not immune as a target for money laundering and financing of terrorism, and as a tourism-based economy, it is especially important that measures are taken to protect the island’s good name and fair dealings.
So warned Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, who also suggested a focus on information and education that would engender honesty and integrity in citizens.
Charles was delivering the feature address at the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of TT’s 8th Annual Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism conference at the Colibri Ballroom, Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort in Lowlands.
He told participants that he was pleased that Tobago was not forgotten in the discussions on anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing, “especially at this time when we are seeking greater control over our own affairs.”
“Whilst Tobago is the smaller of the two islands, it does not exonerate us from been targeted as a convey for these unwholesome activities.
“As an island driven by tourism, among other things, it is imperative that we protect very fiercely our heritage of a good name, good morals and fair dealings. We must never be labelled as upholders. However, this calls for us to side step ignorance and seek knowledge and information in respect of issues related to money laundering and terrorism financing,” he said.
Charles also said while he was eager to see initiatives such as the conference happening, he was mindful of growing trends negatively affecting the society, especially among the youths.
“Our challenge today in the face of increasing materialism and consumerism is to market and promote the content that would be discussed in creative and innovative ways that will reawaken the penance of honesty, morality and integrity that characterised our people,” he advised.
The conference featured presentations and a workshop focusing on strategies and reporting of suspicious transactions/activities related to money laundering and financing of terrorism.
In his welcome address, acting Director of the FIU, Nigel Stoddard, said the conference seeks to fulfil the FIU’s mandate - to educate stakeholders and the public on ways of ridding the nation of the scourge of money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Stoddard said representatives of the Central Bank, the Police Service and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions would deliver presentations designed to strengthen TT’s anti-money laundering and counter financing terrorism systems and protect businesses and the national financial systems from being used by criminals.
Also speaking at the opening of the conference, acting Permanent Secretary at the Central Administrative Services (CAST)-Tobago, Bernadette Solomon-Karoma, commended the FIU on its conference, noting that TT and the Caribbean has not been immune to incidents of money laundering and terrorism financing.
“We have been told of an unprecedented increase in the numbers of suspicious transactions related to the financing of terrorism. Recent reports of our citizens joining terrorists abroad should be cause for grave concern. Therefore, money laundering and issues of terrorism are issues that we as a small nation should not take lightly nor allow to spiral out of control,” said Solomon-Karoma.
She said the conference was critical to raising awareness of issues of money laundering and terrorism finance and informing stakeholders of their roles in helping Government to detect and minimise the global threat.
“Consultations with all stakeholders are necessary to inform the appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks needed to address this issue and it is heartening that the discussions are taking place from the lowest to the highest levels. Public education is also a key aspect of addressing the issue, sometimes as members of the wider community, we do not pay attention to matters that we feel do not directly affect us,” she said.
“The actual enforcement of anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism legislation and the ultimate prosecution of perpetrators are of utmost importance to the entire process,” she added.